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The Women's March on Washington

November’s election was a horrifying blow to me. Through the end of the year, I repeatedly asked myself how it could have happened.  I felt I had done my part by making phone calls, addressing envelopes, and putting a bumper sticker on my car. Virginia remained a blue state, but it hadn’t been enough.

At the start of the year, I alternated between outrage and despair. Then, I learned that a women’s march on Washington was being planned.

It seemed like a noble cause, but I had too many good reasons not to march. There were papers to grade, a house that needed cleaning.  But most of all there would be crowds.  Sometime during my twenty years away from New Orleans, I had become afraid of crowds.  I had forgotten that I once was someone who could navigate her way through Jazz Fest, and stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of others on the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground watching the Rex parade.

I summoned my courage and decided that I could NOT stay home.  I had to be there for health care. I had to be there for the environment. I had to be there education. I HAD to be in that number!

It didn’t take much to convince my 26 year old daughter, Julia that she needed to be a part of history too, so we made plans to leave from her home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I drove up from southern Virginia on Friday afternoon. Early the next morning we stuffed our pockets with protein bars and pulled on our hastily knitted pussy hats.  We headed out to wait in Saturday’s predawn drizzle for a charter bus to take us to D.C.

We waited in a parking lot with a crowd of strangers. Immediately, that changed. We all connected. We connected by sharing our story and our causes. There were two school-teacher sisters who had driven through the night from Arkansas. They were there for their students.  A family from Oregon had flown in for the event. They were there for the environment.  A group of college friends who had marched for peace in the 60’s decided it was necessary for them to hit the streets again.

We were all excited, but truthfully, I was a little afraid.  Well-meaning family and friends had warned us that it could be dangerous. We’d all had heard about the riots the day before that had turned violent. The March organizers advised that there could be counter-protesters there to antagonize.  I am sure that I wasn’t the only anxious person on our bus. As we made our way up I-95 towards the Capitol, jitters turned to excitement as we saw that the highway was crowded with other buses and cars filled with protesters making their way to DC.

Our bus parked in RFK stadium, about 2 1/2 miles from the rally point on the Mall. Out of the hundreds of buses came thousands:  women and men and children. We pulled on our pink hats and started to move. There was no way to get lost because all we could do—all we had to do--was follow the river of pink that wound its way through the residential streets.

 I was concerned about being too out of shape to walk the miles required. Then I saw an elderly woman, bent over her cane, determined to make her way to the Capitol. She humbled and energized me.

The crowds, oh my, the crowds!

That river of pink became an ocean of pink. There was every kind of person, each with a huge smile. Some were wonderfully rude and outrageous; others demure but dogged. Everyone there was cooperative, encouraging, but determined to have her voice heard.

My heart is still filled with the love and hope I found that day. It that rose from the crowds.  

We were there to raise our voices. We were there to speak truth to power. We were there to be in that number!

By Marie Reinecke Holmes

Marie Reinecke Holmes was born and raised on the Esplanade Ridge in New Orleans. She went to college in Lafayette, LA and then moved briefly back to the Crescent City before settling in Petersburg, VA. She currently teaches at Dinwiddie High School and Virginia State University.