By Lamya Thompson
On the morning of 21st January, it felt like Mother Nature herself was participating in the Women’s March on Washington: the day started overcast, but not rainy. If the former was an apt summary of our sentiments after watching a misogynist become our president, the latter ensured we were kept dry as we marched to show our unity and our power as women who will not hide in defeat.
Walking towards the metro station in a northern Virginia neighborhood with my group of friends, we saw many other groups heading in the same direction; the march was already in motion even before it had started officially. Practice chants of “Women, united, will never be defeated” were heard, and the pink “pussy hats” bobbed along the sidewalks in the distance. The metro was overwhelmed with the number of people boarding at the beginning of each line, which resulted in many marchers walking to the march’s starting point in the heart of D.C.
People had congregated by the thousands when we got there at 11 am; so many, in fact, that we could not get close enough to hear the speakers on stage. More and more people kept filing in, until the crowd became a single wave, aerial photos showing a sea of pink caps adorning heads of every colour, moving towards the National Mall.
As a person who participated in the Arab Spring protests, I had set out not only to march in support of women and their rights, but to observe and compare. It did not discourage me that the majority of marchers were white women, nor that I did not myself observe any women with disabilities; what I found most lacking, in comparison to my experience while protesting in Yemen during the February 2011 revolution, was the lack of passion. I wondered why this, the second largest march in the history of the United States, failed to impress me, with my constantly critical outlook on US politics and my attitude of revolutionary superiority.
As I chanted “No Trump. No KKK. No Fascist USA,” I looked into the faces of the marchers around me, and I got my answer: Americans are not accustomed to this. Most of these hundreds of thousands of people had probably never been to a protest before, and never marched with their children and their parents and screamed at the top of their lungs in the middle of a metropolitan road. This was their first time, their introduction to taking the streets. What I assumed was a lack of passion turned out to be something equally important: a first step. The million people: women, men, children, and allies who marched on Washington, did not have the experience of fighting against overt oppression, but they knew they needed to show up; they knew they must be united in the face of a new era that will have them fight for the rights they have long taken for granted. On this day, the American Woman showed up, she rose to the occasion, and though she was hesitant, she was determined.
We arrived at the White House, filling the National Mall with pink pussy hats and chants of “my body, my rights”, and made our presence known. Soon after people started to scatter, but for the rest of the day, one could not go anywhere without running into someone with a sign or a pussy hat. This may not be the desperate protest that started a revolution against a Middle Eastern dictatorship, but it is the American woman beginning her fight. The movement has begun.
Lamya Thompson is a Middle East researcher and a Yemeni national. She lives in Northern Virginia and is a feminist activist in the DC area.