Photos by Gwendolyn Schanker
On Saturday I participated in the Boston Women’s March on Boston Common. That being said, “marching” wasn’t among the verbs I would use to describe my actions. I stood. I chanted. I smiled. I cheered. I walked, sort of, though it was more of a shuffling. I took photos of inspiring picket signs. I craned my neck to look over the crowd of people, and strained my ears to hear some of the speeches happening at the center of the crowd of close to 200,000 – more than five times as many marchers as the event organizers originally expected would show up. I wished I had worn more comfortable shoes. Honestly, it didn’t really feel like I was doing much of anything, but it was an important confrontation with a type of social action I haven’t really paid much attention to before, let alone participated in.
I have to admit that when I first heard about the Women’s March, the cloud of disappointment that’s been over my head since Trump’s election didn’t exactly lift. Instead, my initial reaction was, “Why bother protesting if it’s not going to do anything? It’s not like we can get him un-elected.” It’s a sentiment similar to the defeat I feel knowing that fake news is dominating a profession journalists have spent decades trying to perfect and protect; and similar to my frustration that no matter how many articles I write, no matter how many relevant hashtags I use, and no matter how much scientific evidence there is, much of the public is still going to be skeptical about climate change. Sometimes, I just don’t get the point of trying if the solution isn’t in sight. Why do something if it’s not going to solve everything?
In a few words, that viewpoint is selfish, unrealistic, and pathetic. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., champion of the nonviolent resistance movement of the Civil Rights era, whose birthday fell just a week before Trump’s inauguration, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” We can never see the whole staircase. That’s not the point. I don’t have to understand the full impact of a protest in order to participate. We don’t have to solve everything in order to do something.
There’s a power in people coming together (and wearing pink) that I hadn’t really acknowledged before. I can see it now from the aerial photos of the thousands of people crowding the streets in cities around the globe. I can see it now in the messages and images from my friends, who were marching in D.C., L.A., Chicago, New York, Ann Arbor, Saint Joseph, Minnesota, Lansing, Utah…. I can see it now in the hundreds of handmade signs I came across in Boston alone, a form of communication that as an aspiring member of the media, I’ve so far overlooked. I can see now that marching or protesting or whatever you want to call it is an important outlet for frustration and commiseration and education. I can see now that it’s incredible and inspiring and not something to be ignored, and I hope that after yesterday, our new administration will see that, too.
I’m still having trouble coming to terms with what the future looks like over the coming years, especially for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and any others who are concerned about losing their right to be who they are. This weekend I learned that when those groups come together to express their concerns, it creates something meaningful. On an individual level, it’s a combination of standing around wishing I had worn more comfortable shoes and feeling my heart lift at being surrounded by people who are passionate about the same things I am. On a collective level, it’s doing something without knowing whether we’re going to solve everything.