U.P. women march on Washington

At 1:30 in the morning, somewhere in Ohio, two buses full of Yoopers were pulled over on the side of the road in the rainy night. One bus had overheated and both drivers were at work adding coolant. But the dark and drizzly stop didn't dampen the spirits of the 110 women, men and children on board, all on their way to Washington, D.C., for the Women's March on Washington.

Instead, a few hours later, fueled by intermittent sleep and an entire travel plaza's worth of coffee, the U.P. marchers joined the long lines of pink-hatted marchers with signs piling on to every stop of the D.C. Metro train system, on their way to the U.S. Capitol building to make their voices heard.

The ride down was full of music, solidarity, high spirits and food, dear God, so much food. (That's what happens when moms and grandmas organize a bus trip, you know.) A button maker made an appearance, with messages like "Silence is Complacency," "Equality," and a bus favorite, "Now You've Pissed Off Grandma." Marching signs were drawn, colored and shared. The League of Women Voters was represented and got several new members to sign on. The Hiawatha Music Co-op let the bus borrow a box full of the classic protest songbook, Rise Up Singing, so songs like "This Land Is Your Land" and "Imagine" broke out.

The worldwide march for women's rights made quite a ripple in the U.P., with several buses and vans making the 18-hour trek to D.C. from the Marquette area. About 1,000 people are estimated to have turned up for the local Women's March in downtown Marquette Saturday, and even tiny Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw showed its support with a gathering of a dozen or so residents.

Among those who went to Washington, D.C., there were some experienced marchers and protesters, but far more first-timers, including quite a few children whose parents aimed to show them their democracy in action. About a fifth were men, and the age range covered from grandparents down to age 8, spanning moms, college students and teenagers.

Katie Fink of Eben Junction brought her daughter, Eddy, 16, the first time either mother or daughter had joined a march of any kind. She said she was inspired to take the trip because at home, the isolation of the U.P. can give people the impression that we're not part of wider social issues like racial justice and women's rights.

"Coming from the U.P. where we're so isolated, it's easy to forget what people are dealing with every day," she said. "That was one reason, another was that I have to do it for my daughter. There's too many women who fought too hard to not take their place now. And because I'm here, and I can, so I have to."

For 14-year-old Maezie Nettleton of Chatham, it was her first foray into political action, spurred by concern over how the campaign and election of President Donald Trump had shown her some racist beliefs among her peers.

"I came because I'm a very strong believer in equal rights," Nettleton said. "We need a lot less hating people because of their sexuality or race or gender and a lot more love."

The Metro stations and trains served as informal rallies, with marchers cheering each other on, getting to know each other, finding out where everyone was from, passing compliments, taking photos with each other's signs, sharing march strategies and tips. A Metro security officer working at the Shady Grove station passed word down the line of marchers to be proud because it was the biggest crowd he'd personally ever seen on the Metro.

The estimated crowd organizers expected for the Women's March was about 200,000, which turned out to be a wildly low underestimate, as more in the neighborhood of half a million showed up. In fact, the rally, with speakers like Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, Alicia Keys, and Linda Sarsour, went past the scheduled march time Saturday, as organizers tried to figure out how to move so many people down what was already a packed march route, with wall-to-wall marchers crammed into every available space.

Marchers climbed trees and light poles to pass information and boost their messages above the crowds, and speakers continued to rally the marchers. Eventually, organizers announced the march would move forward, and a roar filled the street.

There was some confusion in the crowd as people made their own way through the streets of D.C., spilling over into side streets and the Mall (originally blocked off by police, who eventually  took down fences and barricades to ease crowd pressure) while the main body of the march was funneled along Pennsylvania Avenue, the route of the President's inaugural parade from the day before, complete with cheering onlookers in stands set up for the parade. There was a high police presence, along with National Guard soldiers directing traffic and Secret Service officers guarding every street that led to the White House, which were barricaded to keep the marchers at a distance.

Chants moved through the crowds, often sparked by onlookers or organizers leading them from the sidewalks or streets. Some, like the anti-Trump message "We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter," got more traction than, say, "Black Lives Matter" with the predominately white marchers. But there was a mood of solidarity, and open hearts and ears, and men and women and children of all races were in attendance, as were some protesters from other countries (we saw you, Canada and Ireland!)

"We are the popular vote" was loud and clear, as was "This is what democracy looks like."

Pro-choice marchers rallied each other with women chanting "My body, my choice," answered by men shouting "Her body, her choice." As marchers passed the Newseum, chants for a free press broke out, and as they reached the Trump Hotel, lots of booing arose, along with the chant "Welcome to your first day, we won't go away!"

Signs varied from funny to serious, to outright ridiculous, like "Where's Rick and Morty Season 3?" (Which is totally understandable, but probably not something Trump can do anything about.)

The mostly female crowd was probably about a fifth men, often carrying children or leading chants. Native dancers took up a sacred circle near the Museum of the American Indian, and "Black Lives Matter" and "Water is Life" chants popped up here and there in the crowd. But mostly, the outrage was directed against Trump, and for women's rights and reproductive rights, and mostly, the marchers were white.

As marchers streamed back onto the Metro, exhausted, they'd often left their signs behind at recycling drop points or in protest against the barricades near the White House. But they hadn't left their sense of determination, solidarity and energy, as the talk turned to what actions would come next. Local letter-writing groups were set, future protests planned, and women were speaking words of resistance, empowerment and love for one another.

Nettleton said afterward she was surprised at the massive amount of marchers who turned out.

"I don't even know how to describe it! I feel insanely empowered, awestruck about just how many people were there and we were all there for the same thing," she said. She's inspired to speak out and stay politically active, she added.

"I want to keep pushing for things like women's rights, getting Donald Trump to either a) step up and be a good president or b) get out of office."

That spirit of action is something many felt compelled to pursue, a bright spot in a time of fearfulness and worry over the direction our country is taking.

"What's next is, we go high," said Fink, referring to a recent speech from Michelle Obama. "We ride this amazing wave into our communities and friendships. We cannot allow this to hurt us for long because the damage will be so severe. We must shine our light everywhere. We must help each other in doing so by holding meetings, talking, sharing and making our majority voices be heard in every way."

"I came away with hope. I came away with energy. I came away with love for my fellow humans and our world. I came away with faith that we will let love win."

Kim Eggleston is a Michigan-based freelance writer and editor who is proud to have been one of the many at the Women's March on Washington.
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