The day after President Trump’s inauguration wasn’t an especially beautiful day in New York City, but it was perfect for marching: not too cold, not too hot, cloudy but not rainy.
And march New Yorkers did— hundreds of thousands of women and men and children filled the streets and sidewalks, marching from the United Nations by the East River to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. They marched in solidarity with their sisters in the original Women’s March on Washington. The New York demonstration was one of the Sister Marches throughout the country. In all, an estimated 3.3 million people took part. They gathered support from every continent as women all over the world marched with them.
In midtown Manhattan, streets were spilling over with people who could barely move. The subways were teeming with rivers of humanity. When they finally reached the street above, they found a wall of marchers. On 42nd Street, it took 10 minutes to wade through and cross to the other side, one hour to advance one block. But no one complained. Courtesy and friendliness prevailed. The sense of community pervaded the throng because all were committed to the same goal: to hold on to the hard-won gains made in the last six decades. They carried signs that championed civil rights, women’s rights, healthcare and reproductive rights. A concern about climate change was another common theme, and politics was everywhere. The new president is not popular and that was reflected in most of the signs.
I asked psychotherapist and artist Judy Warren why she was marching. “Because I have to,” she answered. “Everything in me makes me do this because I am so dismayed and disheartened at what has happened in this election and the kinds of things that Donald Trump stands for. They are so opposed to all my values— values of equality, freedom and caring that Obama represented.”
I asked if there is any particular issue that is especially important to her.
“There are so many really, that it is hard to boil them down, but obviously women’s reproductive rights are extremely important to me and so is climate change and healthcare. Those are the three that come to mind first.”
Everybody came— black, white and brown; young, old and in-between; gay, straight and trans; Jewish, Christian, Muslim or none of the above— all celebrating the diversity of America. The mood was at once exultant and determined.
I saw Sonia Omulepu, an older African-American woman, resting after her subway ride. I asked her why she had come. She told me,
The person who has been elected does not represent democracy or know what it means to unite a country. What will happen to women’s rights because of him? Also, I think of immigrants, because I am an immigrant, a working citizen. He talks about immigrants in such a disparaging way. This country is a welcoming country and he doesn’t represent that. Why am I marching? I had to be here to be counted as one of those who did not vote for him. He is illegitimate, as far as I’m concerned. That’s it.
Linda Keen, a mathematician and retired academic, was marching “because I think it’s important to show that people care about a lot of the issues the new administration seems not to care about or to be against.”
Like others who fear what may come of Trump’s relationship with Putin, Keen worries about “potential war.” She is also concerned about “funding for education, for art, culture and also particularly the climate.”
Women like Keen who lived through the culture wars of the 60s remember the fight over Roe v. Wade and the exultation of many women when the decision came down.
Healthcare and reproductive rights are important issues for her. “A good part of the Obama care bill is that women can get contraceptives. This is important, and I think that Planned Parenthood is a very important part of the whole health issue.”
People who weren’t demonstrating, like the merchants on Fifth Avenue, offered tacit support. The Barnes & Noble café accommodated the throngs of weary marchers who descended on it to have a cup of something warm and sit down, but the lines were long and chairs were at a premium. The store cleaned the bathrooms much more often than usual. At Saks Fifth Avenue, poker-faced doormen admitted people into the store even though they knew full well that they were marchers, not shoppers. They didn’t flinch when asked where the rest rooms were. Understandably, Cartier closed early.
It was a very special day.