On January 21, 2017, I did something I had never done before in my life. I went to a protest. Living in the city of Boston, naturally, I went to the Boston Women’s March to protest the election of Donald Trump to the presidency.
A few months before, when the Women’s Marches around the country were barely in their conception, my Mom mentioned that she was planning on attending. I had thought about going myself but assumed that the Boston protest would be puny in comparison to Washington and resolved to make my way to D.C. Being financially unable to get there, though (I’m a student, y’all, I have like $2 and a cup-o-noodles to my name), I agreed somewhat reluctantly to protest in Boston with my Mom.
I was blissfully unaware of the size of the coming protest. Even when my mom two days prior mentioned that 70,000 people were expected I still didn’t believe her. For whatever reason, I didn’t think that the people of Boston would turn out for the march. In my head I was imagining a small crowd of a few hundred, huddled around listening to Elizabeth Warren, before we made a quick lap around the Common.
My thoughts changed the morning of the protest when I stepped out of my apartment and saw literally hundreds of people packed into my suburban subway station. The T would pull in from the furthest stop already packed to the limit with people. This confirmed my Mom’s own experience of having to wait 45 minutes just to get a Charlie Ticket at Alewife, and then waiting almost 90 minutes just to get into Park Street. It usually takes a cool 20 minutes to get to Park street from Alewife.
I began to understand that I was about to be part of something unfathomably enormous.
Being unable to take a train to the common I ended up getting in a cab and having the driver take me as close as possible to the event. All the way down Commonwealth Avenue, the streets were packed with protesters who’d given up on public transportation and decided to just walk the distance to the park. Upon arriving—still two blocks from my destination as the roads were closed—I began to notice just how massive the crowd itself was.
Take a moment and try to imagine what 70,000 people looks like. Unless you’ve actually seen a crowd that big all standing in one place, it’s hard to imagine. It looks like a vaguely large group of people, there’s no real size to it.
Upon entering the Boston Gardens I noticed the steady stream of people trying to get into the Boston Common. The bridge over the lake was so full people had to wait a full 15 minutes to cross. People were steadily making their way around the lake towards the various gates that lead to the common.
When I finally left the Garden, I saw a crowd bigger than any crowd I had ever seen in my entire life. From the Earl of Sandwich to the Civil War Memorial all the way down to the street, people were packed in like sardines, carrying signs for various social justice causes. Even after locating my mother (not simple in a crowd of what turned out to be 125,000 or so) and getting to our spot on the Civil War Memorial hill, I could still see a steady block of people flowing in near the Frog Pond from the Park Street T stop.
A Mass of Positive Energy
The crowd ended up being almost double what organizers were expecting. When the speakers began to rally the crowd, some parts of the protest could only hear the cheers from the parts closer to the speakers. Despite having a fairly large PA system and video screen, the march was simply too large to accommodate. Despite this, the crowd was warm and kind. Everyone I spoke to that day had nothing but kind and uplifting words to say to everyone and even those tasked with the dull job of blocking streets, or police, were surprisingly supportive. Not only had I never been in a crowd that big before, I had never been in a crowd that big that was literally just a huge mass of positive, empowering, and uplifting energy.
I was also pleased to see the number of social justice issues represented. Everything from Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock was represented. Anti-Semitism was also addressed; I noted one man holding a sign saying “Punching Nazi’s is my Family Legacy.” A number of protesters showed up for Trans rights and LGBTQ+ rights. Rainbow flags were a favorite accessory of the day as well as homemade pink hats with cat ears. One woman even dressed in a huge cat puppet costume. Another notable highlight was seeing all the Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia signs: “A Woman’s Place is in the Rebellion” superimposed over an image of everyone’s favorite space princess.
Another notable issue was global climate change, something Elizabeth Warren addressed in her speech: “I’m going to say something that is controversial in Washington…We believe in science!” Protesters also rallied the march by chanting, “Let’s go science!” Later renditions of this chant included nods to the arts as well.
A number of men from many generations showed out to protest. Some just because they thought it was the right thing to do, and some coming to represent their wives, daughters, etc. Reports have estimated that the crowd at the march was pretty evenly split between men and women, though of course this does not account for those identifying as genderqueer, genderfluid, or nonbinary.
Of the men at the protest one notable member was Mayor Marty Walsh who took the time in his speech to remind the crowd that Boston is not a city that sits quietly by when injustice happened. He noted that the very spot we stood on was one in which abolitionists fought for rights, where the revolutionists fought for rights, where Freedom Riders began their journey south, and where Vietnam War protests raged.
At that moment, squished up against my mother and the friends we’d made simply by being in close physical contact with, I realized that I was a part of something that was much bigger than myself. I was part of a history of rebellion in a city that said no to tea taxes by brewing a big kettle of tea in the harbor. I was a part of literally thousands of people who are seeing injustice occur and standing up against it. When the entire crowd gathered in the common sang Amazing Grace (first in Cherokee and second in English), I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a little.
The March Begins Moving
The march began late, as these things tend to do. The sheer scale of the crowd made maneuvering into the streets a bit tricky. My Mom and I had moved away from the hill towards the end of the speakers and had managed to get into the street fairly early on. Despite this, it still took us a full 45 minutes to make it from the bottom of Charles Street up to where Charles meets Beacon street (this is normally a two to five-minute walk, a city block or so) because we had to wait for those joining the march at the various entrance points from the Garden and the Common.
Once we actually began moving, I was pleased to see the number of supporters on the sidelines cheering us on. Many folks had camped out on the steps of their homes, or even opened up their windows and just pulled up a chair. Several people even had rooftop gatherings so they were able to see the entire scale of the march. Along Commonwealth Ave. those who could not walk had propped themselves up in chairs or on benches waving signs of support: “I will not be quietly pushed back into the 1950s.” Police were present but not a notable presence; had I not been with my mother, who thanked every single one we passed for their service, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them.
Another large crowd at the protest were kids. Many mothers brought strollers and Baby Bjorns to carry their kids in. A professor of mine marching in the Seattle protest gave knitted her toddler son a pink hat to wear and wrote “love” in duct tape on his harness. Those old enough to walk by themselves often carried handmade signs that said things only a child could think of: “Be Nice!” or “Trump is a Meanie!” A number of fathers also held their kids up on their shoulders so they could get a better view. Family units marching together were a very common sight during the day.
As the march wrapped around back towards the common. my Mom and I headed down Boyleston St. to get a cab back to my apartment. As we passed the common I could still see it emptying out; people were still joining the march even as the first few of us finished. All said and done the march was estimated to take three to four hours to complete just due to the sheer size of it.
Back in my bed after a long day of marching, I took my physically exhausted body to the internet and saw that Boston was not alone in protesting. I knew there were going to be other protests in Washington and some other states, but I had no idea other countries and continents were participating. The cell service on the common had been so poor you couldn’t even send a text, let alone get a notification about the scale of the global movement. Earlier that day I had never been prouder to be a Bostonian; when I got home and saw all the marches I was never prouder to be a part of something so powerful.
Millions of people showed up all over the world to protest and tell Trump that he is not our president and that his agenda of hate and discrimination goes against everything America and the office of the presidency stands for.
Mike Russo from Placentia California on January 22, 2017:
Good for you and thank you for doing that. I hope Trump gets the message, but I don't think he will allow himself to do that. I believe he is not capable of empathy.
Leslie McCowen from Cape Cod, USA on January 22, 2017:
boston strong! nice hub :-)