Sophomore Ananda Badili’s father marched in the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. 22 years ago. This past weekend, she marched in the Women’s March in D.C. with an estimated 500,000 people.
“It’s like I’m following in his footsteps or something,” she said on the bus, just one day before the march. “I think it’ll be really inspirational and something I can tell my kids about.”
Badili was one of several student organizers — among Keegan Dohm ‘16, senior Blair and sophomores Jenn Erl and Riley Grossman — who planned for 53 Knox students and two faculty members to travel to Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March on Jan. 21.
The students gathered funding for the trip from a GoFundMe page, $2,900 from Student Senate funds and donations from multiple organizations on campus. They left on a charter bus Friday afternoon before the march, drove through the night and arrived in Fairfax County, Va. in the morning.
The march was the largest demonstration in U.S. history, according to the Washington Post, with over one million people marching in several different cities across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and Atlanta.
“I know a lot of people who want to go who aren’t able to go for a number of reasons. I just thought, ‘I can’t miss this chance,’” freshman Dana Dombrowski said.
As students loaded pillows, blankets, food and plenty of sleep aids, it was clear from the start that the trip would be a tight squeeze. With one empty seat left, sophomore Eli Adams scrambled onto the bus just minutes before departure.
Without a secured spot on the list, Adams knew the chance to participate was worth the last-minute wait.
“I think I needed to come here and see what it was like … and see this many people together toward the same movement,” Adams said. “I think I needed to see this in order to handle these next four years and start them off right.”
For sophomore Shresha Karmacharyi and senior Devyani Gore, neither knew what to expect as they began the journey to D.C..
Both international students, Karmacharyi from Nepal and Gore from India, worry about how Trump’s presidency will influence other parts of the world.
“When things happen in America the whole world watches. So when gay marriage got legalized in the United States everyone else did it, [and] in our country we started talking about it,” Gore said. “If it doesn’t happen here, it’s not going to happen in other places.”
After a long drive through a mostly sleepless night, and one unexpected change of buses in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. the bus arrived in Fairfax County, Va. on Saturday morning. Upon getting off the bus, many students were surprised to see the winding lines of people waiting to buy their Metro tickets. Some people had been waiting for hours already.
According to the Washington Post, 597,000 trips had already been electronically counted by 4:00 p.m. Saturday, the day’s total resulting in the second largest number of rides since President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
“I’m anxious about it a little bit … There’s a lot of people even just right here,” Blair said, waiting in line with the rest of the group. “With all of those people, you can’t know what’s going to happen exactly.”
After the protest arrests on President Donald Trump’s inauguration day, Blair knew of several people who had safety concerns for the march.
“I don’t want it to become that, because that can get really ugly. I’m a little worried about that … Besides from that I don’t really know what to expect, I’ve never been to anything this large-scale,” Badili said while on the bus ride to DC.
After a jam-packed Metro ride with fellow marchers from all over the country, it took hours before Knox students were able to make it to the march destination.
As students rode the Metro escalator up to street level, a sea of pink hats began to appear. This was a goal of those behind the Pussyhat Project, encouraging marchers to make a statement by wearing the pink cat-eared hats. The trend was highly noticeable throughout the day, as participants of different ages, races and genders wore them as they marched.
Children marched with their parents and friends, and people carried signs reading various different slogans, including, “Pussy grabs back,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Hate can’t end what it started.” Some members of the march proudly chanted, while others were more quiet. A marching band featuring stilt-walkers and large art pieces performed through the march.
Students quickly separated into small groups, attempting to make their way to the main section of the march. Considering the number of participants exceeded the plans of the official organizers, it was unclear where the march began and where it ended. According to the New York Times, there were at least 470,000 people in the areas on or near the mall on Saturday by 2 p.m., about three times the amount of people present for Donald Trump’s inauguration the day before.
“Just to see a lot of people in support of women’s rights makes my heart melt,” said senior Shakisha Grays. “I didn’t expect this many people to come out, because just the way the election turned out for Trump you feel like half the country didn’t support women’s rights, so this was just a shock to me.”
Grays marched alongside fellow senior Marilyn Barnes, who noted the large presence of white women at the march. Although she anticipated this turnout, Barnes was still shocked by how few women of color there were.
“I was glad I was able to go, because even though my skin color may not be brown, I do have Mexican blood in me, so it was nice for me to be able to be there with my culture and a couple other people that did go who are people of color,” Barnes said. “I was glad that we were given that opportunity to be there when the space is no longer really [occupied by] women of color.”
However for the few people of color she did see, Barnes was empowered by the honesty in their signs, especially those directed toward white women. Barnes came across one sign online that read, “Are you nice ladies going to be at the next Black Lives Matter protest?”
“They weren’t scared, even though they knew they were going to be in a sea full of white women, to put that on there” she said.
Barnes wrote her signs and started chants in Spanish, which she was happy to see march participants translating throughout the day. Although not everyone at the march spoke Spanish, she still observed fellow marchers chiming in.
“It made me feel more welcomed in the space, and that people generally did want it to be intersectional,” Barnes said.
Freshman Eden Sarkisian noted that the amount of people at the event was comforting in and of itself.
“I felt supported because when you’re out there, when there’s a lot of people there’s more security and more safety, and as a woman of color who was going out there to protest this and march, security and safety was a big concern of mine,” she said.
However, she believed that the march was not without its flaws.
“I saw a lot of trans-exclusionary language, stuff that specifically talked about uteruses and pussies to exemplify women and represent women are trans-exclusionary, and I saw those signs. I was very disappointed,” Sarkisian said.
In an attempt to host an intersectional event, or creating a space for overlapping social identities, the march’s organizers brought in an array of speakers and performers. Some of these included civil rights activist Angela Davis, feminist activist Gloria Steinem and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.
Although a large majority of the signs seen at the march were directly vocalizing concerns against the President, the organizers of the march intended for the event to be a nonpartisan demonstration.
Several groups marched by the Trump Hotel, six blocks away from the White House. Marchers left their signs along the fence surrounding the building, creating a sea of messages to the newly inaugurated President. Some yelled at the building as they passed, while security guards stood solemnly outside.
This was the final action of many Knox marchers before making their way back to the crowded Metro and back to the bus. Many were hungry, tired and sore. Many in the group had not had a meal since boarding the bus about 24 hours prior.
“I was like, ‘This doesn’t sound great on paper, why don’t I remember that this is the way it feels?’” Adams reflected. “It’s because it’s so inspiring and infinitely worth it that you forget the nasty stuff and … you don’t come out complaining, you come out grateful and inspired.”
Now that the students have returned to campus, many are starting to think about their next steps regarding political and social activism.
“I just hope that this march will not be the end of it. I think this should just be the beginning and we need to keep going with our activism,” freshman Janie Sutherd said.
Some students, like Adams, said the march inspired them to approach the next four years, and whatever may come after, with a stronger attitude and willpower.
“I hope people come out of it feeling inspired, but more importantly not alone, and feeling like they have other people who are interested in bringing attention to issues that they think need attention,” said Adams.
There are several student organizations on campus that focus on social and political involvement, including Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (M.E.Ch.A.), Advocates for Choice, Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality (ABLE), Class Action and more. M.E.Ch.A. and ABLE both held protests on Knox’s campus and in Galesburg during Fall Term.
Some students who went to D.C. attended an organizing meeting held by M.E.Ch.A., regarding the status of DACA students and making Knox a sanctuary campus.
“Starting local activity and local conversation is what’s important. Some of our organizations are already doing it,” Sarkisian said. “Nothing is going to change if you don’t start showing up to those meetings and don’t start initiating conversations. So I’d say everybody who wants change needs to stop waiting around for someone else to initiate it.”
Barnes is planning on attending several more protests in the future, specifically a protest in Chicago for Latinx individuals against Trump. Badili, Sarkisian and Adams all shared their pasts with protesting for different causes, such as Black Lives Matter, Free Palestine or commemorating the Armenian genocide.
Blair warned against the dangers of talking about change, instead of actually making active steps toward facilitating change in our communities. The same goes for fostering inclusivity and intersectional spaces.
“It’s not enough to say that you’re including people, but you have to actually do it,” they said. “You can’t just say it, you have to act.”
To portray this message, Blair’s sign at the march read “Revolution is not a one-time event,” a quote from black feminist Audre Lorde.
After the march, the Women’s March on Washington organizers posted an action plan for participants, titled, “10 Actions / 100 Days.” While Blair supports taking action, they think action should occur on an everyday basis, not just once a week or for 100 days. They hope the organizers who brought students to D.C. and the organizers who led the march in Galesburg, can share ideas with one another.
“A lot of people are saying this should just be a spark. I hope that every single person that’s here continues to do things, because if not, then it’s kind of pointless,” Blair said. “I think the goal is to not let us lose momentum.”