Feature Stories

Published on February 16th, 2017 | by WMJledger


Massachusetts women show their strength at Marches in D.C. and Boston

By Laura Porter

A photo of the U.S. Capitol, taken by Amy Weiswasser, at the Washington Women’s March.

They traveled by car and by train, by public transportation and on foot; they piled onto chartered buses to ride through the night to save money on hotel rooms; they filled airplane seats, row following row of pink “pussy” hats.

In nearly 700 marches in every state in the United States and around the globe, five million people took to the streets on Jan. 21 for a very different sort of inauguration.

Unlike Donald J. Trump’s swearing-in ceremony the day before, the Women’s March on Washington – and its hundreds of sister marches – marked the onset of what has now been termed The Resistance: a groundswell of opposition to the new administration and support for women’s rights as human rights.

No matter where they came from or where they marched, many chose to participate because, as Amy Weiswasser of Longmeadow says, “I wanted to be present. I wanted to express my dissent and show solidarity for people who are terrified every single day, myself included.”

Weiswasser, a social worker, decided to attend the D.C. March as soon as she heard about it. From a single Facebook suggestion the day after the presidential election by a grandmother in Hawaii, the event transmogrified into a national and then international phenomenon.

Weiswasser and her boyfriend drove to Annapolis, where they found an inexpensive place to stay through Airbnb. An Uber to the closest Metro station and a subway ride took them into the city.

From the outset, she says, they were struck by the generosity of everyone they encountered, from the police to the marchers to the National Guard. In the Metro, police officers moved Weiswasser and her boyfriend to the front of a mile-long line for tickets because he uses a cane for a bad knee. On the train, spontaneous singing undercut the stress of the jam-packed cars.

Weiswasser could never get close either to the main stage or even the monitors for the morning rally, but they discovered a march to join around every corner.

Everyone was taking care of one another, she recalls.

“One woman, while marching, said, ‘I wish I had a snack.’ Within five seconds, people were handing her food.”

She took a photograph of a National Guardsman, standing on a truck filming the crowds. When she asked him why, he replied simply, “Because it’s beautiful.”

“There was a beautifully strong energy of kindness,” says Weiswasser. “How wonderful it would be if that’s the way the world was.”

Juliet Feibel of Worcester also travelled to Washington, D.C. She marched with her sister-in-law and their daughters.

“It was very important to show [my daughter] and my nieces that even though they are so far from being able to vote, their voice matters and their aunts and their older sisters are looking out for them as well,” she says.

Like Amy Weiswasser, Feibel, too, decided to go to Washington early, jumping on “outrageously cheap flights out of Providence on Southwest” and staying with her sister-in-law.

But Feibel, the executive director of ArtsWorcester, also draws attention to the universal reality of protest and resistance: it is not fun.

“It was not inspiring,” she says of their experience. “It was exhausting. We were at 12th and Independence, and we could hear and see nothing.”

D.C. organizers had expected 100,000, but the crowd swelled to nearly half a million. It was warm and the sun shone, but the shoulder-to-shoulder throngs challenged even the non-claustrophobic, and there weren’t enough port-a-potties.

For a single person standing amid a sea of coats or shuffling along with an enormous crowd, it is impossible to see that one is making any kind of contribution.

And that, says Juliet Feibel, is exactly the way it works when the whole only emerges as the sum of its parts.

“I said to the girls, ‘This will be meaningful when we get home and we see the aerial photographs. Then you will understand what you were a part of.’”

Such an observation is the perfect metaphor for social justice work in general, she notes.

“You are in it; it’s not fun. You can’t see what you’re accomplishing until you get some distance from it and some time has passed. Then you can see what you were part of.”

At the Boston Women’s March for America, an anticipated attendance of 25,000 became more than 200,000, but the sun was bright and the snow that has blanketed Massachusetts in February was nowhere in sight.

Organizers and speakers spoke from a stage in the center of the Common to a gathering that swelled into the adjacent streets. Indeed, after the rally ended, many of the participants couldn’t get past the boundaries of the Common to reach the march, much less join it.

Nonetheless, says Naomi Ostrow from Worcester, who was there with her sister, Rachel, and their mother, Marcy, “It felt empowering to feel as if we were part of something that is making a difference.”

At 26, Naomi is an old hand at this: in 2004, when she was in the eighth grade, she and her mother picked up Rachel at Smith College, where she was then a student, and drove to Washington for the one million strong March for Women’s Lives, a demonstration for reproductive rights and women’s rights. They went to D. C. again in 2010, to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, billed as comedy but delivered as biting political satire.

In January, they chose to express their frustration closer to home, under the proviso that protest and resistance is vital at a local as well as national level.

“It’s important to show local government that you’re there, you’re listening and you’re playing attention to what they’re doing,” says Marcy Ostrow. “You don’t have to go to the huge things; you just have to show up to where the decision makers are so that they know people are paying attention and will hold them accountable.”

On the speakers’ platform as well as in the assembled crowd, the voices raised in Boston, as elsewhere, reflected different races, ethnicities, generations and economic strata. The official website for the event describes its partnerships with “diverse and visionary organizations that are committed to standing in solidarity with communities most affected by the hate, intolerance and acts of violence being perpetrated throughout the nation.”

“It was a good array of humanity, all coming together,” says Naomi Ostrow. “It was amazing to see how many generations were there; some people had four generations of their family. It’s a purpose that has no generational boundaries, no ethnic boundaries.”

All three women are committed to reproductive justice and active members of the grassroots pro-choice community. The sign they carried read, “U.S. Out of My Uterus.”

For Marcy Ostrow, the Boston rally demonstrated the strength of grassroots activism as well as the power of numbers.

“We can still roll up our sleeves and do something about it one person at a time,” she says.

She was especially heartened by the mobilization of the younger generations, and champions “the young women of the world who never knew what it was like to not to have access to birth control and abortion. They need to know how important it is to wake up and fight for what you care about.”

Beyond question, her own experience was made more meaningful because she was with “the two daughters I schlepped to Washington D.C. My daughters are the future of the world, and my daughter, Rachel, already has my granddaughter, whom she is presenting to the world.”

For new as well as experienced activists, their participation on Jan. 21 marked the beginning rather than the end of a renewed commitment to social justice.

For Naomi Ostrow, going to Boston has made her “want to work even harder.” Her mother believes that it is important to “be very angry on a daily basis every time I see the news. I keep harking back to what it felt like to be in that large group of people. It is good to know that there is a huge group of people who will be there to pick up the pieces if things fall apart.”

CAP: From left, Naomi, Rachel and Marcy Ostrow at the Boston Women’s March for America.

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