The power and heartbreak in attending the women’s march with my mom

I think my mom was the one to suggest attending the Women’s March on Washington. While I was still in shock and unsure how to best resist an administration that threatened to undo so much of what I appreciate about America, she had already coordinated with her cousin in Georgia about where to stay for the weekend.

My mom has been politically active for a long time. In high school, she started an environmental club. In college, she worked for a hotline counseling women on abortion and birth control. A common refrain when we talk about politics is “I can’t believe we’re still talking about this.” Roe v. Wade was decided when she was in college, and she couldn’t imagine that more than 40 years later it’d still be up for dispute.

The Women’s March on Washington was largely organized online and, as such, it would have been easy to think of it as a young person’s game, a day for people with hope in their hearts and fire in their bellies, who haven’t been disappointed by the failures and compromises of a long life under a flawed government. Besides, who else has the energy to stand on their feet and yell for hours at a time?

But going into the march, I knew a bunch of people who were attending with their parents, and whose parents had been fighting for human rights for a long time. And as the day unfolded, a major theme of the march emerged—not just from the frustration experienced by but also from the inspiration that came from the women who have been fighting inequality for generations.

Many women marching joined parents who had spent their lifetimes involved in political activism. “My mom and dad decided on their own that they were going,” said author Miranda Pennington. Her parents live in northern Virginia and have long leaned liberal. “They raised me with progressive values of tolerance and acceptance, overtly anti-racist and vehemently pro-woman views,” she said, recalling going to rallies with them as a kid.

Julia C., of Massachusetts, also went to the march in D.C. with her mother, who has long been involved in “lefty” politics. She told her mom she was planning to go, not wanting to pressure her, but “wasn’t surprised at all that she wants to go. She’s smart and brave and strong.” 

Betty Cameron said the same thing about her parents, even though her mom had never attended a protest before. Prior to the march, she told the Daily Dot that she and her family “spend a lot of our phone calls lamenting Trump’s latest appointment or tweet or awful policy stance, so I think we’re all looking forward to getting outside, alongside thousands of other people, and focus on the positive potential of so much mobilized passion.”

It was impossible to turn 360 degrees in the crowd in Washington, D.C. on Saturday and not see a sign decrying just how long people have been yelling about issues like reproductive rights, equal pay, and police brutality. These were the posters my mom smiled at the most, with messages like “Cannot believe my grandma is still protesting this shit!” and “You think I’m mad? You should see my mom.”

#womensmarchonwashington #nastywoman #whyimarch

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The speakers and speeches also alluded to this generational history. Gloria Steinem spoke of reproductive justice and said, “We’re never going back,” the threat being that ever since Roe v. Wade was passed, it’s been opposed. Women evoked the memories of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Susan B. Anthony. March organizer Bob Bland took the stage with her infant daughter, saying she wanted her daughters to see that women “can transform the world.”

From one angle, it was easy to get disheartened. So many of the issues at the forefront of the march are basic human rights that have been turned into issues of partisanship. Questions of people having access to clean water, doctors, and equal pay are now a matter of conservative or liberal, rather than decency. There was fear and disappointment and annoyance that yes, our grandmas are still protesting this shit.

But there was also fire, spurred by women who have grown to understand political involvement as a regular part of life, not something you do once every four years. Women who teach their children to think critically, fight for what’s fair, and not back down from bullies. Women who, unfortunately, have to keep fighting for themselves, for us, for all of us.

There’s those darn #nastygrannies again. #thefoodandwinediva #sistermarch #womensmarchonwashington #lifechanging #dccool

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Julia C. said that she appreciates her mother’s perspective when it’s easy to give into frustrations. “She wasn’t as horrified or as surprised as I was after the election—which I’ve heard from other people too. She knows the world better than I do—I really can’t deny that. She has seen this sort of evil before, but she still turns her face to the sun.” 

Pennington agrees, saying of her mother, “She was the first person I called after election night, and the first thing she said was ‘It’s been bad before and it’ll be bad again. We have to pick ourselves up and keep going.'”

For others, the march was a good opportunity to talk about difficult issues. A.K., a twentysomething from Pennsylvania, was initially skeptical of the marches. “My mom wanted to go. She’s white. I’m not,” she told the Daily Dot. “I’m also queer and tired. The marches as a whole didn’t feel like they were for me and also I’m distrusting of being in large groups of white women.” 

A.K. and her mother wound up going to the Philadelphia march (scene of the original Million Woman March 20 years ago), after which her mother noted how few POC she saw and how she wished there had been more. “It led to a constructive discussion about why WOC especially didn’t all necessarily feel like this was for them,” A.K. says. She’s been talking all day about how this just has to be the beginning and there has to be more activism and she needs to keep calling her rep, so I think it was a pretty good jumping-off point.”

In the middle of the rally, poet Aja Monet read a poem called “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.” I looked around to the multiple mothers I had come with, the mothers and grandmothers in the crowd in front of me, my Instagram filled with photos of my friends with their parents. I was at once moved by our shared history as women, aware of the prejudices that exist within such a broad movement, and frustrated that this has to be the history we share. That the things my mother fought for are the things I’m fighting for. “I hope I don’t have to do this again in 30 years,” my mom said to me.

But what the mothers of the marches prove was that politics is a lifelong process. It’s not something you do in your 20s and stop caring about. It’s not a single protest or a vote. It’s an everyday commitment to building the world you want to see and resisting the powers that want to keep that world from existing. There is no such thing as winning. There is always another fight.

“My mom explained it to me like this: She’s been doing this sort of stuff her whole life, and while she’s both excited and frustrated for this march, she has seen so much change these past 60 years,” said Rachel Ross. “She feels that activism has played a huge role in all that she’s seen in her lifetime and that she’s marching to make sure that all of those amazing things don’t become undone. She also, of course, recognizes that there is still much to do.”

When I got home my mom called me, giddy over the events of the day and the initial counts for how many millions of people marched around the world. “I’m so happy we were a part of this together, honey,” she said. 

It won’t be the last time we fight together. And that’s a good thing.

Jaya Saxena

Jaya Saxena

Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'