Early in the morning on Thursday, January 19, I walked up to gate D1 in Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport.
I saw a group of about 10 women in their late 30s and older huddled together. I kept watching them, trying to figure out if they were flying to Baltimore for the same reason I was.
One woman, Maureen, saw me staring and yelled out, “Are you a naaaasty woman?”
"Oh, yeah," I answered.
That’s when the Women’s March on Washington started for me.
I'd decided to attend the march shortly after Donald Trump was elected president.
I related to the mission: to show Trump and his administration that he is wrong about women, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, people of color, people with disabilities, and anyone else he framed as "others" during his campaign.
The marchers would come together to say they would not stand for disrespect, inequality, or discrimination. News spread of other sister marches around the country and world.
Millions of people were ready to act. And so was I.
That decision in November led me to gate D1 at 6:30 a.m. and one of the most encouraging experiences I've ever had.
Maureen and the other women came over, introduced themselves, and gave me some pins to wear during the march. One was a gold safety pin to indicate that I'm a safe, nonjudgmental person to talk to. Many of the women mentioned to me how excited they were to fight back.
As more women arrived at the gate, they were greeted the same way. Trump supporters headed to the inauguration also gathered at the same gate, eyeing the women and whispering to one another.
Regardless of people's intentions, everything felt politically charged.
“Which side of this do you live on?” one man asked a woman lined up to board.
“Oh, the Trump side,” she replied. The man had actually just been asking if the woman lived in Phoenix or on the East Coast.
Despite the two sides being clearly divided, there was an undeniable excitement in the air. The group of women with signs packed in their carry-ons was the biggest generator of it.
When one man boarded the plane with a #notmypresident shirt on, the women erupted in cheers and applause.
After word spread that I was a photographer heading to the march, the flight attendants started coordinating photo opportunities while we soared through the air at 35,000 feet. One flight attendant led me up and down the aisle, making sure I met all the marchers on board and was able to take their photos, if they wanted.
Other passengers made it clear that they were not part of the marching group, but there was no hostility onboard.
“We don’t agree, but we’re still friendly,” one woman heading to the march said about the man in her row who said he supported Trump.
The abundant feeling of camaraderie, teamwork, and sisterhood that I felt during that flight didn’t stay on the plane. It oozed out like ointment into every place I went this weekend.
On the shuttle from the airport to the train into D.C., local women made sure visitors knew where they were going and the best ways to get there, all while sharing their hopes and fears about the upcoming march and the years to come.
A woman I stood next to on the shuttle told me she was planning to protest during the inauguration.
"I'll get my rage out Friday, but Saturday?” she said. “It's time for change.”
On Friday, pussy hats were everywhere. I saw five of the knitted, pink hats with points that look like cat ears at one café in Bloomingdale's grabbing a mid-afternoon coffee, one on a nearby corner waiting for a friend or Uber, and I lost count of how many I saw around Georgetown that evening.
I saw one “Make America Great Again” hat.
I made eye contact with these women and men in their pink hats. We exchanged smiles that seemed to mean, “Just one more day. We’re almost there.”
If you avoided downtown D.C. and any social media or news outlets, you could have easily forgotten what was happening in D.C. on Friday, January 20.
Although some parts of the city sparked with violent protests, it still felt like the calm before the storm.
On Saturday, marchers were unavoidable. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets, and the city was overwhelmed with pussy hats and protest signs. Even miles away from the rally and march, you couldn’t look down a street without seeing a group of pink-clad people walking or pass someone on the sidewalk without them wishing you luck and safety.
It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. The entire city seemed to be with us.
I never actually made it to the rally or the starting point for the march. I met up with a group of friends and we got as close as we could, but there were too many people. Even before the newscasters reported it, it was obvious that this had become larger than what the organizers planned.
Originally, the organizers said they were expecting 200,000 participants, but they told D.C.'s deputy mayor for public safety and justice that an estimated 500,000 showed up on Saturday. Being right in the middle of it, it felt like much more.
But even as we stood, pinned up against one of the fences left behind from the inauguration by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, for over an hour with no phone service and no idea what was happening to the march out of sight, spirits were high.
Without the ability to check Twitter or Facebook, strangers talked to each other and took photos with one another. We complimented and chuckled at each other’s signs, bounced beach balls around the crowd, and let the sheer number of people sink in.
This time waiting seemed to mimic how Trump's opponents felt about the incoming administration: Everything was slow moving, there was little communication from the leaders, and at the end of the stagnation, everyone was literally turned around.
But then, we started moving.
“To the mall! To the mall!” people chanted.
There was no pushing or shoving, no stampeding. Slowly, this crowd of thousands moved through one opening in the fence to the National Mall. And we were off.
The energy was infectious, like a collective high.
There was plenty of anger in the chants.
“We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!”
“Around Mike Pence, build a fence!”
“Welcome to your first day! We will not go away!”
But it was so focused at one common target, there was nothing left for each other but friendship and support. And for the most part, this sense of togetherness is what the chants conveyed.
“Love, not hate, makes America great!”
“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”
“Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
“My body, my choice,” women would shout, with men responding, “Her body, her choice!”
At one point, our unofficial route led us to a lookout where we could see the official route below filled with hundreds of thousands of marchers. It looked like a river of pink, an artery headed toward the White House.
Even now, it’s difficult to find the right words to describe that sight. “Amazing,” “incredible,” “inspiring,” and “powerful” are among them.
“So many people,” I kept hearing people say in awe as they reached the lookout spot. I don’t think any of us expected it.
While the march was not without its flaws (poor communication the day of, no central leader of the movement, less than ideal diversity in participants), it was a historic start to the fight we have ahead of us.
But there is so much more to be done.
Instead of acknowledging the march as it was happening, even with just a tweet as simple as "I hear you," Trump had his press secretary try to distract the public by forcing the inauguration into the headlines of most network news shows that night.
It was beyond disappointing and seemed to confirm the message that Trump does not care to be every American's president. At least, he doesn't care if he's the president who truly stands for the millions of women and men around the country (and world) who dedicated their day to expressing how concerned and upset they are. To me, his silence that day said very clearly that this public servant doesn't care about understanding or representing us.
The following day, we got two dismissive tweets of acknowledgment that proved Trump still doesn't seem to understand that he lost the popular vote, and he doesn't agree that the issues we were marching for are worthy causes.
It felt like our brand-new president had already written us off on his first full day in office. Where he could have made a great gesture, even with one single tweet, to start repairing relationships with his constituents, he decided to make the conversation, once again, all about him.
I guess some things never change. All I can hope is that he proves me wrong.
Despite Trump's distractions, the marches were all about us. We, the people, are powerful. And it's clear we are not alone.
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