I have never been so sure as I was on Saturday that I was part of history being made. That morning while it was still dark out, I was bustling around my friend’s kitchen, drinking coffee and organizing our supplies. I blame my emergency medicine training for my thought process in preparing for the Women’s March on Washington. For a week before the march, I played that “worst first” game that we play on every shift. I printed out paper directions for our friends who don’t know the city, so they could walk home if we got separated and cell phones didn’t work. I made everyone pack their health insurance cards and repeat the name of my hospital. We all promised to turn around and bail if anyone felt something wasn’t right during the day. I had enough snacks for a week – ok, maybe that’s the mom in me, not the emergency physician! I was excited, but I was nervous. Our county is divided, and we were about to stand up and announce on which side we stood. We were about to loudly proclaim our dissent on the front lawn of the President’s house, the day after he moved into town with a bunch of his friends.
Despite the “expect the worst and hope for the best” mentality, I was excited. This march meant different things to different people. Overall, for me, it was a time for women, and those who support them, to come together and show that we have a voice, and that we have power. We will not stand for a society in which sexual abuse can be written off as “locker room talk,” where systemic racism is denied and perpetuated, and climate change is said to be a hoax. It was only by coming together that we could make a statement that we are committed to protect our democracy and everyone in it.
Going into the day, we all knew that this march, in and of itself, would not directly result in anything immediately tangible. This day was the first step in a new resistance, built on a foundation laid by our parents and their parents before them, who fought for the rights we are trying to hold onto and advance today.
I could already feel the energy of the day as we jumped out of an Uber, between Arlington Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial, and started walking across the Memorial Bridge. Amongst these important monuments to our nation’s history, women and men were clad in pink hats of all styles, carrying signs declaring the importance of rights for everyone, and politely stepping around one another on the sidewalk. The crowd got thicker as we neared the rally site. I gave one of my extra signs to a woman who hadn’t been able to make one, and she gave me a hug. I saw the first few giggles and people taking photos of my sign, “Science is not a liberal conspiracy.” I had a few signs, but chose this one because I feel strongly that as physicians, as scientists, we must fight for data and evidence to inform policy. When those steering our nation’s government regard science as an opinion, as an “alternate fact,” our ability to take care of our families and to fulfill our commitment to our patients to “first, do no harm” becomes infinitely more difficult. We will not stand by silently as facts are relegated to myths.
The rally before the march confirmed that this was day one of the resistance. Speaker after speaker reminded us that this was not a concert, that this was not a show. This was the first step in a new movement. Gloria Steinem, looking out at the crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, told us, “This is the upside of the downside.” Looking around, I knew she was right. Thinking about the future, I still fear for my friends, my neighbors, my patients, and my kids. But looking across that crowd, I felt, for the first time in a long time, hopeful. Yes, on January 19th there was still so far to go to fight the misogyny, racism, and homophobia (to name a few) that are an integral part of our society. But on January 21st, we joined together to show that we will not go backwards. We will not allow fear and hatred to slow our progress towards a society where everyone has the same rights – rights to healthcare, to equal pay, to clean water, to marry whomever she loves, to not be afraid when getting pulled over at a traffic stop, to make decisions with her physician about her own body. As we collectively told the new administration from the front lawn of the White House, and in cities across the world – this is what democracy looks like. For our own families, for our patients and their families, we won’t let this administration forget it.