What democracy looks like


I met a woman named Ceallaigh Pender, who from head to toe was dressed as a vagina, at the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., and she held a sign with a picture of ovaries that said, “Grow a pair.” According to her Instagram account, she’s a feminist superhero who fights misogyny.

“This march won’t make a difference if we stop after today,” she told me, and then she handed me a love letter. It was crumpled yellow paper shaped in the form of a — well, you know.

I opened it later, sitting on a bench after the march was over. It was a square piece of yellow paper, with green, handwritten words that read, “The future is yours! Step up! You are the voice! You are a leader! Create your own future!”

My love letter summed up the march well. I left the nation’s capital feeling empowered, like we could take back the future of our country. The Women’s March became the largest protest in U.S. history, with estimates anywhere from 3.3 million to almost 5 million people who marched worldwide.

That number is unprecedented, and something I am proud to say I was a part of. But, like my superhero said to me, the march doesn’t make a difference if the momentum stops when we take off our marching shoes.

After the march was over, on my drive back from D.C., I stopped off at a rest stop somewhere on the Jersey Turnpike. The women’s bathroom line was so long I had to get back in my car and drive farther up the highway, for fear I would be stuck in a sea of pink “pussy hats” for more than an hour and miss my ferry back to the Vineyard, which I ultimately did.

I have traveled cross-country more than a dozen times, and never have I seen so many women on the road at one time. In a recent piece in the Boston Globe, Joan Vennochi said that Donald Trump inadvertently sparked a massive women’s movement, in a way that Hillary Clinton was never able to. What does that tell us? And where do we go from here?

“Overall, Clinton did win 54 percent of all female votes, to Trump’s 42 percent,” Ms. Vennochi said in The Globe. “About 94 percent of black women and 64 percent of Latino women came through for her. But white women voted for Trump, 53 to 43 percent. Clinton won 51 percent of the vote of white college-educated women, but lost non-college-educated white women to Trump, 62 percent to 34 percent.”

Our country is split. Millions of women and men in the U.S. and around the world marched on Jan. 21. And although they marched for women’s rights — like reproductive rights and closing the gender pay gap — they also marched for LGBTQ rights, for the Black Lives Matter movement, to fight climate change, to oppose militarization, for immigrants’ rights, and to support the First Amendment.

“This is what democracy looks like!” marchers chanted.

But our democracy also looks like the millions of people who chose not to march. In fact, some women in Niles, Mich., interviewed by the New York Times didn’t know the marches were going on. Issues they were focused on, and what attracted many of them to vote for Trump, were the need for jobs, the cost of health care, and their local economy.

Someone on the Vineyard a couple of weeks ago asked me, “Aren’t women in America better off than anyone in the world?” This person isn’t alone in his thinking. Many people around the country wondered, Why are they marching?

Coming together to promote what some consider narrow or liberal agendas isn’t going to give voice to the women in Niles, Mich., who have concerns they might see as more basic, like putting food on the table, rather than my right to an abortion. Their voices also need to be heard.

As we were nearing the end of the march, I saw a sign with a quote from African-American poet Audre Lorde. In black letters it read, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different than my own.”

That is why I marched — because I am not free while people continue to be oppressed. Yes, as a privileged, college-educated white woman, I have it better than many women (and men) in this country and around the world. But I am not free if women like the ones in Michigan worry about job security. I am not free if African Americans continue to be shot with their hands up. I am not free if someone else’s water is contaminated by an oil pipeline.

This march was about showing political solidarity, but where it goes from here is a question that remains. We have to be strategic, and we need political solidarity between different groups, varying agendas, and between party lines. That is not the responsibility of a president — that is the responsibility of the people in this country, and that is what democracy looks like.

Cameron Machell is a staff reporter for The Martha’s Vineyard Times.