This weekend, a monumental event took place on American soil. This celebration represented one of the most critical political conversations of the past year. Its proceedings made an indelible impact on the lives of people across the world.
If you’ve been keeping up with the news at all, you know that I’m not talking about the Inauguration. Instead, I’m talking about the Women’s March on Washington, which hosted over 500,000 people — much more than at the inauguration. What began as a reaction to the November election results expanded into hundreds of Facebook events and culminated in a worldwide march with over 3.7 million participants. New York, London, Chicago, Bangkok, Los Angeles — on Jan. 21, 2017, people on all seven continents marched in unity to speak out for women’s rights.
Walking into Logan Square to join the Women’s March on Philadelphia, I was overwhelmed. In my mind, a 20,000-person estimate had been a vague concept; in that moment, a 50,000-person turnout was a thriving spectacle. Rainbow flags and Lady Liberty signs, Trump caricatures and pink Planned Parenthood flyers — the square was filled with excitement, positivity and bobbing rows of pink “pussy hats.” The slow procession through closed-off streets turned into a steady, energetic march. All around, participants belted out Bob Dylan, chanted “Hey hey! Ho ho! Women’s rights are the way to go!” and treated fellow marchers as old friends. Mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, children sitting atop their parents’ shoulders with signs in their mittened hands — as a singular shouting force, we made our way through the streets of Philadelphia.
Crossing the Schuylkill River that afternoon with the rhythm of the march still in my step, I recalled Virginia Woolf’s words from her 1938 essay “Three Guineas.” In the piece, she stood at a bridge over the Thames and encouraged women to take advantage of their newfound freedoms. She urged that they join what she called “the procession of the sons of educated men,” a symbol of the professional privileges and expectations long denied to women. “It is no longer a sight merely, a photograph, or fresco scrawled upon the walls of time, at which we can look with merely an aesthetic appreciation,” Woolf wrote of the right to work. “For there, traipsing along at the tail end of the procession, we go ourselves. And that makes a difference.”
It has made a difference. Were it not for the women like Woolf who marched long before us — for suffrage, jobs, education rights, equal pay, birth control and abortions — even an act as simple as casting a vote against any sexist bigot would have been a mere dream. Those achievements are not to be wasted. The 2016 election was controversial, not just because of the elected candidate’s blatant lies and shameless boasting, but because it showed that even in 2016, those who openly disrespect women and minorities are able to climb to the highest positions of power. Our steps toward gender equality in the United States (and around the world) have been painstakingly small, resisted by those who still believe women to be unworthy of respect and equality.
Nevertheless, when I think back on the half-mile march in downtown Philly this weekend, I imagine a collective distance traveled by womankind. This weekend, in one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history, we marched together toward that dream — not at the tail end of a procession of men, but in a procession of proud women, alongside those who know the importance of our cause.
Echoing Virginia Woolf: Will you march on? Will you join in the procession of nasty women, tired women, fed-up women and women everywhere? The answer must be yes. The time is now — the time has always been now — for all of us to march toward a future in which no woman is invalidated or depreciated for her body or choices. Perhaps if we march far enough, our daughters will never again have to hear a powerful man treat her as less than and our sons will never fall prey to the expectation to do so. No matter the disappointments of the past or the uncertainties of the future, We the People — the women of the United States and our allies worldwide — will lead this procession onward, unwavering and undeterred.
Catherine Yang is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .