Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people — including a couple dozen Shelter Islanders — descended on our nation’s capital to take part in a massive protest march marking President Donald Trump’s first full day in office.
Though it was billed as the Women’s March on Washington, plenty of men and children took part as well, arriving aboard trains, planes and packed buses hailing from all parts of the country. Early Saturday morning they joined throngs of fellow marchers all bound for the National Mall.
Once downtown, marchers poured out of subway stops and crowded onto the mall facing the U.S. Capitol. When space on the mall became an issue, they spilled into side streets. The predominant view in all directions became a sea of pink “pussycat” hats and handmade signs promoting multiple causes — from social justice and healthcare to immigration and LGBT rights.
Though organizers expected 200,000 people, the crowd in Washington far exceeded that number. Some estimates, including those on the womenmarch.com website, put turnout at more than one million, making it one of the biggest demonstrations American history. That same day, hundreds of sister marches were held in cities and towns across the country and around the world, bringing total participation to several million.
In New York City alone, more than 500,000 people turned out to march.
The East End was well represented, with hundreds of residents from both the North and South forks, as well as 40 or so Shelter Islanders, going to either Washington, New York or another city to march.
Among them was Islander Sara Gordon who traveled to Washington with her friend, Margie Pulkingham of Sag Harbor, aboard a bus chartered by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork and Canio’s Books. “I knew about half the people on the bus and was thrilled to see there were a whole bunch of people I didn’t know,” Ms. Gordon told the Reporter, adding she was impressed by the sheer volume of the crowd as well as the pervasive sense of peace and positivity she experienced during the march.
Though Ms. Gordon admits she doesn’t enjoy being in large crowds, and said she found some of the more strident and vulgar protest signs a bit unsettling, in end she had no regrets about going.
“I had an inspiring, incredible and astounding experience,” she said. “One of my favorite things about the march was the support of the surrounding neighborhoods and all of the law enforcement and National Guard personnel along the route — to see their excitement and appreciation. Officers thanked me for taking the time to do this. It was really powerful. There’s a tremendous amount of joy in this aspect of the democratic process.”
When asked how the experience will guide her in the future, Ms. Gordon responded, “Because I am so concerned about the divisiveness in the country right now — and in every community, even among friends and loved ones — I’m looking for a way to put my energy in two directions. One is supporting legislative actions that are in the best interest of the people, and the other is finding ways to break through the divides that make it hard for us to even talk about this with one another.”
She was encouraged, she added, that all Americans will be more engaged because of the election.
Shelter Island Library Director Terry Lucas also made the trip to Washington, driving on Friday with her 25-year-old daughter, Rachel. In a phone interview earlier this week, Ms. Lucas, whose younger daughter Sara, 21, is at college in Vermont and was unable to join them at the march, said she marched for Rachel and Sara.
She’s concerned that the issues of the arts, the environment, healthcare, reproductive rights, and equal pay for equal work may be in jeopardy with the new administration.
Ms. Lucas decided early on to attend the Women’s March, which was born as an idea on Election Night when Teresa Shook, a grandmother from Hawaii, put the idea on Facebook.
“I booked an airbnb two days after the election,” said Ms. Lucas. “We have to show up so all the lawmakers know we’re here and can’t be ignored. ”
From her vantage point on the mall, Ms. Lucas heard the many speakers at the march — poets, actors, activists, politicians — who addressed issues that concerned them, including feminist Gloria Steinem, filmmaker Michael Moore, actress Scarlett Johansson and New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Ms. Lucas, who found herself surrounded by people primarily in their 20s during the rally, said she felt like the mom of the group, and because the speakers represented different generations, explanations were occasionally in order.
“Sometimes, I didn’t know who was on stage because they were too cool, and sometimes the people around me didn’t know who was on stage because they were too old,” laughed Ms. Lucas.
She was particularly moved by the words of 6-year-old Sophie Cruz, the daughter of two undocumented immigrants, who stood with her family as she advocated for their rights.
“She said her speech in English and then in Spanish with this clear small voice,” recalled Ms. Lucas. “And afterward, everyone in the crowd started chanting her name. I got goose bumps,”
Asked to summarize her experience and her future plans, she said, “If I were to take something away from it, it’s make your voice heard and let it out. For women, sometimes that’s not as easy. To be told it’s acceptable to say what you believe in is pretty cool.
“If everyone picks two or three issues that are important to them and follows them in government, it may make a change,” she added.
Islander Cindy Belt went to the march with her sister, Susan Hartson of Rhode Island, and three of Susan’s friends. After the march Ms. Belt learned her friend and colleague at Mashomack Preserve, Kim Reilly, was also there.
Ms. Belt’s inspiration to make the trip sprang from her disappointment with the result of the presidential election, she said, and that the new administration is a “direct threat to many things I love.”
She believes that protecting the environment, women’s rights and the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people are at risk with the inauguration of President Trump.
“I have friends and family who are directly affected by this,” said Ms. Belt, who added that the march was an “overwhelming, awe inspiring and humbling” display of unity and diversity.
The number of marchers was a shock. “I’m from Shelter Island,” Ms. Belt laughed. “There were so many people.”