By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer
Washington, D.C. — After Ruth Heindel and Carissa Aoki had listened to speakers at the Women’s March on Washington for four hours outside the Air and Space Museum on Saturday, the Dartmouth College graduate and post-doctoral ecology students became ecstatic when they learned that organizers were changing the route.
It wasn’t the last-minute change they celebrated, but the reason: The event had drawn so many marchers that they were already filling up the route. They would have to add some new twists and turns to give marchers room to walk.
“This felt like a really big deal,” Heindel, 28, said at the march’s conclusion. “To feel like I was one of the people in one of those enormous historical photos … and that it was made up of all these individuals.”
Tens of thousands of marchers — organizers estimated the crowd at 500,000 — boisterously joined the demonstration, forming a sea of colorful signs and pink hats, most often shown by the people wearing the gone-viral “pussy hats” — the homemade knitted and sewn pink hats with cat ears alluding to Donald Trump’s infamous use of the word to describe groping women that was caught on video and became an issue during the election campaign.
From time to time, single pink balloons escaped into the air.
As one section of marchers turned onto the Washington Mall, a police officer standing on a landing above the crowd enthusiastically directed them, drawing one of the day’s countless moments of whooping and cheers.
“Right when we started marching, I felt like my energy surged, and there’s something just about moving with everyone,” Heindel said. “And that’s where the chants started … and then it felt really exciting and empowering.”
Sass was on full display in the signs — “We shall overcomb,” read one, while another, simply, “OMG GOP WTF” — and in the chants, ranging from serious and familiar chants about democratic involvement to “We want a leader / not a creepy tweeter.”
Through it all, Aoki and Heindel said, the marchers’ upbeat attitudes kept the mood joyous, even through the hours when things remained at a standstill.
“For how enervating a situation it was, everybody was super nice,” Aoki, 45, said. “It could have been really awful. People were really smiley, going with the flow, and even though standing shoulder to shoulder for four hours is not ideal, people only got really antsy toward the end.”
Aoki, who carried a sign about the importance of science, and Heindel, who wore a white lab coat, said it was uplifting to have so many people come up to them and thank them, Heindel said, “like, yeah, scientists!”
“That doesn’t happen in our normal lives,” Aoki laughed.
“That was just like a really amazing experience,” Heindel said, “that people value what we do so much.”
Aoki and Heindel were among a contingent that had gathered in Hanover to board a 12-person van that left Dartmouth around 10:30 Friday night.
How many Upper Valley residents traveled to Washington to participate is impossible to determine. Rally Bus, a New York-based company that partners with local charter buses to coordinate mass travel, sent at least one bus from Lebanon, co-founder Siheun Song said last week.
Riders expressed frustration with Rally when it canceled its Lebanon bus on Jan. 3 before rescheduling it Jan. 11. In the interim, many made alternative arrangements. After hearing that the Rally bus fell through, Aoki looked up the cost of the van. When she realized renting a 12-person van would amount to about $30 a person, she started to round up riders.
“I was like, how can we not do this?” she said.
Aoki, a post-doctoral associate in Dartmouth’s ecology department, gathered with two ecology graduate students in a campus building Friday night before the van left, eating Thai food and drawing posters. Aoki drew one with a female symbol holding up a fist on one side, and a message on the other: “Science and the Arts: Making America Great.”
Also there was Heindel, a graduate student living in Norwich, who jumped at the opportunity when she heard that her friend, Melissa Desiervo, 28, was also joining in. (Desiervo spent the evening using Sharpies to write on a used lab coat: “Support science, not special interests,” with the last three S’s shaped out of dollar signs. A friend brought her goggles and a magnifying glass to complete the look.)
Heindel, who grew up in North Ferrisburg, Vt., had “waffled” on whether to go to Washington or to a closer march for most of December, she said. Ultimately her mother persuaded her by saying, “If there’s any way you can afford the time, you have to go to D.C.”
She said she was marching as “a proud woman in science” who feels like “everything I stand for was threatened” by the election results.
“Trump’s behavior toward women and his denial of climate science can’t be ignored. I am worried that Trump’s ideas and actions will become normalized, when there is nothing normal or acceptable about bragging about sexual assault and disregarding the truth. I am making the trip to Washington, D.C., because I felt like I would regret it otherwise.”
Eventually six additional marchers showed up to hit the road by 10:30 p.m.
Many Upper Valley marchers ended up on buses organized by the nonprofit United Progressives of New Hampshire, which ultimately chartered four buses. Twice, the group lined up a party bus — the likes of which, decked out with disco balls and strobe lights, are most often used for bachelor and bachelorette parties — out of desperation because of the high demand, but ultimately was able to upgrade both times to a full charter bus.
That included Jennifer Ankner-Edelstein, 51, of Norwich. She planned to take a UPNH-organized bus out of Manchester Friday night, with hopes of meeting her daughter, a freshman at the Putney School, in Washington.
Ankner-Edelstein attended her first protest — an anti-nuke gathering in Washington — when she was her daughter’s age. She missed out on protesting Al Gore’s loss because she was mothering young children. Now, she said, it was time to get active.
“I want to step up and say women are a meaningful electoral cohort,” she said by phone last week. “A large number (of marchers) means we cannot be ignored; you will see us, you will notice us, you may agree, you may disagree, but it’s part of the conversation, and it … does become part of the currency of the language that we’re using when we start talking politics.”
Flora Krivak-Tetley, 36, another graduate student in ecology, drove the van off campus shortly after 10:30.
Krivak-Tetley, who lives in Lyme and is 24 weeks pregnant, later said she felt compelled to march because there are “so many things happening right now” that go beyond mere political disagreement.
“There’s a basic level of appropriateness that isn’t happening,” she said.
As a scientist, she has always focused her energy on making change through science, but “you start to wonder, is that even going to be possible.”
Her husband, Jimbeaux Black, 55, was the only man on the van. He said he’s been eager for a big gathering in Washington since even before the election, “because things aren’t right.” After Krivak-Tetley ran out of pink yarn, he fashioned a set of the pink pussy hats out of fleece.
As the van headed down Interstate 91, the chatter on the van gradually subsided as riders took turns navigating the big white 12-seater through the night, passing and getting passed by buses full of women. The chartered buses could be seen at rest stops, too, where the glow of the indoor lights showed rows of sleeping women.
As the van crossed into Delaware around 5 a.m., a blue Volvo SUV with Connecticut plates passed on the left. On the back windshield, written in all caps in pink temporary paint: “The world is watching. Facts matter.”
After parking the van at a Metro station shortly after 7 a.m., the riders — who had tumbled sleepily out of the car — were soon jolted awake by the rush of Shady Grove Metro station and a crush of riders wearing pink pussy hats and carrying signs.
The scientists wearing white lab coats joked that they rivaled the fashion sensibilities of Bill Nye the Science Guy, while others grabbed the opportunity for a quick parking-lot tooth-brushing session before getting aboard.
Diana Quezada, 20, a Dartmouth freshman from New York City, was planning to meet other undergraduates at the march with two other students who took the van.
She opted for Washington over a local march or the one in her hometown because of the size of the march. “I think the magnitude of this one is just exciting,” she said.
Aboard the Metro, before Krivak-Tetley used safety pins to attach hand-painted messages like “Peace begins within” to her husband’s pants, a station worker lightheartedly told Quezada he was “giving her a pass” on the breakfast sandwich she was eating even though food is generally not allowed.
“Welcome to D.C.,” he told her, before turning and addressing the rest of the train: “I can tell y’all one thing: I’ve been here 21 years, and y’all are outdoing inauguration yesterday.”
The train erupted into cheers.
By the time they had gotten above ground, many of the riders had become separated, but most found themselves in a new sea of pink pussy hats and surrounded by lines at several Starbucks and other coffee shops that circled nearly around the block.
People sold march T-shirts and wristbands on the corner, while a group stopped Aoki and Heindel to take a picture of them with their signs and outfits.
Soon they were absorbed by a blockade of wall-to-wall people waiting to march, masses and masses of humans on every block that walkers struggled to slowly wade through.
The Rev. Mandy Lape-Freeberg, 56, of the Old South Church in Windsor, and several friends, including two young women from Windsor, settled in front of the Air and Space Museum, while separate groups of Thetford Academy students and parents and a squad from Listen Community Services Junction Teen Center made their way closer to Capitol Hill.
About a block away from Lape-Freeberg, a group of colleagues from Vermont Gynecology, a private practice, stood in one of the globs of humanity. Five people — three colleagues, one of their brothers and the 15-year-old daughter of another employee — had made the trip from Burlington in a car, said Anna Pet, 24. Her 26-year-old brother, Jacob Pet, of Hartford, Conn., held a cardboard sign decreeing, in all caps, “Vermont Gynecology fights for reproductive justice for all!”
The 15-year-old, Leah Mason, said she persuaded her hesitant mother to allow her to join the trip by creating a PowerPoint presentation of all the reasons it was a good idea.
“This is one of the things that’s going to go in the history books, and I just wanted to be here,” she said.
Another would-be Rally customer turned transportation organizer was Stacey Glazer, of Thetford. Glazer rented an Upper Valley Ride bus and scheduled 24 Thetford Academy students and parents to make the trip at $150 apiece. They departed the school at 10 p.m. Friday.
Thetford senior Clara Hoffman, 17, was among those who originally planned to ride, but she ultimately arranged a ride with a friend to make room for another person on the bus.
She said she was marching, in part, to “reassure myself that there are a whole bunch of really strong people out there who will fight injustice too.”
“I am marching to tell people we — belittled minorities — are here, we are important, and we demand respect and equality,” Hoffman said in an email before the march. “I understand that as a white, straight, woman I have had many many privileges, so I’m marching as an ally of those who have not had these privileges.”
Hoffman chose Washington over the smaller marches closer to home because she wanted to be part of history, she said.
“I want to be with thousands of women and men gathering to show that we are powerful when we come together with love.”
Lape-Freeberg, of the Old South Church in Windsor, had also signed up for the Rally bus, but switched over to a bus that left Keene on Friday night when the Rally bus got canceled. She attended with the daughters of a woman in her congregation, sisters Annie Soho, 17, a senior at Windsor High, and Katie Soho, 20, plus several other women.
While Heindel and others marched in the name of science, Lape-Freeberg, who said she has been “in a fog since Nov. 9,” said she marched in the name of faith.
“I’m beyond heartbroken at the agenda of this new administration,” Lape-Freeberg said, “and I believe that it’s a profound disrespect of the gospel message and the fact that it is coming out of churches in some ways — that the 80 percent of evangelical Christians apparently voted for (Trump) — I am sickened and I just feel like I can’t sit back and let this seem like the church doesn’t care, or Christians of goodwill aren’t appalled and terrified.”
As marchers continued to flow onto the Washington Mall, Marybeth Redmond, 53, of Essex, Vt., said she had been uplifted by the events of the day, the attitudes of the marchers and the huge turnout.
She was among six friends who drove together to the march from the Burlington area on Friday, staying in a Baltimore hotel overnight.
“It feels so hopeful,” Redmond said. “That this many people have come from all over the country to stand for dignity, respect, and inclusivity together.”
She recalled that Friday was a “down and dark day” for her and her friends and family.
“I think people are just done with that,” she said.
She said she and her friends have also been talking about “what’s next,” because “it can’t just be this march.”
Before getting back in the van to make the 8-hour return trip less than 12 hours after getting there, Aoki expressed similar sentiments. Her last big march was a pro-choice rally in D.C. in the early 1990s, but she had later gotten jaded, wondering “what’s the point?” when there’s so much money in politics.
“After the Trump thing it sort of seemed like something that we had to do, and I think it sort of fulfilled the purpose: it was a lot of people coming together.
“I liked that there were people there representing so many different kinds of causes, because as a start, I think this is a good place to start.”
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.