2:50 a.m: In the predawn hours Saturday, less than 24 hours after the inauguration of Donald Trump, hundreds of local residents boarded a line of chartered buses in front of Montclair High School. The six buses were bound for The Women’s March on Washington, a massive national rally expected to draw crowds five times larger than the inauguration itself.
Though the morning was still pitch-black, the buses’ headlights illuminated the marchers, some of whom carried signs displaying hopeful and angry sentiments: “I could be at home but you give me no choice” — “No Room for Hate Here” — “Rebellions are Built on Hope.”
Montclair resident Constance Harding was there with two friends, Mallory and John, also of Montclair. “I’m here to support women’s rights and to protest sexual assault,” she said. “I’m a 3-time sexual assault survivor. I’m here to kick some ass.”
Harding, like many of the other women in line, wore a “pussy hat” — a pink knitted hat with cat ears — in reference to Trump’s comments on Access Hollywood about “grabbing women by the pussy.”
“What could be better than working with women in pink pussy hats?” her friend, Mallory Visser, laughed. “We get to meet a bunch of people and scream at three o’clock in the morning!”
Visser, one of the volunteer coordinators of the Montclair marchers, worked as a program coordinator for the Children’s Trauma Center of the New Jersey Battered Women’s Service. Last week, she and her boyfriend John had been in Newark working with NJ Senators Cory Booker and Menendez to help protect the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m not very politically active,” admitted John, a musician. “But there’s a lot to be lost for women in a Trump administration. Hopefully this will help.”
10:00 a.m: With the dawn of a grey, misty day, the sea of pink hats converged on the city. On foot, by bus, by car, the people streamed into the streets, a swelling crowd that grew into the hundreds of thousands by mid-morning. Police cars, motorcycles and barricades were everywhere, from 2nd Street NW all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue. The crowd of mostly women — but a large turnout of men, too, some wearing pink hats themselves — made their way to the Independence Avenue main stage to hear a lineup of speakers that included political activists, celebrities and Congressional leaders. These included Gloria Steinem,Michael Moore, Alicia Keyes, Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, Ashely Judd, America Ferrara, California Senator Kamala Harris and Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth.
Steinem addressed the crowd first, beginning by thanking “the hardworking visionary organizers of this women-led, inclusive march” and advocating for a collective resistance.
“We will not be quiet, we will not be controlled,” she said. “We will work for a world in which all countries are connected. God may be in the details, but the goddess is in connections.”
Steinem’s remarks also included a call for female self-reliance (“no more asking daddy”) and a prediction: “This is a day that will change us forever . . . we will never be the same again.”
Other speakers also delivered powerful messages. Film director Michael Moore encouraged the jam-packed crowd to get involved politically, even to run for office. “We have to take over the Democratic Party,” he said. “We need new young leaders. We need new women leaders. We need new leaders of color.”
Referring to people who believe Donald Trump won’t be in office for his full term, Moore joked, “You have a job to do for the next…let’s just say months. You have to call your Congressional representatives every single day.”
Judd recited a poem by Nina Donovan, a 19-year-old from Tennessee, that began with, “I am a nasty woman.”
The poem, which drew loud cheers, went on to excoriate the new president and his administration with lines like, “I’m not as nasty as a swastika painted on a pride flag” and “I feel Hitler in these streets, a mustache traded for a toupee.”
As the speeches wore on, the crowd got restless, at times chanting, “Let’s go march!” Even before the presentations were over, people spilled out onto the streets.
1:30 p.m: The crowd made its way up Independence and Constitution Avenues, heading for the Washington Monument. The marchers were raucous but upbeat, carrying colorful signs demanding gender equality, human rights protections and support for various progressive causes.
2:30 p.m: The crowd had gained force. Charging toward the White House, they were cheered by onlookers on bridges, raising their fists in solidarity. Huge, elaborate banners flew. Performers in elaborate theatrical costumes joined the wave of marchers, chanting rhythmically as drummers kept the beat. Women on stilts wearing sparkling outfits towered over the moving crowd. “This is what Democracy looks like!” the demonstrators chanted. “Hands too small to build a wall!” “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, cause the power of the people don’t stop!”
And so the march continued, determined, loud, energized by the people’s solidarity.
3:30 p.m: Everyone arrived at the Ellipse, a grassy area between the Washington Monument and the White House. Though the march officially ended there, some of the marchers continued demonstrating throughout the afternoon and into the night.
4:55 p.m: According to news reports, President Donald Trump, on his way back from his visit to the CIA, passed thousands of people protesting on the streets. The huge number of marchers gathered at the Ellipse was also clearly visible from the White House.
5:30 p.m: As darkness fell over Washington DC, the streets gradually emptied of protesters. The police presence remained, however. Because the streets were still closed off, most of the marchers left by subway, squeezing into packed train cars.
6:00 pm: Despite advance notice of the march, the city seemed unprepared for the half a million protesters who showed up. By 6 pm, most of the participants were hungry and tired, hoping for dinner and a rest. For many of them, their search yielded only hot dogs, park benches and long lines at port-a-potties.
7:00 pm: Exhausted but ebullient, the Montclair marchers boarded their bus for the four-hour journey home. Settling into a block of seats near the front, one family – who had three generations in attendance at the march – talked about what the experience meant to them.
“I’m a child of the 60s, and I watched how much public protest can change the world,” said Mary Le Fever, 69, sitting next to her daughter, Liz Moore, and grandson, Ben Mulick, both of Caldwell. “I want our president to know that women aren’t going to sit here and let our rights get eroded away.”
Le Fever, a retired schoolteacher, had traveled from California with her friend, Cindy Valadez, to attend the flagship DC march.
“It meant a great deal to me to be there,” she said. “I come from a long line of strong women. My mother escaped to the U.S. after the Mexican revolution. I believe there’s nothing women can’t do.”
11:30 pm: As the line of Montclair buses pulled up to the high school and passengers disembarked, they looked happy but tired. It had been, as Gloria Steinem said it would be, a day the marchers would never forget.
Photos/video: Linda Federico-O’Murchu. Group photo with buses: Blue Wave New Jersey.