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Addison County folks take stand at March in Washington, D.C.

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Posted on January 26, 2017 |
By John S. McCright



n Arian Slavin in DC_000954.jpg
MORE THAN 100 Addison County residents were among the half-million people at the Women's March on Washington this past Saturday. This scene captured by a Middlebury photographer on Pennsylvania Avenue shows the march still going strong at 4 p.m. Photo by Arianna Slavin

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “I just kept crying,” East Middlebury resident Joanna Colwell said recounting her experience at the Women’s March on Washington this past Saturday. “I’ve never been in a crowd that big, and I’ve been in some big crowds.”

Big was a word used by many of the Addison County residents who went to the huge rally on the National Mall the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

But it wasn’t just describing the number of people in the crowd — which was estimated at between 500,000 and 680,000 — it also referred to the diversity of people in attendance, the size of the steps they realized they need to make to achieve their goals and the bighearted feeling they all shared that day.

“People were so kind, I didn’t hear a cross word the entire day,” said Theresa Gleason of Bridport.

Gleason was among the small group that helped coordinate two busloads of Addison County residents who went to the march. They left from Middlebury Union High School at 10:15 p.m. on Friday, drove through the night to D.C., disgorged more than 100 locals for 10 hours of marching in the nation’s capital, and returned to Middlebury at dawn on Sunday.

People described getting off the buses, or from one of the many cars and minivans that journeyed from the Champlain Valley, and then walking for hours among a veritable sea of humanity. The actual point-to-point march was called off because of the volume of people. Many, perhaps most, of those in attendance could not hear the speeches because they couldn’t get close enough to the stage.

“The whole route was full of people, there was nowhere to go,” Colwell said.

Despite the mass of humanity, no one felt fear from those around them. Instead they recounted joy at recognizing contingents from around the country — including Hawaii — and seeing untold numbers of “pussy hats,” those pink knit hats made with turned down kitten ears.

“Being from Vermont I’ve never seen so many people at once,” said 20-year-old Matias Van Order of Middlebury.

He thought the number of people would not just impress those who took part, but those for whom the march was aimed at.

“The sheer numbers matter, a message was sent to Congress — and the executive branch, although I don’t think they were listening as closely — that there are millions of people ready to fight them, to make sure that they are not re-elected, if they proceed with their dangerous and hate-motivated plans,” Van Order said.

Rebekah Irwin of Middlebury said she was fired up after Trump won the election, and she welcomed the chance to gather in the flesh with likeminded people.

“I needed that sense of community, beyond my computer keyboard, in the days after the election,” she said

When she was too late to signup for the bus trip, she found a Middlebury woman, Caitlyn Myers, who would take her and her 12-year-old daughter, Dahlia Harrison, to D.C.

“I hoped it would feel like a public declaration against the ugly misogyny and racism of the election and also serve as a powerful display by kindred-spirits,” Irwin said.

She was not disappointed: “The sheer numbers in D.C. and around the world, I hope, showed Donald Trump and his supporters that we are watching them, and that our children, our partners, and our mothers, will resist their agendas.”

One measure of the success of the march was how smoothly it ran.

“What will stay with me, even beyond the sheer excitement of the day, is how the march represented the creativity and organizational prowess of women,” Irwin said. “It should be no surprise that women, who disproportionately manage family schedules, plan after-school activities and childcare, and volunteer (or get volunteered) to take office meeting notes, were able to use those skills to orchestrate one of the largest marches in American history.”

Amy Mason of Weybridge couldn’t make it to D.C., but she and her 10-year-old daughter Sophie took part in the Women’s March in Boston, one of the many satellite marches that brought participation in Women’s Marches on Saturday to more than 3 million nationwide.

“We marched because we wanted to teach our daughters how important it is to use our voices to stand behind our beliefs,” Mason said.

Mason voiced dissent against the voice President Trump has brought to the national discourse, as well as his policies.

“His chief tactic is to divide the American people and use our differences against us,” she said. “We believe it is our differences that make us stronger and indeed make us America.”

A striking thing for many was the diversity at the women’s marches. There were plenty of men, for one thing. And, although the march was criticized early in its genesis for being a forum for middle-age white women, there was plenty of ethnic diversity on the streets of Washington, D.C., the Vermonters said.

The fact that it was non-threatening white women who were expected may have made the police and National Guard soldiers who patrolled the march more welcoming, Gleason said.

“Maybe the police wouldn’t have been so welcoming to a large group of black people,” she said.

Colwell noted the large number of Black Lives Matter signs that she, her daughter and husband saw in D.C. It really drove home the point that those who wish to protect women’s rights must also protect the rights of everyone who is threatened.

“You can’t separate these things out,” Colwell said. “For us as women to say we must have equality of human rights with men, we have to be saying people of all different backgrounds must have equal rights.

“It really did (give the march) a moral center.”

For Colwell, one of the favorite signs she saw in D.C. was carried by an African American woman; it read, “I will see all you nice white ladies at the next Black Lives Matter march, right?”

“That just sums it up perfectly,” Colwell said. “We can’t just come out when we feel our personal civil liberties threatened.”

Van Order was energized by the freshness of so many in the crowd.

“I got the feeling that a lot of people in attendance didn’t have a great deal of experience in activism, and that’s incredibly exciting to me, that a lot of people — like me — are using this as an opportunity to get more involved, I see it as essential that we all continue,” he said.

Twelve-year-old Dahlia Harrison summed up her experience thus:

“It felt like we were contributing to something so much bigger than us. I was one person, adding to the bigger crowd.”   COLORFUL HATS AND signs at Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington are seen here in front of the Trump International Hotel. Protest of the election of hotel owner Donald Trump as president brought half a million people to D.C.

Photo by Arianna Slavin

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