Protesting in DC: The Women's March and March for Life
Updated: Feb 16
It’s not that I’m planning on protesting every weekend that I’m in DC, the two marches I wanted to go to just happened to be one week apart.
A few weeks ago I went to the Women’s March 2020 and five days later my Mom joined me in DC so we could attend the March for Life 2020. Going to both of them, especially so close, meant that I was comparing the marches and thinking of the issues a lot. And the issues are very intertwined for me.
I’m not going to talk about my personal views on feminism and abortion in this blog post.
If there’s serious want for an explanation, maybe I’ll write another post on that. I answered a lot of questions on these topics on my Instagram, where you can still find them on the “DC Marches” story highlight. If you have any questions or want to discuss either of these subjects, feel free to send me a message or text and I’d be more than happy to talk about them.
The Women’s March took place first and I was so excited. The night before I went out to CVS and got poster board and glue. I spent the entire evening cutting and pasting letters.
It really felt like going back to my elementary school science fairs.
On January 18, 2020, I found a group from George Washington University, my study abroad institution (for more information on how I’m studying abroad, read this post!), going to the march so I tagged along with them.
Along the way, one of the reporters for the GWU newspaper talked to some of us about the march, what it meant to us, and why we were so motivated to march. I shared my opinion while shivering against the freezing cold. I was dumb and thought I didn’t need my scarf.
My sign had two sides. One said “History was made by angry women”. The other, my favorite side, said “Jesus was a feminist”. People seemed to like my sign a lot. They stopped to take pictures or had me turn it around to see the other side.
I think my personal favorite moment of the march was when I was getting a picture up on a ledge with the first side of my sign showing, then I flipped it around and a group of boys standing in front of me were quietly like “heck yeah”.
Not very profound, but it just felt really cool to have people right there be surprised and impressed by and supporting my sign.
Eventually when I made my way to the front of the march, I saw photographers and videographers catch my sign with their cameras as I went by.
But that wasn’t for a while, and I had no idea how long I was going to have to be outside as we waited for the program to start at 11am that morning. I had no idea I’d be out over 5 hours.
The people accumulated until the program finally started. Several women spoke, introducing each other and talking about the issues we’re facing. The keynote speaker was Andrea Waters King, the daughter in law of Martin Luther King Jr, and she gave a fantastic speech.
I highly recommend listening to it, you can find it here. It was so beautiful and beyondmoving and empowering.
As we listened, snowflakes started to fall from the sky. It was utterly freezing and exhausting, but every bit was worth it to hear that woman speak.
After she spoke, two Chilean women taught us the words to “Un violador en tu camino”, a feminist anthem that means “A rapist in your path”. They taught it to us in Spanish and English as well as the movements so we could perform it later.
Then the march started.
As people filtered out of the square and into the street to follow the path along the White House, I could see so many signs. Funny, insightful, motivational. Some of them I didn’t agree with and there were many repeats, but there were some that were spectacular.
One said “Anything you can do, I can do bleeding” which I thought was really amazing. There was one with Princess Leia on it saying “a woman’s place is leading the resistance”.
Another said “a woman’s place is... in the House... in the Senate... in the White House... and... in any other place where things need to be fixed”.
There were inspirational posters, like one that said “to all the little girls watching right now: never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance in the world”. There were quotes from musicals, like from Mean Girls “so here’s my right finger to how girls should behave”.
Some were even more profound: “I march for those who won’t because they still believe it’s their fault”. There were even a few held up by men that were attending the march: “men of quality don’t fear equality”.
Some people had huge signs and banners. One banner stretched the width of the entire march and took several people to hold up as they walked. One group of three had a giant statue of liberty covered in flowers. And yet another held a giant butterfly.
We wound our way down the street and around the long road around the White House. People kept chanting, doing call and responses.
My favorite one was when one person would yell “Show them what democracy looks like!” and everyone would yell in response “This is what democracy looks like!”. It was exhilarating to do the chants, it was exciting when I gathered enough courage to start one, and it was grounding and encouraging to hear everyone respond.
Another chant was “When human rights are under attack, what do we do?” and everyone answered “Stand up fight back!”. And “human rights” rotated out to include “women’s rights”, “immigrant rights”, and others.
I don’t know how much a march like this one will actually accomplish. But just being there made it feel like we could really make a difference. The air was electric.
A whole native american female drumming troop came and lead the march with their beating and stepping. They were quite a powerful sight. It was as if the entire march was stepping as one to make change.
We performed the “rapist in your path” chant and choreography in English and Spanish near the white house as a whole group. Though some of the poem (which you can read and see videos of here) seems rather extreme, it really made me think about how not extreme it is.
The line “impunity for my killer” hit particularly hard. It just made me think about the higher murder rates for women and how often men go without harsh charges because they can lie and say they didn’t rape or murder that women. How that could easily be me.
We ended up marching all the way to Trump Tower and protesting for a few minutes in the street outside the doors.
I agree with my Mom that we should have respect for our standing President and I am not going to turn this into a political opinion piece. But it was fascinating to watch people take action for something they believed in.
As people began to disperse, I stuck around a few minutes to watch the crowd and see the signs. I posed for a few more photos, some of which were really nice and I’m glad I got to see them.
When I finally left, I felt a strange mix of deflated and inspired.
On one hand, it was strange to walk away from such an energetic and charged event to just quietly walk back to my flat. It felt like we were so big when we were together, but the moment we dispersed, it seemed like we faded into the background so quickly.
People still holding signs or wearing the trademark pink hat passed each other on the sidewalk and exchanged a smile and nod as if we were sharing solidarity to some secret event.
But it was impossible not to feel inspired after attending such an event. I felt more excited than ever to get to work on the issues I thought I could affect change in and yearned for the day I could work on projects on women’s development with international charities.
It felt like I had been surrounded by it all day so I had a clearer idea than ever about what the important issues were and where my opinions stood.
The one downside to the women's march was that it seemed a bit all over the place with political ideas and it seemed like some of them really hijacked the overall message.
Some people had signs in the air supporting a candidate for the next presidential election, some people were shouting to get Trump out of office, some were shouting for immigrant rights, at the end of the march, a group of men started shouting for black rights.
These are all issues I care about and support and I would happily go to a march for most of them. And I know it matters deeply that our feminism is intersectional and inclusive.
It just seemed like some of the issues people were shouting about, especially the group at the end, didn't focus on women at all. It made the entire march seem a bit disconnected and like a large mass of people that just wanted to protest.
I would've liked it better if people were campaigning for women presidential candidates (most were Bernie signs), if people were shouting about specific anti-women bills Trump had supported, the issues that undocumented women face, or supporting black female power. But instead it just seemed like a liberal mess.
There were protesters to the Women's March.
And it was so strange because I’ve never actually seen them in real life before.
The first group was a bunch of older women holding rosaries and signs against abortion. They were more of the violent looking signs, with bloody baby parts, but it was a cause I sided with them on, even if I didn’t agree with all their tactics.
So I actually went over to thank them for standing out in the cold and being there.
But as soon as I got close, the nearest woman began screaming at me, yelling that I was killing babies. She just seemed so angry, not even a righteous anger but one of hate.
I was shocked to be on the receiving end of it. I managed to get out that I supported them and would see them at the ProLife march the next weekend. She quieted down and looked confused before tentatively nodding like she couldn’t exactly know if she should believe me.
The second group of protesters had more people from the march interacting with them, telling them they shouldn’t be there, and some even shouting. I actually thought they were fine.
They were just standing there, not saying anything or shouting. Even if I don’t think the Women’s March is ever something that should be protested, they were being very polite and considerate. They held up ProLife signs, but I loved the angle these signs took.
They said things like “we support babies not being aborted just because they’re girls- don’t you?”. They came at it from a feminist angle, which I think is so important in the ProLife narrative.
Because it’s true that in so many countries abortion is used as a way to discard of girls before they’re even born because they’re seen of as less in those cultures. I said before that I don’t want to get into opinions in this article and I don’t, but I will say that I’m saddened by the feminist argument so blindly supporting and fighting for abortion that they can’t acknowledge the harm and issues in the industry.
The third group, though, was the freakiest.
It was the cliche protesters that you might see in movies. They held big black signs and violent ProLife signs. They said things like “feminism is terrorism” and “women should submit to men and God”.
Again, not talking about opinions, but my friend brought up an amazing point which is nowhere in the Bible does it say that women should submit to men. Only that they should submit to their husbands. And that doesn’t even mean what those people think it does. And I’m not married.
Those signs told me I was going to hell.
It was so strange, being a Christian and seeing other Christians on the other side of the police barricade screaming that I was going to hell. I don’t even have anything else to say other than it was so strange and disconcerting.
The Women’s March felt like riding a high where no injustice could touch me or any other woman, even with some crazy protestors. It was such an amazing experience.
From these protests, I can flow right into talking about the March for Life, though the ProLife March was nothing like the last group of protestors.
5 days after the first march, I was back on the streets with another sign in my hand for a second march. If the Women’s March was empowering and thrilling, the ProLife march was informative and affirming.
It’s been occurring since the 70s, and has been happening on this date for at least the past several years. So the fact that it was the week after the Women’s March means nothing and is not at all a statement against the Women’s March.
It did bring up some cognitive dissonance, which I’ll explain in a bit.
My Mom came down to visit me in DC for the march. We had always talked about going and she had wanted to go for years but the timing never worked, so having me already in DC just a short train ride away was really perfect. And it was such a lovely experience to spend with her.
We went to the ProLife expo the night before and I’ll admit that I went in very cautious and kind of testy. I don’t agree with all of the ProLife message and the narrative they put out and I had no idea what kind of people I’d be meeting. After the protestors the other day, I went in a bit angry.
But it was really lovely. There were booths and booths offering information and pamphlets and books or telling you about their charity mission. There were tshirt stands, research organizations, women’s health centers, advocates, and more.
It was strange seeing so many religious booths at a technically non-religious event, which I saw as both a positive and a negative. This was some of the cognitive dissonance I mentioned and it continued throughout my whole march experience.
On one hand, I tend to lean away from the religious narrative of the ProLife argument. Of course I agree with it, but I think there are so many more reasons why I’m ProLife. And not everyone’s religious, so it can often fall on deaf ears.
I also find that some of the narrative is anti-women in the guise of being religious, so I was a little concerned.
But on the other hand, even if it was strange and I didn’t love it, it was a stunning sight to see all the religious people coming together to fight for a cause close to their hearts. It often can feel that I’m the only Christian/Catholic for miles or that my friend group is the only group for ages, but seeing them all come out of the woodwork like that was really comforting.
I was standing by one of the book booths looking between two books, seeing if they were worth buying. They were both stories of abortion workers and their experiences behind the scenes. Because I try to be as educated as I can about the things I believed in, so I can pass the knowledge along, I was seriously considering one if not both of them.
I talked for a moment with the women running the booth, asking them which they think could help me more with learning and sharing these stories, and they really suggested I begin with Unplanned by Abby Johnson (the other one I was looking at was The Walls Are Talking, a collection of stories curated by Abby Johnson and Kristen Detrow).
I haven’t read either of them yet (working on it!) but from the reviews I’ve heard, even if you don’t agree with it, they’re really poignant and informative books to read.
The woman running the booth asked me why I was so hesitant and asked if I was worried about the cost or something. I said a little bit, just because I’m a University student and I’m unemployed in this city as of yet.
And she gave me the book!
She just gave me the book so that I could read it and share it with my friends. It was so nice of her and it’s next on my list for reading. As I write this, it’s staring down at me from my bookshelf.
The next morning, my Mom and I got to the march late because we had been up late the night before talking. But it didn’t seem to matter.
The march was a sea of people stretching for blocks and blocks, pooling from two different directions.
I was shocked. So many people came out to support this event. It was one of the biggest crowds I had ever seen.
It was so exciting to see so many people, but it also made me a little sad that the Women’s March seemed so small compared to this. I know that so many people didn’t go because of the bitter cold, but was it really a less worthy cause?
I also know that by showing up late, we missed Donald Trump speak. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m not sure how I feel about him being there.
My Mom and I walked along the crowd of people, looking at the signs and the thousands of people. I particularly loved the ones that focused on the issues within abortion that I really care about.
One sign said “no Mom should have to choose between paying her bills and her unborn baby’s life”. Another one that sent a few chills down my sign said “abortion adoption saved my Dad”. There were several other adoption signs that were really beautiful.
There were great signs that spanned issues. One said “It’s a human -in the womb -at the border -on death row -in front of you, respect life!” One said “don’t abort, don’t deport”.
“Without the right to life, the term human rights means nothing”. “My son that I had at 17, now in college, no excuses choose life”. “I am a ProLife feminist”.
One of my favorites was “a powerful woman has her baby, not an abortion”.
I didn’t have time to make the sign I wanted to make, which on one side would’ve had “abortion normalizes the male, infertile body” which is based off a quote in Embodied Equality by Erika Bachiochi.
I forget what the other side would’ve had, but I had ideas for another feminist quote or for one of the classic facts such as that a baby’s heart begins to beat at 18 days or one of the favorite posters I’ve ever seen saying “1/3 of my generation is missing”.
But I didn’t have time, so I grabbed one of the premade signs from the Feminsist for Life booth at the expo.
Mine said “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women -Alice Paul” and my Mom’s said “Women deserve better than abortion”.
There were people of all shapes and sizes, religions and colors. So many signs were in Spanish, with latinx people walking underneath. I saw one man dressed in full native american garb with a headdress with a sign that read "this is not the native way".
I think remembering to include these people in the ProLife narrative is extremely important, but I think that remembering that they already exist (the ProLife movement is not a white, crazy group) is also crucial.
There were a few weird moments, especially when a man would start up a chant and nearly all male voices would echo it. The ProLife march does a really good job at giving women the floor to lead, shouldn't these men too?
When we got to the Supreme Court, one of the major places of the march, people had set up stands and were speaking to the crowd.
They were telling their stories of abortion, facts that had changed their mind, and stories of working in the abortion industry. I was so happy that the march, which often gets a bad rep and sometimes rightfully so, was giving these women a chance to share their stories and speak to the reason we were all here.
Walking by the Supreme Court felt supremely exciting (accept my bad puns guys). It felt empowering, just as the Women’s March had, to be taking a stand for something I really believed in. And doing it in front of such a prominent building, where Roe v Wade was ruled upon, was even more so.
Marching in front of Congress felt the same, as they had failed to pass the Born Alive Bill that demands adequate health care for babies that survive abortion.
So we walked near the front of the sea of people, where they began breaking off from the main group. We watched the people walk by Congress sitting on the front steps of the national archives.
People were carrying religious signs and symbols, which again, I had that cognitive dissonance simply because I fight so often for religion to not be part of the ProLife narrative, but I tried to focus on the comfort and excitement I felt to see that in front of Congress.
We posed with our signs on the lawn in front of the Capitol and smiled to each other as we planned the rest of the day. We walked down the National Mall and back to my dorm, passing all the memorials and Smithsonians.
I spent a lot of that day on my phone. Not because I was trying to block out what was happening, but because I opened the door for people to ask questions about what some may consider a controversial belief of mine.
I spent the day answering questions on my story and having really interesting conversations with people. A lot of people and I actually shared opinions, even though we fell on different sides of the debate.
That in addition to the march was really exhausting, but was a really amazing aspect of it all.
I’ve become convinced that only by actually talking about these things, engaging with the gray zones, discussing the divides, and not screaming, can we stop the polarization happening in this country and find solutions to the issues.
Going to both of these marches was a bit emotionally exhausting, I’m not going to lie. It felt empowering, but like we still had miles to go on issues that I thought seemed basic. I had a clearer view of my ideas and what I wanted to do to advance them, but it seemed exhausting.
In both marches, it seemed like I was marching for the same thing. I felt like both were women’s rights, my feminism is ProLife, and my ProLife beliefs are based in feminism.
Even though it was exhausting, it was really amazing to go to these marches. It was inspiring to see so many people and exciting to go to a march in the first place. I felt a bit like I was already in the past, like all the pictures we see of people protesting in the 60s.
If you’d like to learn more about my views, you can go to my instagram @katharinetrojak and see my “DC Marches” highlight or reach out to me on any platforms with questions! These are both complex topics and I’d love to talk to you.
These are issues I care deeply about and it was a great experience to be on the front line of both of them. This is something I’ll tell my children about someday.
Hopefully we will no longer have to march.