Becoming Part of History
Three buses with nearly 130 students, faculty and staff from Hamilton College and Utica College left for the National Women’s March in Washington, D.C., a few minutes after midnight on Jan. 21.
Hamilton’s participation in the event had been planned following the 2016 election and was organized by Associate Professor of Women’s Studies Anne Lacsamana, the Elihu Root Peace Fund Visiting Professor of Women’s Studies Professor Margo Okazawa-Rey, Barbara Perego ’17 and Carolyn Kassow’17.
Despite the excitement, most students attempted to sleep through the seven-hour ride to Washington, D.C. The group arrived at the Shady Grove metro station at 8:30 a.m. and immediately became part of the massive crowd. The station was flooded with people, and it took about four hours to get to Judiciary Square.
Once they arrived in the city, participants saw a swarm of colorful marchers, many \ holding signs saying “My body my choice!” and “Build bridges not walls!” Hamilton participants split into “affinity groups” designed to encourage safety and togetherness for the day.
Maurice Isserman, the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History, who attended his first march on Washington in 1967, said “.... there was no way to get anywhere near the official assembly. So we just joined the huge throng that was already marching on the route past the White House, hours before the official march began. We only saw a single parade marshal, right at the start, and saw scarcely any police the whole time," he added. “So anarchy prevailed, but to good effect.”
The Hamilton group gained momentum from the energy and excitement of the crowds. Assistant Professor of Mathematics Courtney Gibbons experienced a renewed sense of patriotism. “I felt that we were not a chain where tension breaks us. We were a web, and our disagreements and tensions held us up,” she said.
Women and gender studies major Rebecca Gorlin ’17 echoed those sentiments. “I've never felt prouder to be a woman than on Saturday. If this march is any indicator of our ability to rise to action, then I’m excited for whatever work lies ahead,” she said.
Many students brought their own signs addressing issues personal to them, including women’s rights, health care reform, environmental issues, LGBTQ+ rights and education policy. The peaceful nature of the protest encouraged students to mingle in the crowd, admiring signs that spoke to them.
“It was breathtaking to stand on a raised platform in front of the Capitol building and see a wave of pink hats and other bright colors on signs contrasting against the grey sky,” said Irina Rojas ’18. She carried a sign with a Frida Kahlo quote written in both English and Spanish, “Do not build a wall around your own suffering or it may devour you from the inside.”
After returning to Clinton at 4 a.m., marchers got some much-needed rest; then emails flowed from participants expressing support and calling for continued action. Hayley Goodrich ’17 encouraged attendees to text “count me” to organizers to get an accurate count of the people who attended marches and rallies worldwide and asked her peers to “Take the time to prove our strength is in numbers and that we are the noisy majority!”
Perego felt the success of the event spread beyond just the march, “I marched because my lived experiences matter…I hope the Hamilton community stands in solidarity with their classmates, faculty and staff members and tries to understand why it was important for them to march.”
Professor Margo Okazawa-Rey felt as a feminist of color it was her responsibility to be part of the march. She said the experience “reminded me that the whole is bigger than its parts; Hamilton is a place that has deep pockets of folks committed to the issues we expressed. Struggling for justice, human rights and peace is a lifetime commitment.”