On every journey, there is a point of no return: a moment when you are committed to continue. For me, that moment happened just a few days after the presidential election. My daughter called me, completely stunned at the results.
"How could a man who brags about sexually assaulting women be elected president?" she asked.
I hardly knew what to say. When I sent my 18-year-old daughter off to college, I wanted to believe I was sending her into a country where she, as a young woman, would be respected. But now my country had elected this man to the highest office in the land. Whole swaths of the nation had either ignored or applauded his disrespectful comments toward women. How could I restore my daughter's faith in her country? How could I restore my own?
Later that day, I wrote her a letter, which ended: "My daughter, you are beautiful and strong and intelligent, and I love you with all my being. You deserve a country that values you as much as I do. You began the day of Nov. 8 believing that you lived in such a country. You woke up on Nov. 9 and discovered you did not. This fact might threaten to break my heart but know this: I remain unbroken. We are going to keep fighting, keep raising our voices for change. You and I will join the Women's March on Washington. ... I am your mother and this is my promise to you."
After forwarding the letter to my 80-year-old mother, we received her response: "I, too, asked the same questions. How could Trump say those things about women and about minorities of all varieties, and still get elected? And so, I will come with you. We will join together with other women from age 18 to beyond 80. I am your mother and your grandmother and this is my promise to both of you!"
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From that moment on, a commitment was forged — a commitment that would carry us across the country by airplane and by bus, until the three of us spilled out together to join the river of humanity heading east on Independence Avenue.
The first thing I heard as we weaved through the throngs of people was a far-away rush of sound, like leaves in a tall grove when stirred by a storm. The rustling coalesced into a roar of voices coming closer through the crowd until all those around us took up the cheer: a high wild herald of energy. We joined in, and then the roar passed over us, down the crowded street. It was immediately replaced by the chant: "This is what democracy looks like!"
As I surveyed the crowd, signs bobbed everywhere like sails on a sea. Sentiments ranged from "Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense" to Princess Leia placards, reminding us that "Leia Fought With The Resistance!" A mother passed me with a baby on her hip, her Black Lives Matter sign wrapped around his body, his tiny mouth gumming the edge. As the rally began, we settled ourselves in front of a Jumbotron screen, shoulder to shoulder with other women and men. The sound of many voices was replaced by one: one woman's voice after another, taking her turn at the podium, to tell her own personal story — each one answered by the cheering voices of thousands.
Surrounded by concrete buildings, with the bare branches of winter trees laced against the gray sky, we lifted our heads to listen as women spoke. They came from every sector of our society: from former attorney generals to former inmates, from first generation immigrants to Native Americans, from Muslims to Christians, from famous movies stars to a 6-year-old Latina, whose piping voice cut across the politics with its purity: "We are here together making a chain of love to protect our families. ... I am here to tell the children: Do not be afraid! We are not alone!" The crowds answered by chanting her name: "Sophie, Sophie, Sophie!"
When U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris from California took the stage, a buzz swept through and then the crowd stilled. We attended to her every word, wondering: Could she be the one? Would she someday challenge the system and become our first woman president? When she finished speaking, and as the crowd roared its approval, I felt proud to be from California. Our home on the other side of the continent had elected a female senator who had captured the hope of this gathering — a woman who seemed perfectly confident, poised to take up the baton and continue the race.
Although the speakers were as diverse as the Women's Movement itself, one message was the repeated over and over: We must take this energy and let it galvanize us toward future change. The success of this march would not be measured in the numbers that showed up on Jan. 21, but instead by the numbers who would show up as activists in their own communities — tomorrow and every day after that.
As the rally continued, a chant of "Start the March!" could be heard. The hours of standing on cold pavement were beginning to take their toll and we were all ready to start moving. When Madonna showed up to sing her anthem, "Express Yourself," the crowd began to take its first shuffling steps toward the Washington Monument. A couple of young men behind us began to shout, "Move!" at my daughter in increasingly angry tones — even though there was nowhere to move. My mother leaned toward them and admonished, "Listen: You are not here to hijack the Women's March." They immediately quieted down, proving that young men should always listen to their grandmothers.
Suddenly the crowd was moving, propelled forward at a fast clip. I linked hands with my mother and daughter in order to not lose them. It reminded me of the days when I would ask my young daughter to hold my hand, and the days — long ago — when I held my own mother's hand in a crowd. It was that same fierce, mother's love that had motivated me to bring my daughter to this march. Now the three generations of women in my family stood hand in hand. I looked at my daughter and saw the confident, strong woman she had become.
And then I asked her to lead us forward, knowing that she could and she would.
Peri Escarda is a freelance writer and elementary school instructional aide, working with children in the English as a Second Language Program. She lives in Eureka.