I stood in the Stamford Metro-North railroad station alone, my wife left home to tend to our two little boys and little girl. I had no buttons, carried no signs, and wore nondescript clothes. I had never before been to a march.
The groups of people I’d hoped to join all bowed-out or ventured to Washington. I almost decided not to go, but resolved I would attend after discovering whitehouse.gov removed all references to civil rights, women’s issues, LGBTQ rights, and climate change, among other things, upon Trump’s inauguration. So at 9 a.m., I kissed my wife and kids and made the solo drive to the train.
The station was eerily quiet. Apart from one woman with a rolled up sign, there was no indication anybody knew of an impending protest march. But the train arrived and the cars were packed marchers. I stood near the doors as two religion professors discussed liberation theology and department politics.
The Main Concourse in Grand Central Terminal was filled with electrical excitement in anticipation of the day to come. Placards filled the air as groups of people began impromptu songs as they passed the famous Grand Central Clock on their way to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza for the rally before the march.
I never made it to the Plaza. The crowd, even at 10:30 in the morning, was so large that I only got as far as 47th Street and Second Avenue, the front of the waiting area.
For 15 minutes, I wandered around, weaving my way through the crowd and taking pictures here and there. It seemed everyone but me was part of a group. I finally parked myself up front and waited. Almost immediately, a group of three women and one of their daughters started chatting with me. We laughed, we talked superficially about issues, we discussed our careers (coincidentally, several of us are lawyers), and they gave me some insight on marching, protesting, and rallies. They also gave me a sign, so I wouldn’t feel so “naked.”
The rally was at capacity, so we waited for the march to start. We made friends with everyone around us—the two 30-somethings next to me with their daughters, the man (another lawyer and protest/march veteran) who explained the ins and outs of the day to me, the “pirate”—a tall woman up front wearing a pirate hat and passing along information as she got it. People came and went, my new friends and I welcomed everyone.
At home, my like-minded friends are peaceful, wanting only to support freedom and equal rights. I wasn’t sure if the crowd here would be the same. I hoped not to see any revolutionaries, wound-up on their hatred of Trump and ready to fight. I expected a lot of peaceniks and hippies who ride the rally circuit. Maybe both types were there, but I didn’t meet either.
Instead, apart from one table set up on a corner pitching socialist propaganda (which was a curiosity, at best), nobody seemed to fit neatly into such categories. The 20 to 30 people I conversed with were all normal, everyday people. They all work jobs. They all have families. They’re all concerned that the Trump administration will erode the hard-fought rights of women, the LGBTQ community, and other minority groups.
One of the women next to me challenged my presence.
“Why are you here?” she asked, smiling. Then, “Sorry if that sounded offensive, just, why is a guy here alone at the women’s march?”
“Well, I’ve got a wife and three kids back home.” I replied. “I’m here because gender equality and women’s empowerment are not just women’s issues. I’m here because my wife and kids can’t be, but I’m here for me too.”
“I love that.” She said, then smiled. From that moment on, I belonged.
Occasionally, a cheer would start uptown on Second Ave. As it reached our corner, we thought the march was beginning. As the tallest person in the vicinity, I was charged with reporting each time that the cheering was for the NYPD or FDNY as they passed. This always caused everyone to cheer even louder.
The New York Police Department was amazing. Between 400,000 and 600,000 people showed up, far exceeding the anticipated 100,000. There was order. There was little chaos and no violence. The police—and the protesters—should be commended; both adopted the message of peace and love, prevalent on so many signs.
I spent the next few hours laughing, talking, and taking pictures. We got occasional updates (cell service was overwhelmed) about the record-setting crowds around the world. Before the march started (late, due to the crowds), I had to leave. I reverse-commuted through the crowd, catching up to another group of women I’d spent a few minutes with. We linked arms to snake our way through thousands of people, me—the loudest and tallest among us—leading the way to Third Avenue before we went our separate ways.
On the train ride home, I felt hopeful. A lot of negative rhetoric has been coming out of the Trump camp. Despite it all, hundreds of thousands of people in Manhattan made a showing of force for equality through love.
In a country so divided, in the shadows of its tallest towers, the Women’s March in New York City was a peaceful and welcoming display of the better angels of our nature.
Photos courtesy of author