My daughter was barely a month old at her first protest march. It was in New York City, following the 2008 election and the passage of Proposition 8, California’s deeply divisive anti-gay-marriage ballot measure. Although she was just a sleeping infant in an Ergobaby, she’s the child of two moms — part of a family that cannot take its rights for granted — and so found herself at many more demos on the same theme, including the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., all before turning 2. Even if she had little or no understanding of the importance, it meant something to us that we were simply there together.
But Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington felt different.
This year, my daughter is 8 and understands concepts of injustice and inequality. She asks questions — “Why would someone ever care about the color of anyone’s skin?” “Why would anyone care about who people marry?” “How can people say they love animals and then eat them?” — that can leave me speechless. She cried when she awoke to news of November’s election outcome, and on New Year’s Eve, treated us to a surprise song-and-dance routine in Hillary’s honor, which she giddily called “Woman of the Year.” So when I told her we were going to travel to the Women’s March, joining thousands of like-minded individuals from all around the country to stand up for equal rights for all, she was in, albeit reluctantly (she hates crowds).
Truth be told, she was actually way more interested in whether or not our D.C. hotel would have a pool. But after gently coaxing her toward other focuses, like making signs on fluorescent poster board (“Girl Power! Girls Rule!”), and after she got fist bumps and high fives and winks of approval for the knit-by-a-friend pussy hat she wore throughout our entire journey, she was back on board.
The actual day was a rocky one for her.
The beyond-expectations mobs made it difficult to know which way to go and where to stand. And after walking for a while, observing signs and marchers and vendors of everything from buttons to factory-made $20 pussy hats, we eventually got swept up into a bit of a frightening crush, forming a tight and aggressive chain of three in order to move through with great effort. I chastised myself for allowing us to get into the exact situation experts had warned against in a story I’d written about taking your kids to the march. And our girl was shaken enough to want to leave. My wife took her back to our hotel, where she spent the rest of the afternoon watching a mix of March coverage and figure skating and bad sitcoms from under the safety of her white duvet.
When I returned hours later I found her blissfully performing for herself before a full-length mirror in nothing but a flowing cream Pashmina. Still, I searched her face worriedly: Had the experience overwhelmed her? Turned her off to the idea of activism for good? I wondered about it as we got Chinese food and then put our feet up, channel-surfing through cable and marveling at aerial shots of the crowd, cheering ourselves for having been a part of it all.
Finally, I asked what had been positive about the protest for her. “All the different signs,” she said, surprising me with her quiet observation skills and smiling guiltily while listing some of her favorites — the new president depicted has having the body of a baby, with pig ears, X’d out, and as a Cheeto.
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Other highlights: “Wearing my hat,” seeing all the other pussy hats, and “getting to look into everyone else’s bags,” which were march-regulated clear backpacks, through which she was delighted to spy phones, small protest signs, wallets, and such snacks as, “a tiny bag of salted peanuts and a peanut butter and banana sandwich.”
And then came this: “I can’t believe how many were brave enough to come and speak out about what they believe,” she said, looking truly floored. “It was really very brave.” I was so grateful in that moment that she had been able to bear witness, and that she’d taken so much of it in.
Related: Pink Pussy Hats Unite Millions at Women’s Marches Around the World
I have friends whose parents took them to protest marches and rallies when they were kids, and they tell me they remember just bits and pieces or general vibes — “feeling really good,” “sitting on the avenue to rest and eating an ice cream cone with my mom,” “intimidating crowds,” “a fun family activity” — and I suppose it will be the same with my daughter.
My greatest hope is that she’ll be left with lingering visions of fierce feminists in pink hats and a deep appreciation of free speech and democracy at its best, and the beautiful power of the people. (But I’ll settle for sweet memories of peanuts and Cheeto signs too.)
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