A contagious energy buzzed through the crowds that packed the streets of downtown Washington, D.C. on January 21, at the Women’s March on Washington. A jumble of chants and shouts and songs and cheers filled the air with liveliness. Among the crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, marched a number of Decatur residents.
Decatur students and parents alike rode buses, trains, planes, and cars 633 miles to Washington, D.C. to participate in the women’s march–some staying for just the day.
Senior Kate Immergluck was among the Decatur students who travelled to D.C. for the march. When she heard about it from a friend, she thought it sounded like a unique opportunity.
“I feel like as a younger person, I don’t get that many opportunities to make a difference, but this was one of those rare times I could actually help make the change,” she said.
After driving to Richmond, Va., Immergluck, along with her mom and sister, rode a train to the nation’s capital. On the train, Immergluck met people excited to see her heading to the march.
“A lot of people [on the train] would see us, and we were clearly tourists with our clear backpacks,” she said. “People would come up to us and be like, ‘Thank you so much. I wish I could be there.’”
The enthusiasm and interactions between strangers didn’t stop on the train.
When she arrived at the march, “People were really feeding off of each other. Everyone was smiling, even when they were yelling, ‘[expletive] Trump,’ and there was just a lot of really positive energy.”
Junior Sierra Little also appreciated the “warm atmosphere” of the march.
A particularly memorable moment for Little occurred as she walked to the Lincoln Memorial with her sister, and they passed a group of anti-women’s march protesters “spewing hate.”
As the protesters yelled, “you guys don’t deserve to be equal” to the women walking in the march, “instead of fighting fire with fire, the marchers were just smiling and asked [the anti-women’s march protesters] if they needed a hug.”
“You would expect with all the hate coming out that we would shoot hate back, but everyone was just nice and peaceful, and they could offer such love and compassion,” Little said. “I think that was the moment that empowered me the most.”
Even though the streets were so dense with people that it was hard to move, the positive atmosphere comforted Little.
“One of the things that people kept mentioning around me, and that I definitely noticed, was that there was no better crowd to be stuck together in,” she said. “Everyone there was so kind and very interesting to talk to, and everyone had a different story. It made the crowd a lot more bearable, and it was just overall a really good experience.”
For senior Katie Adams, “being at the march felt fulfilling, and it felt really safe because you knew that everyone around you was in it for the same reason you were. I mean there were different opinions about different politics, but it was just great being around everyone who was essentially like we’re marching towards the same goal.”
Adams rode a bus from Decatur to D.C., leaving Friday night and arriving at 9 a.m. on Saturday because she felt “like [she] couldn’t miss any protests.”
“I was marching for equality in general,” she said. “Not just equality, but recognition of every minority group that has been oppressed in the past. That’s a big thing for me because minorities don’t get an opportunity ever, in any sort of situation, to be able to speak out without being smothered, and that was a great way to let their voices be heard.”
Little also emphasized the importance of actively fighting for social justice.
“There’s a quote that I really love, ‘being neutral in situations of justice is taking the side of the oppressor,’” Little said. “If more people keep fighting everyday and sharing their views and fighting for what’s important to them, I think there’s definitely a possibility for change.”
Senior Simon Ray flew to march “mostly because of the fact that the president we elected was not an adequate representation of true American values.”
Participating in the march taught him “that there are a lot more people than I thought in America that are willing to fight like hell to get the change that they want,” which reassured him.
“It made me feel a little better about the future of the country,” Ray said. “It was refreshing to realize that I’m not the only person who’s incredibly upset about this direction that our government is going in.”
Christopher Curtis, a Decatur social studies teacher, had a different motivation for attending the march: to show 55 Decatur students what civic participation can look like.
As the sponsor of Decatur’s Closeup club, each year Curtis accompanies a number of students to Washington, D.C. for a weeklong exploration of democracy and how the U.S. government functions.
When the opportunity arose to take the members of Closeup to the Women’s March on Washington, Curtis thought attending the march would be a valuable learning experience, especially after the students witnessed the inauguration of Donald Trump on the day prior.
“A lot of times kids think, ‘now that’s how you participate. You vote,’ which is a great way to participate but not the only way,” Curtis said. “I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to have the kids go to this march and see that’s another way to make your voice heard, to actively participate.”
He also thought kids would appreciate witnessing two historical events, back to back.
“I think kids who struggled through the inauguration were excited to have this outlet where they could support something,” Curtis said. “Kids that supported the inauguration were very okay and accepting of going to the women’s march that might be opposing the inauguration.”
Closeup freshman, Izzy Enloe, viewed the march as a refreshing and unifying experience.
She said that at the inauguration, “we had to be an environment where we all didn’t agree on the same subject, and then [the march was] a place of unity for women and DHS students to come together.”
Kristen Embry, another history teacher and Closeup chaperone, agreed that witnessing the march was an invaluable learning opportunity for the students.
“I just felt that it was important for them to feel democracy in the fullest spectrum,” Embry said. “We had this amazing opportunity to do these back to back things that no one gets to do.”
Initially, Embry said, the crowd and the chaos might have been intimidating to the students, but they warmed up to the atmosphere quickly.
“It was more crowds, more stress. It was a little nerve-wracking. We had had a pretty exhausting day prior, but it didn’t take very long for smiles to really appear and for them to get in the spirit of things,” Embry said, “and then, within 15, 20 minutes, people are climbing trees and on people’s shoulders.”
Whether a student resonated with one event more than another one, Curtis thinks “it was really one of the most amazing weeks for the kids to be in D.C.”
“Even if they hated one of them, they got to be there for two huge historical events back to back,” he said. “How often can you say ‘I was at this historical event,’ let alone I was at both of them?”
While Embry thinks the march will leave a lasting impression on students, she’s not sure if they processed being at the march in the same way that she did.
“They’re just starting to care about stuff, and that’s awesome, and getting to do something like this when you’re starting to form your own beliefs about anything is great,” she said, “but I know what I think, and for me, I was able to feel the full weight of it.”
For Embry, the march served to be “incredibly therapeutic and healing.”
While she said attending the inauguration was “an important and an exciting event, that crowd, that day, regardless of my political beliefs, was very hard.”
“The crowd [at the inauguration] was not always as generous as I had asked my students to be,” she said. “There were at least two incidents that I can think about where the crowd was incredibly rude, and there were certain things that people were saying that were offensive.”
The inauguration introduced Embry to a sensation that felt new to her.
“I felt a lot of what it feels like to be a minority and a minority surrounded by a relatively angry crowd,” she said. “That’s not something I get to feel very often, and I think it was important for me to feel that.”
But the next day felt different.
“People were celebrating, and there was camaraderie, and it was peaceful,” Embry said. “And it didn’t feel angry–I mean there were some people that were angry at the march–but the person to person interactions in the crowds and the helping, the spirit wasn’t angry. Whereas, the day before, it was… I was just shocked at how warm and friendly [the march was] and the universal sense of purpose that I felt.”
Embry’s own two daughters served as a source of inspiration for her as she marched.
“As a woman and as an educated woman and as someone who is in charge of shaping hearts and minds, I was going to go, but for my kids and what it means to them, I feel like it was something I had to do…,” she said. “My children also ended up marching. They were with their dad marching that day. It absolutely was my inspiration.”
Conversations about the march continued in Embry’s household when she returned from D.C.
“We have continued to frame our conversations about things around the house and about actions with each other using the march as our reference,” she said. “What does it mean to be a strong woman? What does it mean to be a good person? How do we talk to each other as people better? We have attempted to bring the social justice and man’s humanity to man into our house as an after effect.”
Signs about love and unity at the march particularly resonated with Embry “because they weren’t as sharp.”
“I was moved by the people saying things like how it’s a challenge to love consistently and to not hate and to do good regularly,” she said.
Immergluck viewed the positive messages perpetuated throughout the march as particularly educational.
“If people ever have the opportunity to do something like that or participate and do the right thing, I think it’s a really good experience educationally and morally,” she said. “It was just all around really awesome and impressive, and it made me feel better about the country that I live in and people in general.”
For Immergluck, both the magnitude and the nature of the march made it feel like “real history.”
“A lot of [times] growing up, it feels like all of the things we learn about feel kind of far away, but this is a thing that really actually impacts not only my life, but more importantly every single person’s life,” she said. “I feel like [the march is] something that will probably be in the APUSH curriculum you’ll see years from now.”
But the main lesson Immergluck learned as she marched down the crowded streets of Washington, D.C. was “that people are really, truly good at heart.”
“There’s this sort of connectedness that we all have,” she said. “I think that when it comes down to it, people will come together, and they will help each other out. Even when it seems bad, I think people know what’s right deep down. It’s good to see so many people come out and just show that we’re all human, and that’s what we should remember instead of superficial differences in our beliefs.”