By Merideth Garrigan
When we left Charleston for the Women’s March on Washington, we had no idea how monumental our trip would truly be. I knew I would take my girls to the march the minute the event posted on Facebook following the election. I spent the years leading up to the election night advocating for better housing options for our city’s homeless population and also in support of causes important to me, such as Standing Rock. And through those efforts I found my call to activism. I now hoped for the girls to find theirs. The most profound realization for me has been the scope of struggle for equal rights. It is a fight that never ends.
My gut reaction to the election results was clearly not unique. “We have to do something” has resonated with citizens across America, evidenced by the millions that participated in the marches worldwide on January 21. Thanks to the simple post by Teresa Shook, that “something” was created. My girlfriends and I immediately decided to help spread the word near and far. Hayne Beattie Gray stepped up to lead the charge for groups from Charleston to participate in the D.C. March and also the Sister March in Columbia by helping to coordinate the buses, hotels and events for the weekend. Months later, when we gathered to discuss plans and to make posters, the fire and excitement were palpable. Our community here in Charleston is a diverse, passionate, and creative force. We were ready to drive that force up to D.C. and right through the streets of our Nation’s Capital.
Our group of seven hit the road Friday with a playlist that started out with Sharon’s Jone’s funky soul version of “This Land is our Land.” The girls, of course, wanted their Beyonce request of “Who Runs the World” to be played at full volume, too. We arrived in D.C. ready for the Friday night kickoff event full of music and great speakers, but headed home early to get some rest for the big day.
As I walked to the train station early Saturday morning with my two daughters and my niece, I could already see the disbelief and a bit of apprehension in their faces. The energy was high and the faces were bright and friendly, though I was also starting to feel nervous about keeping the three girls close once we arrived in the city. We packed into the train and went over our maps and meeting spots for the day in case we were separated. Once we stepped off the train and out onto the streets, we were ready to march. We met up with our Charleston crew in McPherson Square and headed down the rally. The signs were everything. We kept tugging on each other’s arms, “Look at that one! Read that one! Oh my goodness! Wow! Check this one out!” Everywhere you turned were men and women of all nationalities in a sea of pink hats and sharp-tongued signage.
Somehow we managed to secure a spot near a speaker and TV prompter just in time to watch Gloria Steinem walk on stage. The girls asked, “Mom, who is that?” After I explained, it was at that moment I remembered to view the rest of the day through their eyes as well as my own. I listened with an experienced mind, and with an open heart. We listened to the many stories told from the leaders on stage, but also told by the people there. The grandmother in line next to me had traveled with her daughter and granddaughter and couldn’t believe she was “marching again for the same reasons she had marched for over 50 years ago.” I heard conviction, strength, persistence, hope, and humor in all of these shared stories. We came to be a part of this movement of kindness, inclusion and equal rights. And most importantly, we came to feel that strong sense of unity and purpose with our community and also with these complete strangers. It opened my girls’ eyes to the fact that many people of different races, religions, and backgrounds can come together for the sole purpose of equality in a joyful and respectful way. It made an impact on them and on the world.
Since we’ve returned home, I have watched this march evolve into the movement. People have been activated and inspired by the millions who showed up around the globe to stand together for human rights. Our children have gathered to write their representatives in Congress to let them know about their experience and their concerns. It’s important that we remember they are watching all of us and our actions.
We have gathered together to discuss how we got to this point in history, how we improve these conditions, and how we reach across a party line, religious belief, or social class that only serves to separate us. We have strategized how we can influence policy through our massive, collective buying power. We gather together to learn and share ideas on how to bring our community closer and to participate more actively in our own governance. I read a statement criticizing the march and saying it would lose momentum because it has no leader. In this movement we are all leaders. That is what makes it strong. We have been reminded that our voices do count and our actions, no matter how small, do influence and change the world. Our local actions, carried out with commitment and persistence for basic human rights, will influence positive change for our generation and for those to come.
Photographer Merideth Garrigan helped organize groups from South Carolina that participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.