Mass. marchers join D.C. protest for reasons political and personal
WASHINGTON — Meghana Kulkarni boarded the bus in Acton Friday afternoon, unsure what to expect. The Women’s March on Washington was the first demonstration she’d ever felt compelled to join. She was jolted out of complacency by the divisive rhetoric of the November election, forced to consider possibilities that until recently had seemed remote or ridiculous.
The little liberal bubble she’d lived in had popped.
“I feel very strongly,” said Kulkarni, a cancer research scientist who came to the United States from India 20 years ago. “This country that I’ve made my home has given me so much. I cannot stand by and let bad things happen to the people I love.”
More than 9,600 people from Massachusetts — women, men, and even children — helped fill the streets of Washington, D.C., on Saturday in a show of strength and pushback against the newly inaugurated President Trump. Massachusetts marchers flew, carpooled, took trains, and chartered buses to be part of the movement. The 47 marchers who left from Acton spent 12 hours on the bus before being dropped off at midnight at a Unitarian Universalist church in Fairfax, Va., where they made their makeshift beds on thinly carpeted church floors.
“This is where I have to be,” said 17-year-old Sophie Kramer of Maynard, a high school junior who went to D.C. while her mother and brother represented the family at the march in Boston. “This has to be said. It has to be done.”
The march was organized for, by, and about women — a response to the misogyny on display during the campaign against Hillary Clinton, the first female major-party nominee for president, and the past boorish behavior of the man who defeated her. But the marchers’ reasons for participating turned out to be far more complicated. No one, it seemed, had just one reason.
Kristin Kearns of Bolton noted that her friends offer crisp, well-thought-out arguments for their participation, which they revise within 30 seconds. Their posters, she said, should be “all asterisks that say, ‘see the footnotes.’ ”
“It seems like this new administration is set to alienate all but themselves, so I think all causes should be coming together at this point,” Kearns said, after arranging the blow-up mattress where she’d spend the night in the Fairfax church.
So it was for Kulkarni, who bristles at the way her fellow immigrants are being viewed as a threat to American jobs — rather than as newcomers simply pursuing the American dream.
“The reason people come here is because it represents opportunity that could be realized with hard work,” she said. “I came here with $100. I packed my life into two suitcases.”
But as the mother of a 10-year-old boy, she also worries about the message Trump is sending to children by denigrating so many different people. “We’ve given the ultimate pulpit,” she said, to a man she considers a bully.
“I want to be a role model for children and my child,” she said, in standing up for other people and teaching children that’s the right thing to do.
Jacky Gottesman, a middle-school teacher in Hudson, said she was there to represent all her students, having witnessed a new willingness among youngsters to attack one another on matters like religion.
“These kids feel like they have free rein to do this now,” she said, noting that her classrooms have had “many more teachable moments than in the past. I’m really worried for the future of our youth.”
For Linda Sou, 33, it’s concern for today’s refugees. Her parents met in a refugee camp, after fleeing Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. They found each other again in America and settled in Lowell.
“I’m worried for folks seeking asylum coming to places that have always welcomed them,” she said. “The rhetoric and the tone have allowed for people to say, ‘No, not you.’ ”
Sou, the first of her family to be born in this country, has worked at the Lowell Community Health Center and for the National Park Service in Lowell, and feels blessed to be given so many opportunities — and to give back.
Her friend, Lianna Kushi, 32, was driven by her concerns for women, as well as her dismay at the depths to which the election discourse sank this year. The daughter of a Japanese-American father, she is acutely aware of America’s history of sending American citizens of Japanese descent to internment camps and heard echoes of that past when Trump, during the campaign, discussed requiring American Muslims to register.
“If we’re a country founded on religious freedom, then how can we talk about singling out an entire religious group?” she asked. “That’s, for me, why I want to be here. And seeing what’s happening to individuals in the Muslim community. The rhetoric is so dangerous, in my opinion.”
Kushi’s husband, Sovanna Pouv, 36, also a Cambodian refugee, accompanied the two women on the bus trip to D.C.
“We’ve got to support them as allies, as men,” he said. He even wore a “pussyhat” over his baseball cap — a homemade knitted pink hat with cat ears that became the signature apparel statement of the march, after women launched a viral campaign to parody Trump’s use of the word. “I have no shame in doing what I’m doing.”
En route to Washington, D.C., the marchers passed the time talking policy and politics, but with some lighter notes — including on-bus karaoke. And despite the fear and anger directed at the incoming Trump administration, the spirit was generous and lighthearted even after they arrived in D.C.
Confusion reigned on the streets of Washington, with protesters meandering in search of the march. There were street closures and subway stops shutting down seemingly at random. But no one seemed to mind, bolstered by camaraderie, chutzpah, and comical signs. (“Free Melania.” “Viva La Vagina.” “Girls just want to have FUN-damental rights.”)
Amanda Zutshi, 46, of Brookline, turned heads with a sign that said “White Lies Matter,” and accommodated passersby who wanted pictures.
Vanessa Wellington, 48, of Andover, was motivated to march to honor the experience of her Japanese mother, who met her father when he was in the Navy, then dealt with ferocious discrimination in the United States.
“The things that my mom went through, oh my God,” she said. “I remember, as a kid, strangers spitting on her in public.”
Wellington hadn’t had those kinds of experiences herself. “I was very protected by my mom,” she said. “I hadn’t really been in a situation where it’s clear to me that I have to speak up and I can’t be complacent.”
That said, she’s not certain what’s going to come out of the march. Nobody is.
“It can’t end here,” Wellington said. “What are we going to do when we go home?”
“I want to have this day kind of burned into me almost, that I can take it back and do something with it,” she said. “Because otherwise, why am I here?”