As I stood at the Women's March on Washington talking to Casey McGraw, a transgender army veteran, a man stopped by Ms. McGraw's side and said, "thank you for your service."
Ms. McGraw was carrying a sign that identified her as a veteran; on it she had drawn the American flag upside-down, as a sign the country was in distress. She is worried about what the future holds for young trans men and women. I asked her if people often thanked her for her service, and she said with a smile that they did. "This country is full of good people," she said. "You just have to look for them."
She is, however, worried at the moment. It's fair to say that the hundreds of thousands of women and men who showed up at the march in Washington – and similar marches in the U.S., Canada and around the world – are worried about what the new American reality means for the most vulnerable people in the country: gays and lesbians, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, the disabled.
And women, of course. The country had just elected a man who said it was perfectly acceptable to grab women "by the pussy" and who has talked about rolling back the country's reproductive rights and gutting health services that serve women. It was a march organized by and for women, but men were welcome and they showed up in the thousands, some wearing T-shirts that said "nasty woman." Other men, in sisterly solidarity, wore pink knitted "pussyhats." Many brought their children, wearing superhero costumes and carrying signs that said, "girl power."
For once, though, it was women who dominated the conversation, on stage and off. The crowd was so huge that many people couldn't get near the stage that veteran activists like Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis shared with new voices like Janelle Monáe (who spoke with pride about her sharecropper grandmother) and the undeniable star of the day, six-year-old Sophie Cruz. Sophie is the preternaturally composed child of undocumented immigrant parents; they stood behind her, holding her younger sister, as she calmly recited her speech in English and Spanish. "I want to tell the children not to be afraid, because we are not alone," she said, and when she left the crowd began chanting, "Sophie," and "si, se puede" (yes we can).
It was a remarkably peaceful day, and if the crowd sometimes wandered aimlessly rather than marching in any kind of precision order, it was a happy mayhem: People seemed buoyed by a message of uprising and resilience after an interminable election campaign that divided the country. "This is the upside of the downside," Ms. Steinem said from the stage. "This is an outpouring of energy and democracy like I have never seen in my long life." Alicia Keys read Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise, and added some defiance of her own: "We will not allow our bodies to be owned and controlled by men in government, or any men anywhere for that matter."
But in the crowd, along with the carnival atmosphere and the hilarious signs – one simply showed a picture of Vladimir Putin, with an "I voted" sticker in the corner – there was also a sense of foreboding. "As a black woman, I don't feel safe at the moment," said Erin Collins, who was attending the protest with her mother Robin. Erin carried a sign that said, "I stopped counting at 44" on one side, and "Black lives still matter" on the other. It was the first time mother and daughter had marched together. "It's important that we show up," Erin said, "and tell the world that it's not okay for our president to be racist, sexist and xenophobic."
Nearby, another mother and daughter, Fawzia and Shaza Fahal, were marching for the first time, taking pictures of themselves in front of the crowd. Shaza is 18, a high school student in neighbouring Alexandria, Va. They had come to express their solidarity with other women. Shaza said that although they were anxious about the possibility of a Muslim registry, they didn't think it would come to pass. In fact, she said, people at the march had come up to her to say, "as-salamu alaykum," and compliment her on her pale blue hijab. The high school student had a message for the new President, which pretty much summed up the mood of the crowd: "I'm a citizen. I was born here. It's as much my country as it is his."