Marching Out of D.C. and into the Classroom by Colleen Clemens

The day after the election, my colleague saw murmurings of a march to take place in D.C. the day after the inauguration.  She booked a room in Arlington, not knowing what we were even committing to.  But we knew we needed to commit to something.

We were still absorbing the news that Donald Trump had won the election after a long night of watching returns.  We did not know what his presidency would bring.  We felt alone and concerned, so we drafted a manifesto to give voice to our anger and energy.  We knew that was going to be start of more action.  A few weeks later, we created an activist podcast, Inside 254, to do more to ensure our voices were heard.  Even with all of this work, we still felt alone and bereft.

Inauguration Day came.  As I drove my Subaru down I-95, my carful of friends—and my five-year-old daughter—listened to the speech at noon.  Our concern grew when we heard the grim diction, words like “carnage” and “rulers.”  I am glad we were on our way to the demonstration.  A student had crocheted pink pussycat hats for the four of us.  We wore them into rest stops and met other folks on their way to D.C.

The morning of the march, we fed our bellies and headed for the train.  When the first train went by, we started to get an inkling of just how big this march was going to be.  Each train was already packed with bodies and signs and pink hats.  We watched a multitude of full trains stop, open its doors, and leave without us.  Our frustration did not grow; instead, our joy at the mass of people buoyed us.  It was the first time I felt ok for months.  I hadn’t realized how alone I felt until I saw the masses of people there to be heard.  Even if we weren’t saying the same words or marching for the same reasons, I renewed my resolve to feel less alone.

We stood still.  We chanted.  We marched.  We swung our signs.  We made new friends.  We were exhilarated by the end of the march.  Seeing the signs in front of Trump Hotel warmed us.  It was the day’s last opportunity to have our voices heard before we went underground to catch the train out of town.  We slept off the march and headed back home Sunday.

Monday my semester began.  My body still tingled with the energy of the march.  My daughter wore her pink hat to school.  Her teacher hugged her and told her how proud she was of this little marcher.

My students were on my mind during the march.  I knew some of them were there, others were marching in other locales, and others were supporting the march in other ways. I couldn’t wait to let them know that I had been there and to tell them about the effect it had on me.  Here are some things I want my students to learn from my marching:

  • Collective Action Matters: For my students, the Women’s March might be the first massive collective action covered widely in their lives.  For them to see images of people moving in one mass could normalize protest in their lives.
  • You Are Not Alone: Student idealism often leads to a fervor that leads to burnout.  It is easy to feel like you have to do “all the things,” but you do not.  I do not.  Our students do not.  There is a mass of people willing to help and hold each other up.  I am not saying we get to relent; however, we do get to breathe and rest while others pick up the work every now and then.
  • Activism Comes From Work, Not Just Ideas: So many times in my life, I have heard people say, “I really want to do something, but I don’t know what to do.”  Because the Women’s March and its organization and tensions were so public, students got to learn about the hard work of amassing a large group of people with shared but not matching ideals.  Often groups have not been able to coalesce into an organized group.  The Women’s March, though it had its issues, was able to pull off such an event, showing students that coming together is possible.
  • We Need to Keep Working: I want my students to see that a march is not an end but instead a starting point.  The organizers have done a good job of ensuring folks have a plan for the next hundred days.  I can model ongoing activism for my students in and out of the classroom.

We do not know what the next days will bring.  But I do know this:  what we do and model for our students will teach them—and us—as we go.

When your president won’t listen to you, you leave messages at his doorstep



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