‘This is what democracy looks like’


They came – the young, the old, entire families and collections of fast friends, those aided by canes and others in wheelchairs.


This undulating mass of humanity, including many on their first political march and many wearing the signature pink hats, was peaceful, kindly, united. 

They held aloft a great variety of signs, ranging from the profane to the profound. They were all sending messages; some of them proclaimed that “Civil rights are human rights,” that “There is NO force equal to that of a determined woman,” that “They tried to bury us – they didn’t know we were seeds.” 

A man close to me held up a sign that announced, “I’m here to show my sons it’s manly to stand up for women’s rights.”  And a woman in a hijab shared this poignant message: “My head, my scarf, my body, my choice.”

My two friends and I were fortunate. We arrived in time to find a spot close to a jumbotron and a bank of speakers so that we could hear a soulful invocation “to honor our ancestors,” the “indigenous people rising.” Many marchers could not get close enough to the stage to see or hear the speakers and the music – but they were happy to just be there and be counted.

Charlie Brotman, the longtime inauguration parade announcer who was replaced this year, opened the rally and then declared that all of the women at the march were “Charlie’s Angels!” A long succession of speakers followed, each one inspiring those gathered, urging us forward.

Among the more than 50 speakers, entertainers and artists were the famous –Michael Moore, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Madonna, Alicia Keyes – and the not-so-famous, as well as organizers from organizations large and small: Cecile Richards from Planned Parenthood; Amanda Nguyen of the civil-rights group Rise; Judith LeBlanc from the Native Organizers Alliance; and Rabbi Sharon Brous of the Jewish spiritual community IKAR. 

Among the highlights for me was when one of the organizers looked out on the crowd and stated, “This is what democracy looks like,” sparking a spontaneous chant that echoed throughout the rally and march. 

Actress America Ferrera declared that “we will not go from a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance.” Feminist and political icon Gloria Steinem spoke passionately about the power of coming together. She remarked that she had never seen such an “outpouring of democracy.”

“We are linked, not ranked,” she said, and: “A Twitter finger must not become a trigger finger.” 

Steinem also reported on a note she received from a friend in Germany, which stated, “We in Berlin know that walls don’t work.”

“The Constitution does not begin with ‘I the President,’ it begins with ‘We the people’,” she said.

Steinem was followed by several other impassioned speakers. Evie Harmon of MomsRising said, “Unfair treatment of any one of us hurts all of us.” 

One of the most poignant performances, by Ashley Judd, was “Nasty Women.” Activist Van Jones reminded us that “with every breakdown, there is a breakthrough” and added, “When it gets harder to love, let’s love harder.” 

So what did I take away from this amazing, enthralling experience? Lots of things!

It was clear to me that the overcast skies and the occasional drizzle would not dampen the energy and determination that was everywhere evident in this march on Washington. 

A trio of Asian-American women, who had flown in from San Francisco, said they were going to a training at Emily’s List the next day. One of them was considering running for an elected office next year. 

A mother and daughter from Virginia contemplated their next step.

Kamala Harris, a newly elected senator from California, urged us all to recommit, to use our power. 

I listened carefully to Michael Moore’s plea for us to run for office, local or otherwise, and asked myself what more I could do. I already serve on a town board; I participate in the local and state political party of my choice; I speak to my local Board of Selectmen when there is an issue of importance to my family or me; I serve in my local synagogue; and I’m a board member for the Attleboro Area Interfaith Collaborative.  

So what more will I do? I will be in touch with my representatives and senators on both the state and federal level more frequently. I will send letters of support when I agree with them, and letters of concern to implore them to do the right thing when they are deciding on issues that affect my constitutional rights or my well-being. 

And, above all, I am urging everyone to become and stay involved no matter your political preference. Our democracy is a fragile and fluid entity that thrives on civil discourse. 

My biggest takeaway from the historic Women’s March on Washington is that it takes all of our voices to keep our democracy vibrant and responsive.  Let’s do this together!

SHARON FRIEDMAN is a member of Congregation Agudas Achim in Attleboro.