The following are first-person reports from the women’s marches held in Atlanta, Washington and hundreds of other cities Saturday, Jan. 21.

The rain didn’t seem to deter anyone from gathering in downtown Atlanta at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights for the March for Social Justice and Women on Saturday, Jan. 21.

Rain-soaked men, women and children marched for many reasons in their ponchos with their umbrellas in tow.

Poor weather delayed the 1 p.m. start, and the various speakers scheduled before the march didn’t begin until about 2. But the crowd waited in the mud.

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Support for John Lewis and his 5th District is evident outside the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. (Photo by Rachel Fayne Gruskin)

The last of the speakers was the crowd favorite: Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta) took the stage to the crowd’s chants of “Thank you, John.”

The congressman from Atlanta’s 5th District has gained notoriety and faced criticism since calling Donald Trump’s presidency illegitimate. But there was only support for Lewis and his district in this audience. Some signs in the crowd offered quotes from Lewis himself; others provided messages of encouragement.

“I know something about marching,” Lewis told the crowd of 60,000, who erupted in applause and cheers. “I want to thank you for standing up … for getting in trouble, for getting in good trouble, for getting in necessary trouble.”

Lewis’ closing remarks marked the beginning of the march to the Capitol. Any fear of violence was unfounded, though police cruisers lined many of the streets. Officers waved to marchers, and many cheered in solidarity.

Among the more inspiring moments was a 9-year-old marching with his mother, who had given him a megaphone. Each time he yelled, “Women’s rights are human rights,” the crowd called back in solidarity.

He held the megaphone for much of the march.

It was not a women’s march for women. It was a march for equal rights and social justice for anyone. Women and men and their children marched 1.7 miles in the mud and through the rain to echo that sentiment.

— Rachel Fayne Gruskin

Fired Up in Atlanta

Atlanta joined with 672 Women’s March sister cities and an estimated 4.8 million people globally, according to womensmarch.com, in a show of activism not seen in the United States in decades.

Despite torrential rain early in the day that forced a 30-minute delay, nothing could dampen the spirits of the estimated 60,000 walkers clad in plastic ponchos who turned out for the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women. They came by car and van pool, shuttle and city bus, bike, Uber, and MARTA.

The walk began at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and culminated at the state Capitol. The rain dissipated just in time, giving way to an electrified afternoon crowd under gray skies.

Photo by Leah Harrison Congregation Bet Haverim Rabbi Josh Lesser (left) marches in Atlanta with the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Noah Appley and Elizabeth Appley.

Photo by Leah Harrison
Congregation Bet Haverim Rabbi Josh Lesser (left) marches in Atlanta with the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Noah Appley and Elizabeth Appley.

It was a march of every woman and every man, a march of families and students, synagogue members and activists, co-workers and friends. All joined to fire a warning shot across the bow of the Trump administration that the newly awakened American public will resist bigotry, hate and intolerance, efforts to chip away at women’s or human rights, threats to the environment, and challenges to democracy.

The energized throng began by chanting, “Fired up and ready to go.” Along the route, the phrase was “Love, not hate, makes America great.”

A common exchange was “Tell me what democracy looks like” with an answer of “This is what democracy looks like.”

As the procession reached the Capitol, nearing the sounds of a band playing in front of the Georgia State MARTA station, people spoke of the realization that the march was just the beginning and that much work was ahead the next four years.

Pink hats and handheld signs were the accessories of the day. The homemade signs of all shapes, sizes and colors, some wrapped in plastic against the weather, told the story in Atlanta and elsewhere.

“He may be my president, but he doesn’t represent me,” read one sign in Atlanta. Another said, “Free Melania.”

A sign in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris read, “Respect existence, or expect resistance.” A satin sash draped across a young woman in Washington declared her “Miss Represented.” Another sign in Washington warned, “You have awoken sleeping beauties.”

— Leah R. Harrison

Empowered to Act

The Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women was an awesome demonstration of unity and democracy. It was a privilege and a source of pride to know one of the organizers personally, to be close enough to hear the speakers before the march, and to see women I cherish named Ruth, Dina and Rebecca (and Ellen, Karen and Lois).

Millions across the world witnessed moments of peaceful protest, created poignant signs that others documented with their cameras, and joined in chant and song.

Waves of cheering moved up to, through and beyond me with a deafening echo. These vibrations of energy conveyed hope and inspiration.

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The diversity of signs reflects the diversity of the crowd during Atlanta’s March for Social Justice and Women on Jan. 21. (Photo by Robbie Medwed)

Many question whether the energy will continue. I have faith that it will. We have been awakened.

The marches are an absolute testimony that we will not be passive. However, it is what happens now and going forward that will count most of all.

When a statement on LGBT issues is taken down from the White House, we will watch to see what replaces it.

When unqualified people are nominated for the most powerful positions in the U.S. government, we will go to our representatives to voice our opinions, and we will ask for their commitment to speak up and vote on the right side of the issue.

When we disagree with people on social media, we can schedule a call or a coffee so that we can discuss what matters rather than resort to yelling through the protective veil of the computer.

There are still those who say they have nothing to protest. There are those who think women are overreacting. There are those who think these marches were meaningless.

I say that when swastikas show up on dorms and synagogues and bomb threats are phoned in to Jewish community centers across the country the past three weeks, we all have a reason to protest. When women across the world are being mistreated and tortured, we all need to react.

And when people are mobilized to stand and walk together rather than feel paralyzed after a sensationalized election, I say that’s empowering.

As state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) said at the beginning of the march, we need to educate, advocate and agitate to achieve progress. We were reminded that we have a new president, not a new Constitution.

My Congregation Bet Haverim community provided a sanctuary erev Shabbos between the inauguration and the march. We sang a song by Holly Near that is my mantra for now:

I am open, and I am willing.

To be hopeless would seem so strange.

It dishonors those who go before us.

So lift me up to the light of change.

I look forward to joining forces with our community to be beacons of light for the rights of all Americans.

— Rebecca Stapel-Wax

A Special Shabbat

Not a regular Saturday, but in some important ways a Shabbat nonetheless. At the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women, people came together for a higher purpose, connecting with one another across divides that in other settings separate us.

The energy was palpable and positive. In so many ways it did what Shabbat is meant to do.

As a volunteer working with the organizers, I did not march. Instead, I did jobs that needed doing but were not glamorous — helping make space for the media, testing microphones or emptying rain water from trash bins.
At every stage, participants cooperated and offered to help. People moved aside, made it easy and made it happen, not just for themselves, but for all of us.

Marchers thanked police at every crossing; they stood back and made space for those who needed help. At every step of the way, people presented a vision of the world we want to live in, where holiness is expressed through our care for one another.

That we are all created in the image of G-d and that we have a timeless responsibility to remember we were strangers in a strange land are foundational to what it means to be a Jew.

Judaism also teaches that words have power — to create and bless or to hurt and demolish. When we diminish people with words, we dehumanize them.

The preparations and the Atlanta march itself affirmed this Jewish understanding and illustrated how this understanding can play out in our broader community. And on the day of the Atlanta march we saw this vision play out in peaceful, caring reality.

Can this vision be sustained? Yes and no. The easy coming together at the Atlanta march belies the hard work of many before the event and the temporary nature of the event itself. But in that sense, too, it was like Shabbat.

Shabbat happens for us only when we put lots of hard work into making it happen. And like most of the work that is done to make Shabbat happen, the Atlanta march was largely a women’s endeavor, but it benefits us all.

Shabbat is a taste of the world to come. That perfection cannot be sustained endlessly, but it gives us an understanding of what is possible. It inspires us through the week that follows to do our best.

Similarly, what we experienced as part of the Atlanta march cannot be sustained at the same level in the realm of the everyday. But it can and should inspire us as we go forward and help motivate us to create a better version of the world in which we live.

— Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder

Respect in Washington

The Women’s March on Washington exceeded any of my expectations or experience with demonstrations.

I was met with a citywide takeover of thousands upon thousands. Trains struggled to run, and transit employees funneled crowds as spontaneous cheering echoed from the walls.

On the streets, the crowd covered the entirety of the route by 10 a.m. when I met Alyssa Lenox, 26, also of Atlanta.

She spoke of a white rose taped to a poster in honor of an anti-Nazi group. In German, it read, “We will not be silent.”

“Given the history of the Jewish people, I felt it was particularly important,” she said. “I feel like it’s a moral obligation to oppose persecution or oppression of any kind, whether it be a Muslim registry, defunding women’s health clinics or attacking immigrants.”

The atmosphere was positive in spite of the threats. A crowd gathered around a brass band to dance. A stranger offered us food and water when we were hungry.

Lenox summed it up when she said, “Ultimately, it’s about respect and support for each other as people.”

— Elizabeth Friedly

Fear and Inspiration in D.C.

I bought my ticket to Washington shortly after the election when I heard that a protest march might form. It was a reaction to the relentless waves of emotions I was feeling: disappointment, shock, sadness, and, worst of all, fear.

I felt fear that our new president had normalized and made acceptable the denigration and dehumanization of women, minorities and people with disabilities.

I felt fear because, after years of supporting anti-bullying campaigns at our children’s schools, our nation elected a bully to be our leader.

I felt fear because my beloved Jewish community was tearing itself apart as people made different political choices, believing they had the best intentions and acted out of love for their community. Tragically, this election polarized our community and divided us. That makes my heart ache, and I find it unacceptable.

As I left my house at 5 Saturday morning on my way to Washington, every cell of my body resisted. I didn’t want to be marching. I didn’t want to celebrate or protest. I didn’t want to raise my voice or be part of something bigger. All I wanted was to be home with my family.

I stayed quiet all morning, turning down the noise of the outside world and looking inward for insight. What is my purpose? How do I stay true to my values? What if I see something I don’t agree with? How do I protect my integrity?

This is what I learned from my first protest:

  • Protesting is physically grueling.When you are part of a crowd of a half-million people, standing and walking for more than five hours, your body hurts.I am in awe of all the people who showed up, especially the youngsters, elders and people with disabilities who were determined to be counted. The efforts and personal investments people made were inspiring and encouraging.
  • Peaceful demonstrations of this magnitude are miraculous. It was an important reminder of the potential goodness of our people.
  • I didn’t agree with everything that was said and done at the march.I will continue speaking out for the issues that are important to me while not staying silent on issues that go against my moral compass.
  • Our administration masterfully changed the conversation from the worldwide protests to the inauguration. This type of spin undermines our intelligence and will only get worse.
  • Uncertainty is deeply uncomfortable and unsettling.It is also the nature of being human.It is challenging to stand one’s ground.But doing nothing is also a choice with consequences.
  • I’m proud of so many people for showing up at the marches around the world. Now we have to keep showing up in our communities.

— Marita Anderson