A week after the largest single-day protest in United States history, a former history teacher remembers most fondly not simply the number of people who made the Women’s March massive on Jan. 21 but the number associated with the people.
“I think what struck me -- in part because I’m a high school teacher and because I’m the mom of a teen – (was) just how many young people were there,” Lansing High School principal Colleen Ledley said during a phone interview Friday, Jan. 27.
“Young men as well as young women. To see them spontaneously (attend and) just how empowering it was for me and my daughter.”
Ledley made the nearly seven-hour trip to Washington, D.C. to see the march in person with her 15-year- old daughter, Mollie Creagan, a student at Ithaca High.
Lansing Spanish teacher Abi Cleary, social studies (Participation in Government) teacher Isis Ivery and English teacher Andrea (Andie) Huskie also attended the main march in D.C. while Lansing superintendent Chris Pettograsso marched in Ithaca on the same day at one of the hundreds of “sister marches.”
The main march in D.C. brought in somewhere between 500,000 to one million people, a march larger in number than the estimated 200,000 intact when Ledley and her daughter got to a metro station to take a train into the city. Even at the train station, Ledley said it seemed as though there were at least 1,000 people trying to get in.
“To see the seas of pink, to see all the signs, to see this gathering just really energized me,” Ledley said. “And to see my daughter’s face, you know, sort of light up into just, ‘Holy cow, this is really big.’ To see the various signs, to talk about what they meant, to meet people from all over the place standing in line and waiting; those connections felt really good.”
Two political science professors – University of Connecticut’s Jeremy Pressman and University of Denver’s Erica Chenoweth – built a Google spreadsheet to best estimate the numbers of marchers around the country and world, taking multiple article sources from reporters on the ground and chronicling their high and low estimates. From that they drew a “best guess” using statistical methods and drew a conclusion of 4,157,877 marchers in the U.S. and 307,275 marchers abroad.
The low estimate is still 3,266,829/266,532 and high is 5,246,321/357,071 encompassing more than 653 total U.S. towns/cities and 914 combined home and abroad locations. Ithaca had an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people attend its march, according to police.
“I didn’t really think too much about it being an historic day until I got on the bus back to Ithaca and I saw the pictures of the march from above and from all of the sister marches worldwide,” Ivery wrote in an email. “At that point I realized that it was more than just a march, but a movement.”
Ledley said she was getting updates via a phone app on what entrances were being shut down as more people crowded Washington. Metros were packed all morning and marchers couldn’t technically march to the White House due to the large numbers. The two couldn’t get close to the stage, where speakers went on for hours, but they returned home and watched everything on YouTube later.
“Which again was just another experience of being excited and really impressed with all of these phenomenal speakers,” she said.
Ledley said she wanted to make the trip because “women’s rights issues being human rights issues really speaks to me and has for my whole life.”
“I also believe in the first amendment and that people should be actively involved in their democracy so it was a way for me to express that,” she said.
At 15, her daughter is beginning to develop her political ideologies, she said, and was very interested in going. It was a way for the mother and daughter to talk about all of the ideas the women’s march expressed.
The Women’s March mission is to “stand together in solidarity” for the “protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families” while recognizing that the country’s strength is built on vibrant and diverse communities. The group has five guiding principles, including nonviolence and attacking forces of evil, “not persons doing evil.”
Huskie and her partner chose to go for the same basic reason Ledley and the millions of others did.
“We left feeling invigorated and hopeful and ready to continue to work for the rights which are important to us and our community,” Huskie wrote in an email.
Huskie said the “palpable excitement” started for them at the metro as well from signs, hats and a wide range of ages all of the Lansing teachers noticed. Ivery said she noticed how so many different people took on leadership roles including an 8-year- old girl who began a “show me what democracy looks like” chant.
“This is what I mean by feeling empowered,” Ivery said. “The look on that little girl’s face as we all shouted back ‘this is what democracy looks like,’ is something I will never forget. Her mother’s face was priceless as well -- I don’t think she was expecting her little daughter to start the chant!”
Huskie said being a part of such a large demonstration of unity was powerful and invigorating as they get ready to continue fighting for rights they feel are important.
“We were sitting on the wall near the Smithsonian with groups of women from Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, all of whom shared advice, food, stories and assistance to anyone in need,” Huskie said. “I was surprised that with so many people I never felt scared or worried about navigating the size of the crowd. People were so warm and full of love. It is a day I will never forget.”
Those connections also sat well with Ledley.
“It felt really good was that it was an in-person experience, which so much of my information is coming from social media and the news and all of that stuff where it’s like, you know, I’m not connecting with humans in the same way,” Ledley said.
“So that shoulder-to- shoulder with other people and having those conversations and where are you from and why are you here and that stuff was just, exciting and just different information.”