Women's marches over the weekend took place in over 670 locations worldwide, from Boston to Bangkok to Barcelona. One group of women that took part in this historic event set off for Washington, D.C., from Medford, Mass. They were led by a single mother who, like others, had never or rarely taken part in a protest.
They were led by a single mother who, like others, had never or rarely taken part in a protest.
Candace Cheatham of Medford checked to see that all 55 women and three men were on board before the bus doors closed. The 34-year-old single mother of a 13-year-old daughter took charge of the trip when her friend and the key organizer, Lori Harris, of Medford was injured. As Cheatham waved a clipboard in the air, the intricate tattoos on her arms and shoulder were clearly visible. One – displaying the powerful Greek goddess Athena— helped explain why she was heading to Washington.
“I march because I want people to be able to trust women and to trust our decision-making with our bodies and with our health care and with our own safety," Cheatham said. "I march because I refuse the continuation of the whitewashing of Obama's legacy, and I also march in honor of the women who came before me such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, because I share the complexities being a woman of color.”
Cheatham is of Cape Verdean descent and the trip to Washington—her first ever—was the realization of her desire to counter what she feared was a wholesale acceptance of verbal and physical assaults on women echoed in Donald Trump’s infamous taped comments in 2005 about groping women’s body parts.
“I believe in not normalizing sexual assault. That is very important to me," Cheatham said.
Cheatham says she was also marching in honor of her daughter, whom she once home-schooled, fearing there were not enough societal protections for girls. Now, she was on her way to Washington, D.C. to make that point. She was accompanied by her cousin.
“May I introduce you to my family member? This is Orlando Gonsalves," Cheatham said. She then asked Gonsalves, "May I tell him who you voted for?”
Somewhat surprisingly, I learned:
“He voted for Trump.”
Out of earshot of others on the bus, Orlando Gonsalves explained why.
“Well, one of the biggest reasons that I got on his (Trump’s) bandwagon in the beginning was because to me he felt like he wasn't that beholden to anybody. And not that I'm singling out Barack Obama specifically, but I feel like the whole ‘yes we can’ thing...I was led to believe that my voice had more power than it actually did. I was angry and I wanted my anger to be gotten out. Maybe I didn't choose the most constructive way to do it.”
Asked if he regretted his vote for Trump, Golsalves said, looking down at his ipad:
“Certain parts of me do, as I'm sitting here watching the inauguration, but I remember the reasons why I'm marching, and the reasons why I'm marching is because I have strong women in my family who inspire me. I was raised by women, so I know the power that women can do without a man. I’m marching for my grandmother and for my cousin Candace.”
Driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, carloads of women passed us by wearing pink hats, a symbolic protest to Trump’s pejorative comments about women. At the Walt Whitman rest stop, the line to the ladies' room extended across the length of the restaurant and nearly out the door. “That should tell you how many of us are heading to the rally”, said one woman. Back on the road, traffic was bumper to bumper.
Twelve hours after leaving Medford, the bus driver pulled into a hotel parking lot in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. Walking off the bus, Cheatham and other women were all smiles in anticipation of the day ahead.
Early Saturday, Cheatham led the Medford group to the Shady Grove subway station. The platform was packed with would-be marchers wearing various kinds of pink knitted caps.
On the Washington, D.C. Red Line heading toward the start of the march, Cheatham and her cousin Orlando were giddy and engaged a group from Pittsburgh as the subway car filled mainly with women.
“The whole world is participating today,” said Cheatham. “There are marches all over the world. It’s our time to march and not get left behind."
Once the subway stopped and the crowds disembarked, it still took nearly half an hour to leave the station. The D.C. Metro on Saturday –according to the Washington Post— recorded more than 597,000 trips, a weekend ridership record.
And once Cheatham and her cousin—now separated from the Medford group –reached the rally area, it was clear why. Throngs of people were shoulder to shoulder and everyone was looking for a better vantage point to see the celebrities on stage, but the mood was festive.
“The whole world is participating today. There are marches all over the world. It’s our time to march and not get left behind." --Candace Cheatham, co-organizer, the Medford, Mass., contingent.
A man wearing the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ communities tried to start up a song with a group of young woman. “We are family, I got all my sisters with me.” Meanwhile, on stage and blocks from where Cheatham and her cousin stood, singer Alicia Keys gave a hearty shout out to the estimated 500,000 women, men, children, and families in attendance.
They were packed in thickly from the Washington Monument to as far as the eye could see and there were pro-woman and anti-Trump banners and signs of every sort.
One sign held by a woman in a wheelchair read “Disabled Women Matter” and Cheatham listened as Kristin Duquette from Connecticut explained why she was at the march and why she feared President Trump.
“I’m trying to remain hopeful, but yesterday, suddenly, the White House civil rights page went down with all the work the Obama Administration did," Duquette said. "I know that the power of our disability community here is enormous and I know that being here today is amazing. Yesterday was rough, today is hopeful.”
Cheatham nodded her head in agreement. Minutes later the crowd had grown even thicker with nowhere to go, and Cheatham was so far from the sound system that she strained to hear feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, civil rights activist Angela Davis and other speakers on the jumbotron about a block away.
"I know that the power of our disability community here is enormous and I know that being here today is amazing. Yesterday was rough, today is hopeful." --Kristen Duquette, disability rights activist.
The nearby crowd found its own voice. An actress—Tonya Monk from Philadelphia— dressed in the 19th century costume of anti-slavery freedom fighter, Sojourner Truth, suddenly addressed those around her reciting the famous 1851 address to the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio.
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne 13 children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
The crowd cheered and Cheatham beamed, coming face to face with the personification of her heroine.
Then it was time to march. Nearly two hours after it was scheduled to begin, the huge crowd initially took baby steps and then walked briskly in unison in the direction of the White House and its newest occupant. Many chanted, "This is what democracy looks like. This is what feminism looks like."
At one point a handful of marchers veered off the parade route in the direction of a pro-Trump rally convened by Bikers for Trump, and a verbal confrontation began. A biker named Roger Stone wearing a cowboy hat emblazoned with “Make America Great Again” lamented that his daughter was among those leading an anti-Trump rally miles away in Los Angeles. The Trump rally, attended by 15 to 20 of his supporters, was punctuated by ultra loud country music, but very few of the marchers heading down the main avenue toward the White House paid the bikers any attention.
Cheatham says she believes people should sit down and talk with Trump voters; people like her cousin, for example, to understand why they voted for a man she personally despises. But she says her main priority and goal now is to become part of a new movement of like-minded people, like those on the bus.
Heading back home
The next day, the busload of women and a few men from Medford, Mass., were back on the road heading home. All, including Cheatham, reflected on what they had just experienced in Washington.
“I feel inspired. I feel hopeful that the work doesn’t end,” said Cheatham. “Women will go out and organize and run for office and we’ll call and pressure Congressmen. My favorite moment was coming face to face with my heroine Sojourner Truth…and black and white women have to unite. That was just the beginning. We’re just getting started.”
Sunday evening, the bus turned into a hotel parking lot in Medford Center and the 55 people on board erupted into a joyful noise: long, prolonged applause.