I woke up in a haze. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move. I’d begun the previous night anticipating shattered glass ceilings and had ended it desperately searching for answers outside the White House. I dove into a cyclical digital catharsis, plummeting through written emotions shared by friends and poignant articles on race, class, and gender. I kept a gnawing eye on the ever-growing popular vote that I prayed would somehow make things right.
At some point, I managed to do as Hillary Clinton did, and lugged my heavy heart into a forested tributary of Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. It was a drizzly, grey day in the nation’s capital and as I breathed in the park’s damp air, for the first time on November 9, 2016, I felt alive again. My mind stopped racing in fear circles, and I let nature heal me for the moment, as I put one foot in front of the other through trails of fallen autumn leaves.
The day before the inauguration, I walked through a metro station peppered with red hats. I vowed to hide out in my apartment the next day.
On inauguration day, my apartment left me restless and I got lost in a news cycle of doomsday speeches and real unreal moments. It took a lot of work, and about two miles of walking, but with the help of a babbling Rock Creek, I finally managed to find a few moments of quiet in my mind that afternoon. The strangest thing I found in those teeny tiny moments of silence was this notion that everything would somehow be okay.
The day after the inauguration, I sardined myself onto a metro car packed with women—and men not afraid of being led by women—donning pink hats. When I joined hundreds of thousands of them on and around the National Mall, I had a strong sense that everything would somehow be okay.
I kept looking around, trying to find the end of it all, but I couldn’t. Every direction I looked was an endless sea of people carrying signs and wearing pins, standing up for an array of causes. Inspiring activists took the rally stage and spoke toward the urgency of an intersectional feminist movement. Even a real-life walking Earth made an appearance in the crowd because, as Senator Kamala Harris so aptly stated, climate change is a women’s issue.
Chatter began amidst the crowd as the morning stretched deeper into the afternoon that we were too big of a crowd to formally march. Then one of the march’s organizers came up to the microphone, “You may have read a story that says we are not marching. I am here to tell you—we are marching—and we are going to use Constitution Avenue.”
Slowly, the movement of this movement began, as we each asserted our “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
“No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here,” we chanted.
“We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter,” we laughed with full sincerity.
“Black lives matter!” we declared.
“Science! Science! Science! Science!” we quite simply stated.
“Show me what democracy looks like!” they demanded. “This is what democracy looks like!” we replied.
“My body, my choice!” we asserted. “Her body, her choice!” the men concurred.
“Welcome to your first day, we will never go away,” we cheered as, hours later, we met the march’s end and the movement’s next beginning outside of the White House. We were the answers I’d been searching for that November 8th night.
For those of us who work and live in the wonderful District of Columbia and fight for its statehood (make sure to watch Mayor Bowser’s fierce speech at the Women’s March and join us in telling Congress—“Leave us alone!”), it had been a long weekend of hospitality. On Sunday, post-inauguration and post-march, I found myself a little rundown. It was raining, but I knew where I needed to be. I bundled up in my raincoat and rain boots, and I once again headed out into the park. I assumed, given the weather, I’d be alone, but I was surprised to find many others out doing the same thing. It seemed we were all, despite the rain, finding refuge in our wild core.
Public spaces, whether wild or urban, are a place for refuge. They are a place for refuge, whether that means escaping the chaos for a moment to think, or as Gloria Steinem explained, “understanding that sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes pressing send is not enough.” They are for peace, and they are for protest.
Both the woods of Rock Creek Park and the communal spaces of the National Mall have helped me become a better feminist. They have reminded me that it’s important to take time to be quiet and listen to the voices of women of color, to learn from the voices of others’ experiences. They have taught me that sometimes we need to cause a mighty ruckus to make sure all are heard. They’ve given me the space to synthesize my racing thoughts, to process moments of gendered life, and to gather with my sisters to demand a more just world. Faced with the weight of this election, it was through these parks that I was able to find words again.
The urban parks throughout our country are spaces we need to protect.
“They already are protected,” you might say. However, as Judith Arcana stated in She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry while reflecting on the fight for reproductive rights, “The bitter lesson is that no victories are permanent. All our rights are like that. They’re only as good as we maintain them.”
As I walked through Rock Creek Park the morning after the Women’s March, its natural beauty overtook me. Yet, it was also January 22nd and a balmy 51 degrees out. In addition, when it rains in D.C., Rock Creek Park can smell a little like the sewage that overflows into it from the city’s outdated waste treatment system. In a way, this juxtaposition of beauty with the stench of feces on an unseasonably warm day reminded me of the Women’s March.
Yes, it’s beautiful, but that unpleasant smell reminds us there’s still a lot of work to be done to protect this place—to protect these spaces. There’s still a lot of work to be done to protect each other—to be good allies. We each need to find a cause that we can commit to, and support the work of others leading sister causes.
It has been three months now since the Women’s March on Washington. In that time, cabinet members have been appointed who are hostile toward protection of the environment. As someone who has spent the past year learning from and writing about the value of urban parks, that worries me. We can’t take our public spaces for granted. We must protect these outlets that provide refuge and hope, a space to fight for equality and freedom, a place to be heard.
The Women’s March wasn’t meant to be an end, but a beginning. So, take a deep breath, make sure to set aside some time for self-care, and then let’s keep marching.
If you’d like to join me in protecting our urban parks and vital public spaces, here are some ways you can help:
- March on! The March for Science is April 22 and the People’s Climate March takes place April 29.
- If you live in D.C., get involved with organizations like the Anacostia Watershed Society, Rock Creek Conservancy, or the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, which all work to better the health of our community’s relationship with its parks.
- Not in D.C.? Find your urban park, and get connected to it. Ensure it’s welcoming for all.
- Check out Sierra Club’s Action Center for specific actions you can take to make an impact.
- Consider donating to organizations focused on the cause, such as Sierra Club, City Parks Alliance, or Standing Rock’s Legal Fund.