More than three million people participated in Women’s March events on January 21, taking to the streets of major cities around the world to protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump and to advocate for the equal rights of women. The largest inaugural protest in U.S. history, the massive crowds included many Oberlin students and alumni, who attended events in cities from Washington, D.C., and New York City to Dublin and Berlin.
“I marched for lots of reasons,” says Sarah McKay ’09. “To show, with my physical presence, my support for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, immigrants and refugees, the list goes on. Basically for everyone who has been marginalized by society and the current administration.” McKay attended the march in Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania, with her husband, Henry McKay ’09, and their 6-month-old son, Jesse. They were joined by Theora Kvitka ’09.
“I marched to enjoy my community of humans here in Pittsburgh and to celebrate life with them. Probably most of all, I marched to share an important democratic experience with my son, even though he won't remember it. I view the march as the start of his civic education.”
Many alumni stressed the importance of sharing the event with their families. “It was a beautiful experience to march alongside my niece and nephew,” says Miyoko Grine-Fisher ’00, who was accompanied by her sister, Yukiko Grine ’96 ,and her children in Madison, Wisconsin. “I vote, I speak, I march for my son, for his cousins, for my fellow humans and their rights.”
“In a very real sense, both Tim and I feel we are in a fight for our daughters’ lives,” says Rachel Coen ’98, who was joined by her husband, Tim Henrich ’96, and their daughters, Iris and Eleanor in Oakland, California. “We marched to teach our girls that they have both power, and a moral duty to use that power to fight injustice. We have been reading John Lewis's March graphic novels as inspiration. The kids know we have friends, teachers, and neighbors who are scared right now, and that we marched for them, too.”
Current Oberlin students were well-represented at events around the country as well. Members of the women’s soccer team traveled together to attend the march in Washington, including fourth-years Caroline Oehlerich and Taylor French.
“The experience itself was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” says French. “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go with some of my closest friends. We wanted to just put as much positive energy out into the world as we could, and marching together allowed us to focus on why we were really there, to show love and support to women and minorities across the country.”
“Being in D.C. was overwhelming, inspiring, and thought-provoking,” says Oehlerich. “I hope this movement of support, inclusion, and change continues. The march gave me the feeling that it will, which I believe so many people needed in our country, including myself.”
Says fifth-year Laura Spector, who also marched in Washington, “I marched to speak out against bigotry, hate, ignorance, and oppression. I was honored to join in with millions of voices around the globe to protest what we see as an impending violation of civil and human rights.”
For some, the events provided a much-needed means of manifesting thoughts and emotions into action. Says John Charles ’89, “I marched because I realized that I can't expect to change the world by sitting in front of my computer screen. I understand that a march alone is not enough to bring about change, but it is a start.”
Dawn Palmer ’89 was asked only days before the march to speak on behalf of Democrats Abroad in front of crowds in Dublin, Ireland. Her speech included a quote from activist Audre Lorde’s 1989 Oberlin commencement address: “To face the realities of our lives is not a reason for despair—despair is a tool of your enemies. Facing the realities of our lives gives us motivation for action.” Palmer stressed that Americans living abroad can still effect change at home and make their voices heard, urging listeners to “Be loud and be active.”
Most Obies who marched expressed a renewed sense of optimism after seeing so many people across the country and the world unite in support of the same ideals. “I felt an incredible feeling of hope after the march—hope that there are many people like me who care about the most vulnerable members of our society, and who will take action to protect them,” says Charles.
However, many emphasized the importance of continuing the work started by the Women’s Marches and stressed that those unhappy with the current administration must actively challenge injustices as they occur. “We came away from it feeling encouraged and supported on a very deep level, and most importantly, ready to fight,” says Coen. “The march was only a beginning, but it was a beautiful one.”