WASHINGTON, D.C. — When half a million people, according to some estimates, were marching in Washington, D.C., Saturday, to support women’s issues and minority concerns, at least two local women were among them.
Mary Ann Olding, of Minster, and Maureen O’Keefe, of Sidney, traveled independently to the nation’s capital to demonstrate against the agenda put forth by President Donald Trump.
It was O’Keefe’s first political march. Olding has taken part in protests in the past. Both women were surprised by the size of the crowd.
“We could look north, east, west and south, and we saw nothing but people,” Olding said. “Every street, yard, green space, steps, fountains were covered with people.”
O’Keefe met her mother- and father-in-law from North Carolina and a friend from Pennsylvania in Virginia, Friday. They drove into Washington, Saturday morning, to a parking garage near the National Mall, where they had reserved a parking place. At 9:30 a.m., they walked from the garage to the mall and across the mall to the National Air and Space Museum. They saw groups of people forming in various places, but nothing seemed crowded.
“The mall was full of people, but there was room to walk. Within 15 minutes, we couldn’t move at all,” O’Keefe said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. And in every group, there was at least one pink hat.”
Olding was with her niece, Ann Acheson, who works for the U.S. Forest Service, and other friends from Washington, at the beginning of what was supposed to be the parade route.
“It was supposed to start at 1:15 (p.m.). At 2:15 p.m., we were still there. We had to crush together to make way for emergency vehicles,” she said.
Afraid that there would be no way to escape if things got violent, Olding’s group made its way to the edge of the crowd.
“We got to the edge of the pink-hatted and poster-carrying throngs, huddled near a stone fountain to get our breath, in case we had to escape and jump in, and then joined the march to the White House and Ellipse that had started in another part of the mall. (By 3 p.m.) the march was going by and we joined in,” she said.
When the O’Keefe group moved, hours after arriving on the mall, O’Keefe said it felt as though a mass of people five blocks wide all began to inch forward at the same time.
“We were walking like penguins. You had to hold your sign up. If it was down, it would hit someone,” she said. Cheers and chants would begin blocks away and roll down the crowd.
“Someone started singing, ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ and I started to cry. It was one of the most powerful parts of the march for me. I felt that was the message we were trying to bring,” O’Keefe said.
Both local women also noted that, large as it was, the demonstration was peaceful.
“There were no protesters against the women’s march,” Olding said. “People were cordial. Everyone was courteous and respectful of each other.” The signs she saw made serious statements, some in sarcastic ways.
“That was almost humorous, a playful disregard for (Trump’s) legitamacy to be president,” she added. But the concerns were real.
“People are afraid that women’s rights will diminish,” she said. She saw marchers demonstrating on behalf of the environment, health care and immigration, but women’s issues topped the list for numbers of advocates.
O’Keefe made her sign in response to a Trump tweet: “Happy New Year to all, including to my enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do,” he tweeted, Dec. 31.
“My sign said, ‘We’re not the enemy. We’re the people,” O’Keefe said. Her mother-in-law, who made the march with using a walker, had a sign that said, “I will not rest.”
“This election made so many people feel like they’re going to be left out by this administration. That’s who showed up. The march was a way for all of us to get together and say, ‘We’re here. You may not want to acknowledge us, but we’re here.’ I think this administration is against everything I ever learned about right and wrong,” O’Keefe said.
The mother of two daughters, 9 and 6, she marched for the future she hopes they will have; she needed to stand up for what is good about the country, she said.
“There’s a lot of good about it and that’s what I found at the march. There’s a huge diversity of people who express themselves differently. Some of it’s crass. But that (diversity of expression) is what liberty is. If you don’t have that, you don’t have liberty. Freedom of expression is the key. I expect better from America than this administration, which I feel doesn’t exemplify what’s best about America,” O’Keefe said.
The discussion about what the walk accomplished and what it meant did not stop as the mall cleared.
“We had a think tank with 10 women afterward,” Olding said. “Women need to have stronger voices in their jobs, in their schools, in their government. It still happens that if a woman brings out a good idea, she thinks, ‘How can I say this in a way that doesn’t sound threatening, might be welcomed and that I get credit for it?’ Government and state agencies are terrific at leveling everyone’s contribution.”
Olding said that next steps for her will involve immigration issues.
“I went to Israel last year and taught Arabs. I want to look at connections I’ve already made, to see how I can make this admnistration — they’ve taken down the White House website that is Spanish translation. I want to be doing something to make people in this country feel safe, especially immigrants and for Blacks. I have more contacts there,” she said.
O’Keefe has begun to make her voice heard by her congressmen.
“I have been almost daily calling Jim Jordan and Rob Portman about things that come out that I’m not OK with, to let them know I’m their constituent. I am here,” she said. “I would love to go see them and talk to them in person.”
The march had profound effects on both women.
“It was beautiful in its diversity of people and ideas and staggering in the size of the crowd and everyone’s ability to stay peaceful and on the message. People came from everywhere and it was so positive,” O’Keefe said.
“I’m happy that I experienced this,” Olding echoed. “I did not know that this was going to be a worldwide event. It was a wonderful opportunity to be part of something of this magnitude.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.