protest

The Canadian Women Who Marched on Washington

On a packed plane from Toronto to Washington, I wondered why so many felt compelled to come to my hometown. So I asked them.

by Rosemary McManus
Jan 23 2017, 2:07pm

Every day after the election of Donald Trump, I walked into my Toronto workplace with my shoulders hunched as if expecting another blow. The lone American, I had assured Canadian coworkers that there was no way Trump would be elected president. In the weeks after, I felt like a dog that had been kicked.

But no more than a week after that stunning event, I walked into the office and was stopped short by my coworker Carolyn. "There's going to be a protest in DC, and my friend and I are thinking of going," she said. She wanted to know where they should stay, and I—a Washington native—promised to consult on safe, transit-accessible neighbourhoods after I grabbed a double-double.

I stood in the line at Tim Hortons and thought about which neighbourhoods I should direct them to. I thought about what it meant that these Canadians were willing to shell out airfare and leave their homes and kids to get involved in the politics of my fucked-up country. And I felt, for the first time since the election, a little bit of warmth replace that hollow feeling that I'd been carrying since the night I watched the results come in on a seedy bar on Bloor Street.

And that's how I ended up taking the afternoon off work, flying out of Toronto, and hosting six Canadian women in my parents' house in the DC suburbs.

All photos via the author.

On a break at work, I asked Jenn and Carolyn—both teachers, like me—why they felt so driven to attend the event.

"I was so angry and sad when that video came out," Jenn said, referring to the infamous recording of Donald Trump talking to Billy Bush. "I felt it physically. And I was so sad that that was the reality of who this man was, and people still supported him."

For Carolyn, it was about the close relationship between Canada and the US. "American politics are part of our everyday culture," she said. "Trump's victory resonated because Canadians have a vested interest in what happens in the states. When you meet an American woman and you're talking to her, we're so alike.

"I feel like it could be us."

Read More: Toronto Protesters Tell Us Why They Marched

Our plane out of Toronto was packed full of women attending the march, all wearing pink knitted pussyhats. I smiled at them as I found my seat, wondering why they felt compelled to come to my hometown.

So the next day, in the crowded streets around the US Capitol, I asked them. And this is what they told me.

Jane Farrow (left) with partner Annabel Vaughan

Jane Farrow, 55

Occupation: "I am free" (actually, she's an author, broadcaster, and community organizer)

Jane: "I'm here to stand in solidarity with the brothers and sisters of America who are having a shit time with a nasty bit of business in the big chair.

"It's really important for people to feel like they're not alone. It's incredible to have been here yesterday during inauguration—the streets seemed completely empty, like it was a ghost town, and now you're standing with hundreds, thousands of people. They're converging, they're walking right by—all the hats, the signs, people are smiling...You know, you get a lump in your throat. You're here to just kind of go, 'Hey, we are not going to stand idly by and let this happen.'"

Sadaf Jamal (right) with friend Ujyara Farooq, 22

Sadaf Jamal, 38

Occupation: runs a health and wellness program for Muslim women

Sadaf: "I'm here because ...as a Muslim woman, I believe we have to come together, stand for equality, and then if we see any injustice happening anywhere we stand up against it. And then we support people who are marginalized. There's nothing wrong with being different; there's everything wrong with marginalizing those people with differences. So we are here to empower everybody and give this message on behalf of Canada: to stay strong, stand strong, and you belong here."

Ujyara: "I don't think this is just for Trump, this is a stand against injustice. Canada—as much as I love it, it's not exempt from it. So we're here just to show that hey, we're going through the same thing, let us stand with you, you stand with us. So I don't think this is necessarily just about American politics. It's about the state of the world right now."

Jennifer Bascom with daughters Cameron Bascom and Mikaelle Steinberg, and partner Jessie Steinberg

Jennifer Bascom, 43

Occupation: public school teacher

Jennifer: "[We're here because] in beautiful, almost-perfect Canada, after Trump was elected there was a rise in hate crimes, including anti-Semitism, and my wife is Jewish.

"I became a feminist back in the early 90s at Queen's University, and I've sort of been protesting ever since. But it's actually been years since we went to a really big march, and I wanted to register my protest. And I wanted our daughters to experience the power of a movement of this nature, and the power of sisterhood and solidarity. And I wanted Americans to know that they're not alone, and their neighbours are not just nice, we're ready to mobilize and support them.

"I think when the people who support Trump and his values—if you can call them values—see this kind of grassroots outpouring and mobilization of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people, it will let them know that maybe their ideas are not as popular as they think they are."

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, 51 

Occupation: teacher, novelist

Kathryn: "I'm marching with my American sisters as a show of solidarity in a time when women's rights—rights hard won over many decades—are being eroded. I am marching in solidarity with women of colour, with LGBTQ2 friends, with persons with disabilities, with immigrants, with any person who is disenfranchised or is threatened by neo-fascistic policies that may come into play with this new government.

"I imagine this march will have a mobilizing impact for many people. It already has. Just this morning on the news we heard that while 200 buses have applied for city parking in DC for inauguration day. 1,200 have applied for city parking for the march date. [Note: those numbers grew to 450 and 1,800, respectively ]. This is an astonishing, isn't it? I find it hugely exciting. Event the penguins in Antarctica will be marching!"

Emma Maris (left) with friend Soibhan McClelland

Emma Maris, 41

Occupation: lawyer

"Why am I participating? Oh my God, I'm going to cry!

"Because it crossed a line… things that should have been deal breakers weren't deal breakers. The gendered nature of the attacks on Hillary Clinton in particular—the criticisms that she faced that weren't faced by her male counterparts—appalled me. Every woman that came forward and said she was assaulted and they were demeaned, and said they weren't even attractive enough to assault—it hurt, and it felt personal.

"And I'm afraid it's going to spread, and we're here because they're our family, they're our neighbours, what they do affects us. And I can't stand by, it's not okay. It's not okay and he needs to hear that loud and clear. It's not okay."

The march was too large to take the planned route, so my Canadian friends and I took our own path. We marched from the Capitol steps down the National Mall and around the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and I watched their faces as they took it all in.

"Look what happens when women decide to organize," Carolyn said, marvelling.

"I was so angry and sick, but this kind of restores your faith," Jenn added. "There are so many of us."

Later that night over glasses of wine, we rejoiced in the massive turnout across the United States and in other countries. Laura, a mother of two and high school counsellor from Etobicoke, was impressed with the size of the march in Toronto. "I could have stayed to Toronto. I thought I had to go to DC. But I think I underestimated my sisters. I wasn't alone in my nausea."

I asked her, then, was the trip worth it?

"One hundred percent. It was breathtaking. I think it was the best day of my life."

Rosemary McManus is a teacher and writer based in Toronto.