It's 3:26 AM on January 21, and I'm on a bus. With the exception of my dimly glowing laptop screen, it's completely dark, and most of my fellow passengers are resting up in preparation for the busy day ahead. My mother is asleep in the seat next to me, huddled under a fleece travel blanket, her head resting against the foggy window.
We're heading north on I-85 toward Washington, D.C. in a five-bus convoy that departed Greenville, South Carolina at 10:00 PM Friday night. We're on our way to the march.
Our group, which is sponsored by Greenville Democratic Women and the Greenville Democrat Party and includes nearly 300 demonstrators, will be meeting up with a couple hundred thousand others in just a few hours to join the Women's March on Washington.
The individuals around me are strangers, technically. I've never met them, and I'm not a member of either of their organizations; in fact, I don't even reside in the same state. (I flew up from Orlando, Florida a couple days ago to accompany my mom on the trip.) However, friendship blossoms easily on such a journey, and I've already learned much about my companions. They are, of course, mothers, daughters, sisters, wives — but they're also tutors, community organizers, activists, students, writers, photographers, tech professionals. They're as kind as I'd hoped and more solemn than I'd expected.
While exchanging introductions (before everyone drifted off), I asked a few of the women if they'd be willing to share their personal reasons for joining the march. Below are their explanations, in their own words.
"I have three little girls, and this is my way of showing them that women's voices are important. And that peaceful demonstrations — just showing up — can make a difference. My oldest daughter is eight, and my twins are four. My eight year old is angry that she's not here with me. She wanted to come. She understands a lot of the issues. We're from Charleston, and my husband is back there with them now, and he's going to take our oldest to the march there so she can experience it."
"I'm marching on Washington in support of women's rights and immigrant rights. Just ... human rights. I didn't watch the inauguration. It just broke my heart."
"I've witnessed far too much hatred toward minorities and people who've come here from other countries to make a better life. My grandparents came from Italy. That's what our country was founded on. Plus, I'm disgusted with Trump's view on women. Women are strong, and one of the reasons I'm here is because the more of us he sees, maybe he'll realize our strength in numbers. And there are a lot of us.
"And this business of not funding Planned Parenthood makes me crazy. You know, I was a young girl once too, and I was poor. I went to Planned Parenthood because it was what I could afford. And when I came up in the world and started making some money, Planned Parenthood was one of my charities. They got a donation from me every month."
"I feel like there's a huge community of people who are encumbered by what society thinks they should be. [Especially] bisexual individuals. I feel like this march could be a way to help people like them, and make them not so stigmatized."
"I'm here for my granddaughters and daughter. We still don't have an Equal Rights Amendment. And after seeing that the Trump administration wants to take away more of our rights, I want to fight back."
"For me, this started out as something I wanted to do for my daughter, granddaughter, and daughters-in-law. But it's bigger than that; it's not just for the girls. It's for my sons and grandsons too—to make a better life. I'm worried that the things said during Trump's campaign, which were so negative, will become normal. I don't like that. I think this country is better than that. We're better than bigotry. We need to fight for a better country, to move forward, and not return to the sins of our past."
"I have three main concerns. First, on a personal level, I'm worried about losing my current healthcare and having to find something that's way more expensive. Second, I'm concerned about women's rights and Planned Parenthood. What I do with my body is between me and my doctor. And third, equal pay for equal work. We're still not there yet, which is simply unbelievable."
"My professor invited me to this march. I go to a community college and she's really big into supporting women's rights. I had an American Government class with her, and she thought I'd be interested in it.
"Trump's presidency was the biggest bombshell ever. The day after he won, I could feel the sadness all around me. I just really want to go and make a statement with all the other women, to say that these are OUR bodies."
"I'm here because my goal has always been to speak for people who can't speak for themselves."
"I tend to stay quiet about certain things, and I've even been scared to speak up about my opinions around people who voted for Trump. But so much of what he stands for scares me, especially his ideas on healthcare. I've been self-insured since 2005, so I've been through the ups and downs and it's been so much better in recent years.
"I hope that we can bring something home from this march. We can't change things nationally right now, but we can come back and do things on a local level. I was excited to see that so many people from Greenville and all over South Carolina were doing this. I thought, 'Maybe this means our red state isn't as red as I thought it was.'"