At the high school where I teach, I co-sponsor a group for girls who identify as feminists—Fearless Females. I saw how devastated these girls were at the results of the 2016 election, and I wanted to do something that would make them proud.
I especially wanted to do something that would teach them that, even though a woman didn’t win the election, women still have incredible power in this country and can do some amazing things. When it became clear that the Women’s March on Washington was going to be a reality, I booked a ticket to Washington, D.C., and went, along with a former student of mine whose idea it was to start Fearless Females when she was in my class.
In the lead-up to the march, I told the girls that I was going, and they were all thrilled. They, of course, had heard all about the march and its mission and were excited that the movement had included several intersectional issues. As girls of various races, ability levels and sexual identities, they felt good to be included.
They wanted to participate, too. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take them all to Washington with me, but I wanted to find some way they could get involved. I introduced them to the hashtag #WhyIMarch and told them that every person had their own reason for marching, whether physically or virtually. Then, I asked them why they would march if they could.
Their responses were as varied and multifaceted as they are. One girl said that the march should be a steppingstone to more concrete activism, and she wanted to see the march succeed. But she also wanted to see people use the event as a building block for other actions that would help lead the nation toward equal treatment of all Americans. Another girl felt passionately that women should not be slut-shamed. Several wished for immigration reform that would allow their families and the families of their friends to stay in the country. Yet another wanted to fight for comprehensive health care, and even more wanted reproductive justice.
Because so many girls in Fearless Females wanted to participate, I asked them to design and create signs for my former student and me to carry at the march. They came up with two great slogans: “Hear Our Voice” and “Our Rights Are Not Up For Grabs. Neither Are We.” We carried these signs to D.C. with pride, and the girls were excited to know that a piece of them went with us.
Listening to the group talk in the days leading up to the march, I was struck by how important this march—and all of the sister marches around the nation and the world—were to them. One member remarked that it seemed like all the girls had something to get off their chests and that this was a great opportunity for them to do so. A lot of people had something to get off their chests, too, because January 21, 2017, was the largest day of protests in United States history. Being there with a former member of Fearless Females and carrying signs created by members of the group, I knew that all of us were making history.
As a teacher, it is exciting to see my students taking what they see as their first steps toward social justice activism. And I’m reminded that, for others in this country, activism and protest have been a way of life; this march is not, in fact, a beginning for them or the beginning of any movement for justice. Even though many of my students—as women of color, children of immigrants, LGBTQIA individuals and members of other marginalized groups—have also felt these issues deeply for their entire lives, this truly was their first interaction with large-scale activism and, for them, it was exhilarating.
I plan to join them on their journeys in working for equality for as long as it takes them—and all of us—to be treated as equals.
Samsa is a freelance writer and teaches high school English in the south suburbs of Chicago.