I woke up at 3am. It was dark and cold. My partner was sound asleep when I left our apartment, taking an Uber to the BUST Magazine bus to Washington.
When I arrived at the meeting spot, there were four buses and tons of women I did not recognize wearing pink hats. “Is this the right place?" I wondered to myself. I worried I was going to miss the bus — which was meant to leave at 5am sharp.
Relieved, I found our bus across the street and boarded. Most of the seats were already full. “Where am I going to sit? Who am I going to sit with?” I thought to myself apprehensively.
I found a seat in the back of the bus. One of the other BUST interns, who I didn’t know, sat next to me. We spoke a little, and I even apologized to her for talking too much in case I was annoying her. But for the majority of the bus ride, we both slept.
On the website Direct Action Everywhere, author Erika Jensen writes, “When I describe my anxiety, I tend to call it debilitating. It affects every aspect of my life. What are everyday tasks for others might as well be climbing Mt. Everest for me. Even just writing this, my heart is racing, my palms are sweaty, and all I can think is, ‘Am I good enough to write this? Would my words even help anyone? Isn’t there someone more qualified to do this? Will people question my anxiety because of the things I have been able to accomplish?’ I can’t seem to ever escape my own mind’s endless questioning and self-doubt.”
Jensen’s words resonate with me, as I, too experienced this self-doubt multiple times on the march — “Do people like me?” “Am I doing feminism right?” “Should I be taking up space at this march as a white cis-het woman when so many other types of women felt excluded from this cause?”
We were meant to get to D.C. at about 9:30am but because of traffic, didn’t get there till 11am. I was bummed we missed the rally, featuring amazing speakers like one of my icons, Gloria Steinem.
We ended up having to walk 40+ minutes to the Capitol Building, as the Metro was jam-packed. It was the March to the March.
We passed many dudes selling souvenir T-shirts and hats, likely all knock-offs and not official Women’s March merch. It bothered me that men were trying to profit off the one day belonging to women, but whatever.
I knew I should socialize, make a good impression. But striking up conversation is hard if you have social anxiety and constantly doubt yourself. I didn’t want to annoy anyone, or be ignored either. The group took pictures — should I be part of them? Where should I stand? I’m short, so I knew being in the back of the shots would mean I wouldn’t be seen, but I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries by being in the front.
The march route was so packed that a lot of the time, we were just standing, smushed between tons of people. Thank goodness we had signs that said BUST on them to follow, or else a bunch of us would have gotten lost for sure.
Cell service sucked, which frustrated me as I was trying to document the March on Snapchat and Twitter. And I was starting to feel claustrophobic.
For the last three years, I’ve been heavily involved in online activist spaces, Facebook groups in particular. Socializing on the Internet has always felt more comfortable to me. And because of these Facebook groups, I was able to meet wonderful people from all different walks of life, all over the country and even the world, who I may have never gotten to know otherwise. In this day and age, Internet activism is pretty important — from online petitions to trending hashtags, people have started to pay attention to what’s happening on social media. But I’ve often wondered to myself, “Is this enough?” Especially as a journalist, I felt like I should be getting involved in person. I should be doing first-hand reporting — taking photos at events, maybe even interviewing people on the spot. But I always just feel too awkward. I prefer communicating via keyboard.
Articles from Bustle and Everyday Feminism recommend social media activism for people with anxiety problems. While it’s a good recommendation, in the age of Trump, I feel like people such as myself could and should be doing more. Not only that, but I can’t sit behind a keyboard, staring at a screen for the rest of my life as the only way to have my voice heard. I want more. In 2017, it’s not the time to be idle. I want to be part of a bigger movement and witness history instead of having my thoughts simply lost in a Twitter feed. Plus, I could use the opportunities to combat my social fears head-on, instead of hiding away. I tried to keep such thoughts in my mind during my moments of self-doubt.
I joined in on some chants during the March, including Black Lives Matter, to support all the women of color I saw marching.
A couple old white ladies walked past me and I overheard a snippet of their conversation. “Why are they chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’?” one woman said to the other. “That’s not what we’re talking about right now.”
I gave them a side-eye and gritted my teeth. Being black and being a woman aren’t mutually exclusive and it’s that type of White Feminism™ which made so many women of color feel excluded from the March to begin with. I bit my tongue as they walked by me, only realizing I should have said something when it was too late.
We then learned that the March had been rerouted due to so many people being in attendance. Because of this, the March could not complete its intended route of walking to the White House. I was secretly relieved by this, as my knee was hurting all day, I hadn’t eaten anything yet, and I was almost out of spoons (the amount of expendable energy those with invisible illnesses have per day) by 3pm.
The BUST group finished marching somewhere between the Washington Monument and the National Mall. Finally, we got to sit down. It felt so nice after being on my feet for hours.
It was getting cold out. I wish I had brought my winter coat instead of leaving it on the bus. The weather was supposed to be around 60 and I thought I’d be fine in just a hoodie and long sleeve waffle tee, but I was mistaken. Thankfully, everyone in our group, even people I didn’t know too well, were lovely and caring. One woman even let me wear her gloves until we got back on the bus to help warm my frozen hands.
The March after the March, back to the bus, was just as exhausting. The sun was going down and walking 40+ minutes in the dark isn’t fun. But I’m grateful to have walked back with a fellow BUST sister, talking and joking about all the things we saw, which made the walk a lot more bearable.
We got back to NYC around 1am. As I hobbled off the bus due to the pain in my knee, and into my Uber, I was filled with a sense of joy and calmness. Though I was hungry, tired, and in pain, I was happy I went. I was happy I was part of history. I was happy I had the chance to bond with not only the women of BUST, but feel a sense of camaraderie with everyone else who marched for this important cause.
Photos all taken by the Author
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Rafaella is a graduate of The New School, where she majored in journalism and minored in gender studies. She's passionate about feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, combatting online harassment, and ending herpes stigma. Visit her website: ellagunz.com