Mercersburg Marchers Wake Up Washington

By Ryan Geitner
NEWS Editor


The morning of Saturday, January 21, 47 years since Mercersburg graduated its first female student, 71 members of the Mercersburg Academy community boarded a yellow school bus at 6:50 a.m. on its way to the Women’s March on Washington. The group made the two hour trek to the Shady Grove Metro Station where they proceeded to wait another two hours before boarding the metro headed to Judiciary Square. The group had split into two subgroups, the first making it to Judiciary Square and the second, noting the impossible congestion of the Judiciary Platform, chugged right past and stopped at Union Station. The group members were able to communicate via phone, something that proved more and more of a novelty as the city crowded with people and “No Service” read across most all phones as the number of actual march attendees quickly exceeded the projections.

Beyond those who bused to D.C., members of the Magalia and Octet were in New York for the “Onward” gathering and were able to briefly participate in the Manhattan march. Katherine Reber ’17 picked signs out of the trash and headed right into the throngs, along with other members of the a capella groups. Magalia member Kate Frimet ’18 recalled that members of Magalia broke out in song only to be joined by surrounding marchers, eager to engage and share in the spirit.“It was a solidarity moment,” Frimet said.

In addition to the bus riders, six other rogue D.C. Mercersburg marchers took Amtrak from Grand Central Station in New York down to Union Station in D.C. and four seniors took a weekend to demonstrate around the inauguration.

The coordination of the Mercersburg marchers came about following the national election. Private groups of faculty discussed participating in and attending what was then called “The Million Women March.” Director of Community Engagement Katherine Dyson spoke to the point saying that the conversations were initially of personal planning with adults uncertain about the great logistical obligations that come with inviting any and all members of the school community to join in a highly attended, all day event, such as the Women’s March. “Once we realized that students were really interested there was reluctant consensus that we should extend an invitation to bring students with us.” Dyson went on to detail how such an extension “changed the endeavor…[to make it] a totally different venture…but one that was well worth it and needed to be done.”

Such commitment to the student experience was deeply appreciated by the students who attended. Ainsley McDonnell ’20 attributed her desire to march to “the difficult political climate” that exists, and the consequence which causes individuals not to be “safe or be oneself or feel in control.” This belief was shared in the throngs of hundreds of thousands who came out armed with smiles and signs. Antonia Kempe ’18 created a sign that read: “We are Valuable. We are Strong. We are Here.”

The message of control, strength, and diversity was center stage at the march. The initial founders of the march handed their brainchild over to a highly diverse group of women from across the United States who came from various backgrounds and held a range of organizing experiences. Their diversity was reflected in the speakers who held the stage between 3rd and 4th streets on Independence Avenue. The voices included Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, America Ferrera, Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johanssen, as well as Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz. Of course, these are only five of the 44 speakers who took the microphone between the rallying hours of 10 a.m. and approximately 2:30 p.m.

Officially, the marching aspect of the program was set to begin movement at 1 p.m. but the time was pushed back to around 2:30 by the numbers of speakers who took the stage. The late start was compounded by the sheer mass of people who came out to the D.C. march, a crowd estimated at 500,000 whose members completely clogged the streets and prevented movement across surrounding blocks. McDonnell, a D.C. native spoke of the participation, saying that she “had never seen that many people and the city and it made me so proud.”

Pride and momentum seemed to be primary responses of Mercersburg participants to the March. College Counselor Rachel Mallory spoke to the latter saying, “The March provided me an opportunity to exercise my citizenship muscle and stand up for equality and the voices of so many people who are feeling victimized and marginalized by our current political administration.” Matt Zenner ’17 reported, “The biggest takeaway was that the ability to march is a right and a privilege. Throughout the day I realized that what was happening all around me still can’t happen in some countries around the world.”

Ultimately, it is this sentiment that the founders and chairs of the Women’s March intended. “The message of the march was, at its core, not really about gender. Even though the name might suggest the march was only for women, it really wasn’t. It was for equality, regardless of what differences exist between human beings,” Zenner said.

As the yellow school buses rolled down Sycamore Lane around 9 p.m. after a full day of exercising civic rights, students chanted a variation on the march’s call, “Show me what democracy looks like—this is what democracy looks like,” with a response to the gender specificity of the march title: “Show me what a feminist looks like—this is what a feminist looks like!”

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