Women’s March on Washington
I attended the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017. I wanted to find people who work on Capital Hill who were protesting.
The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government from engaging in forms of political activity. While employees can do what they want while on civilian time, they cannot participate in activity that is aimed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate or political group while on duty or in any federal room or building (or federally owned or leased car).
This means that some employees just avoid protests or other forms of political activity. I wanted to talk to those that weren’t avoiding it; those government workers who were going out as civilians and marching.
The March had a larger crowd that Donald Trump’s inauguration, with an estimated 470,000 people attending. It drew people from across civil rights organizations, such as the ACLU and Black Lives Matter. No arrests were made at the marches across the nation, according to The Washington Post. More than a million rail trips were taken that day, the second highest, after Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The crowd was loud and though the march had to go a different route than planned, people stayed until the night.
I promised anonymity to the people I spoke to, since some were marching without telling their boss and some were worried about the repercussions on their jobs even if people saw them as civilians. Below are their responses:
“I feel like its an important statement, I feel like there are a lot of people who feel like the results of the election don’t reflect who we want to be as a country, I feel like it’s a lot of younger people, but I also feel like it’s an important statement, especially with this president to be able to say, ‘This is an acceptable form of speech.’ One of the things that scares me the most about the next four years is the way that he has delegitimized the media and delegitimized opposition. I think now more then ever its really important to say, ‘If you’re going to use social media to delegitimize all these institutions, we can use social media and our own ways to organize and unite and have our voices heard. That’s why I am going out there.”
“I may have had an easier time processing what happened, it was hard, I was like depressed for a week, but for me, my next steps forward resisting are pretty clear. I am excited to get to work, I know what I am going to be doing, and that’s comforting.”
— Male staff member at House of Representatives for Democratic Congresswomen from New York. Been on the Hill for two years, hired in current office 18 months ago. His office did know that he was marching, she was marching in New York that day as well. He said it did give him a pause because he wasn’t sure if he was crossing the line, but he felt it was an important enough cause, and one his boss also believes in.
“I think the candidate that we ended up with for president doesn’t represent the values that we hold. I think this march is not so much in protest of the lost election but instead in solidarity for the people he doesn’t represent. I think this march is important because instead of dividing us, it’s going to bring us together, give us a united front against an agenda we don’t agree with and more than that, I think we need to come together after what has been a devastating loss for a lot of people and come together and start working and decide how we’re going to work in solidarity to go against the agenda we know is coming for the next four years. I see it as a unification. Right now we have a diversity of people, which is what I love about this march, that are all wondering what they can do, that all want to protest this election but don’t know how and I think the most important thing we can do is come together instead of stand divide. Because divided we fall, together we achieve great things.”
“I think (the next four years) are going to be rough. I am an immigrant and I work in immigration and I know that’s one of the issues that President Trump campaigned on in such a hateful way, how do we basically alienate and kick out the immigrants that most of us agree make our country great. Also, I am ready for whatever is going to come and stand with people and help the people we can.
— Female staff member/legislative assistant for a Congressman, works with immigration and foreign affairs, the department knew she was going, the whole office was marching.
“I was honestly a little conflicted (about marching) in the beginning to be like, ‘well I do feel like I should be there to help move things forward from a government perspective’ but then from a personal perspective, this was a very divisive campaign emotionally, it was really hard on a lot of people, so if I am just coming out here to support anyone then I am happy to do it and that’s more important than whatever weird professional conundrum I am in.”
“(In terms of the next four years) I am feeling nervous and sad emotionally, but professionally I am feeling frustrated of course but also one thing I think is interesting is that people are like, ‘Okay let’s resist’ and working for government and then doing these kinds of things, I don’t think resist is the appropriate government move because we were always upset when Republicans were stopping things so I am trying to reconcile those feelings to provide functional government but also be happy in my personal life.”
— Male staff member, Dallas Congresswomen’s office, been there a year and a few months. Boss did not know he was marching.
“Working in the House in the minority, not a lot is changing for me, it’s always felt like an uphill battle as far as legislative priorities. As far as a press standpoint, which is what I do, the next four years are going to be busier than the past four years because everything Trump says we could write a press release on it and why its so terribly wrong policy wise and how it affects people. So it has been fun because everything he says is so crazy and you can be really creative with press initiatives and how you comb out what he says. But its bleak, there were a lot of tears on the ninth in the office. I think we have high hopes for the midterms to start making up ground.”
“(The March) is really empowering, to see people in such solidarity, because Donald Trump only won 4 percent of Washington, D.C. It feels very natural that the protest would be here.
— Female staff member for Democratic Congressman. “Being a part of the march, I align myself with Democratic ideals, so working for a Democratic member who is really involved in birth control and women’s rights and LGBT rights, I didn’t get any pushback from my employer to be a part of it. In our office all of us were making signs together. It’s not that I need to be totally secretive about it, but I work for press for my member, so that’s the only aspect where it could counteract with his name. I feel like for a lot of career positions who worked under the Obama administration and are now working under the Trump administration, it might be harder for them.”