Gloria Steinem once said: “Nothing can quite replace your first love or your first march.”
The sentiment certainly holds true for 71-year-old Anne Baker of Saint John, New Brunswick. In the ’60s, she and her university dormmates used to read aloud the works of authors like Steinem, who was a leader of the feminist movement at the time and five decades later, a speaker at Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington rally.
Baker pulled off a marathon trip to participate in the massive march. It called for a two-hour flight from Saint John to Toronto on Friday, and a roughly 12-hour bus ride that night from Toronto to D.C. and then back again Saturday evening after the march.
She didn’t get to hear Steinem speak because there were too many people packed around the stage, but the experience of just being there was more than enough for her.
“I’ll never forget it. I’m really proud,” she said from the long road home Sunday morning. “It made me feel good.”
Baker was especially touched by everyone’s positive energy. She also got a good chuckle from some of the clever signs, as she marched all afternoon through thick crowds of more than half a million people.
Why she marched
Women’s issues have always been a top priority for Baker, who hasn’t had the opportunity to march for anything in New Brunswick.
Abortions became a cause close to her heart after her family doctor was dismissed about a decade ago for reportedly performing them. When Baker researched the issue, she realized how challenging it can be for some women to access the procedure on both sides of the border.
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She’s written 22 opinion letters that were published in her local paper; this past December, she also made a donation to Planned Parenthood in Indiana — a move she called “a little poke in the eye of Mike Pence.” When the vice-president was the state’s governor, he tried to defund the agency in 2011, and last year passed a law that imposed heavy restrictions on abortion.
There were quite a few signs dedicated to the issue at the march. Baker says she was happy to be there to take it all in, and support women and minorities.
Her 12-year-old granddaughter Flora, who followed the U.S. election, expressed pride in Baker’s plan to go solo, telling her: “Way to go, gram gram!”
Americans seemed equally pleased by the Canadian contingent. Trip organizer Marissa McTasney says she even saw some women “cry when they saw we showed up in such numbers. It was very moving.
“I knew it would not be easy and I knew we would be exhausted.”
The women made the trek alongside roughly 600 other Canadians, who also didn’t mind spending 24 out of 36 hours in a bus.
Not all smooth sailing
There were fears on Friday the 10 Washington-bound buses, which were delayed, wouldn’t be allowed to cross the border. Some Canadians who’d hoped to drive down for the inauguration had been turned away the day before, allegedly for admitting they were anti-Donald Trump.
Trip organizers strictly banned any signs on the buses (any that were brought were confiscated), along with any mentions of the word “protest.” There were no issues at the border, though. Passports were checked without any questions.
One group did encounter a major problem in D.C. Mechanical problems delayed a Toronto-bound bus (which was originally supposed to leave around 8 p.m. ET) until 4 a.m.
The Red Cross was forced to step in and keep the “Sisters of the North” warm with blankets and a tent. McTasney says she plans to write a letter to the bus company about how the situation was handled.
Other Canadians struggled with the overwhelmingly large crowds that had gathered for the march. A bottleneck around the rally stage had some people stuck, barely able to move, for up to an hour-and-a-half before they were able to march. It definitely wasn’t a good place to be if you’re claustrophobic.
There was a lot of confusion and no apparent presence or direction from march officials.
With the huge turnout, everyone was jut grateful for the fact there was no violence, which some were worried about after police pepper sprayed inauguration day protesters the day before and arrested more than 200 people. An elderly woman and a disabled man were among those sprayed, according to a video posted on Twitter.
One of the women on Baker’s bus came armed with cloths soaked in apple cider vinegar, which is supposed to counteract tear gas. Thankfully she didn’t have to use them.
Despite all the challenges, no one seemed to have any regrets about making the trip down.
Is it going to change anything?
Alexandra McMichael, a 28-year-old social work student at Ryerson University, says it’s “hard to tell” if this weekend’s march will make an impact.
She approached the event with a critical lens, thinking of ways how the march could’ve been more inclusive, but ultimately found it to be “healing.”
“It was almost like a collective cry,” McMichael said.
Baker also felt seeing so many men and women come together to stand up for equality showed a much brighter side to America than what some felt it’d been reduced to when Trump was elected.
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The evening mood shifted from peaceful protest to almost vigil-like at the end of the march.
Hours after it finished, people took time to look at the signs that were carefully placed around a fence surrounding the White House and Washington Monument, and at a nearby square. The spots became makeshift shrines to the signs.
McMichael hopes the event, along with the hundreds held around the world, will ignite a fire in people. She’s especially worried about Canada eventually electing a Conservative leader who’s inspired by Trump.
“We have to continue to challenge our government … challenge each other’s thinking.”
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Steinem, for whom Saturday’s march was the biggest she’s participated in, alluded to that as well in her speech.
The 82-year-old’s message was that women and minorities are “never turning back.”
As thousands put it with their chants and signs during the march: “This is what democracy looks like.”
— With file from Reuters