WASHINGTON - Lauren Price is swaying slowly, her eyes shut tight, like the words blaring through the loudspeaker are a sermon she feels pulsing in her body.
With half-a-million women packed onto the National Mall on Saturday, Sen. Kristen Gilibrand of New York announces record-breaking attendance and says it signals “the beginning of the revival of the women’s movement.”
The look on Price’s face is worth a thousand words. She is connecting with message, and moment.
A 32-year-old local school employee, Price is one of 53 women, two men and one 11-year-old boy who boarded a charter bus at Meyerland Plaza in Houston on Thursday night for the 2,832-mile round trip to the nation’s capital one day after Donald Trump was inaugurated on these same grounds as the 45th president of the United States.
Shortly after the bus pulled into D.C. early Saturday, Price said she had to march because she was angry - particularly at white women who voted for Trump, a sell-out move in her opinion. But as she grabbed her “Beyoncé voter” sign and held it overhead, she let her voice join the chorus of chants around her and her anger was gone.
It had been an emotional ride. Some on the bus had met before, at poster-making parties or on Facebook. Others flew solo. But as the bus chugged along, bonds began to form.
On the first 24½-hour leg of the trip, strangers became friends as they faded to sleep, arms touching as their heads drooped. They groaned together when rough patches in the road woke them in a groggy haze.
On the second day of the drive, as the bus made its way through northern Tennessee and into Virginia, Nisha Randle, the lead organizer for Houston’s contingent, grabbed a microphone and asked riders to share what brought them on the journey. No two answers were the same.
“I’m here for my daughters,” said Sharon Chapman of Galveston. And for her gay friends and victims of sexual assault, she said - and for all those who couldn’t come.
The microphone crossed the aisle, where 14-year-old Mazzy Smallwood grabbed it like a baton, to share her story. She campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2008, though she was only 5 then and barely remembers. And now she’s happy to find herself in a group of like-minded people marching to protect their rights.
It took nearly an hour and a half for the microphone to reach everyone’s lips. And a harmony of messages flowed out. Kindness. Equal rights. Equal pay. Ending sexual assault. Bringing awareness to Black Lives Matter. The voices were different, but cohesive.
More diverse voices
It was music to Randle’s ears.
“Intersectionality is the theme of the march. Because everyone’s issue may be their one thing, but we all support them together,” she said.
Intersectionality has been a growing theory within feminism for years. But in previous waves, the idea - that a person is not simply defined by one category, like gender, but a confluence of all the traits that define them, including gender, race, sexuality, geography and others - was largely ignored, as the public face of feminism remained largely white and middle class.
But in 2017, the breadth of voices is widening.
“So if you’re here for equal pay, that might be your one thing, but you’re also here supporting the people who are here because black lives matter,” Randle said. “You’re still supporting the people who are here for other things. I feel like everyone has their one issue, but all of our issues together are why we’re here, and why we’re stronger together.”
Price chimed in from the next seat over.
“We live lives in more than one dimension,” she said.
Price is biracial, Latina and white, and she describes herself as “passable” for white, since she’s so light-skinned. She has brown eyes with dark eyelashes and long, shiny chestnut hair.
“It’s a matrix of oppression, and we have these complicated ways that we have privilege and dis-privilege.”
It’s not meant to divide, she said. Just to inform the different ways people experience the world we live in. And that, in the end, can bring people together, she hopes.
“What are we?” feminist filmmaker Cybil Saenz called out as she boarded the bus Saturday morning in Richmond, Va., phone in front of her, ready to capture the reactions of the women she’s been traveling with.
No one knew what to say at first. Her travel partners are so diverse in ideas, family lives, hometowns, incomes, jobs - everything - that they struggle to find a label for the connective “we.”
“Stronger together” Saenz called out, finishing her own chant.
The sky in the hotel parking lot where the bus had pulled off Friday night after 24 hours on the road was still so dark there was no blue bleeding into its blackness yet. At 5:30 a.m., the business at hand for the puffy-eyed crew was mostly slow sips of coffee and storing hand-drawn signs in the overhead compartment before the final 100-mile leg to the march.
“What are we?” Saenz bellowed again. Louder, with infectious enthusiasm.
“Stronger together,” the voices boomed back.
“What are we?” she demanded.
The bus began buzzing. Up in the front seat, Chapman smiled. “It feels real now,” she said. “We’re really doing this.”
The vast Washington metro area, with its high-end shopping malls and edge cities filled with government contractors, begins well south of the Capital Beltway and thickens in density as the Pentagon approaches and finally gives way to the glistening Potomac River. The Houston riders found it slow moving to the march, like human molasses. But there was no tear gas, no baton-swinging riot police, no masked demonstrators in the sea of pink hats. Only camaraderie, unity, sisterhood. And the energy from the bus seemed to carry them all day. They burst out laughing when they passed a sign depicting a kiss between Donald Trump and Vladmir Putin. They smiled and cheered at a drawing of the female reproductive system that declared: “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!”
“I was expecting to feel more despair, because that’s where I’ve been for so long,” Price said as she watched the city roll away behind her on the metro back out of town Saturday night. “But it wasn’t sad like that. It was energizing. So many like-minded people,”
She let out a deep breath and smiled.
“I feel ready to get to work,” she said. “It’s go time.”
Sunday, 8:15 p.m.
It’s been a little more than 72 hours since the women (and two men, and one 11-year-old boy) boarded the bus here at Meyerland PLaza. But we’re back.
It’s all hugs and e-mail exchanges in the parking lot, as the newly energized activists make plans to keep in touch and continue the momentum from this weekend. Who knows what’s next?
Sunday, 11:30 a.m.
“When I tell my grandchildren about how I made history this weekend,” Rachael Acosta says as the bus glides through a rain storm, “I’m not going to tell them I saw Madonna live ... I’m going to tell them about you.”
The women (and two men and one 11-year-old boy) on the bus are sharing their stories from the weekend. How they feel they’ve found their tribe, and what they’ve learned during this journey. Here’s what they had to say.
Alas, because technology is a fickle friend - especially when the bus is rolling through a rainstorm in Alabama - the cell signal to create a Facebook Live cut out in the middle of the second-to-last person’s testimonial. But the stories that did make it through are certainly worth watching.
Saturday, 8:45 p.m.
We’re back on the bus! The women (and two men, and one boy) from Houston are heading home for the 25-hour trip back to Houston. We left a little after 8 p.m. Eastern time tonight, which means we hope to be back to Houston sometime around 9:30 or so Sunday night.
Everyone’s tired, from sleeping like pretzels throughout the journey, and walking in the drizzly D.C. air all day, but there’s so much enthusiasm pulsing through these riders right now.
Lauren Price described the feeling earlier today, as we rode the metro out of the city.
“It was energizing. So many like-minded people,” she said. “I feel ready to get to work. It’s go time.”
First order of business for the women (and two men, and one boy) on the bus was giving thanks. A woman in Richmond, Va., pre-purchased metro cards for everyone on the bus so the riders wouldn’t have to wait in the slow-moving line for them this morning. Not only did she say she would rather the riders pay it forward than pay her back the more than $500 she donated, it also saved at least an hour in an already panicky morning today.
Check out this video of the crew giving her a shoutout:
Saturday, 5:00 p.m.
Reporter Maggie Gordon lost cell signal for a few hours. She’s back! Here’s what’s going on in Washington, D.C.:
Saturday, 3:15 p.m.
The mood is pretty wild right now. Women are all smiles and chanting, “Show me what democracy looks like!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”
The marchers are thrilled to be moving after an overwhelming feeling that the speakers dragged on. (Scarlett Johansson even had her microphone cut off for going too long.)
Even once the marching started, sometime after 2 p.m., the Houston contingent was restless. Since we were near the front of the crowd, we were at the back of the line for marchers.
During several of the last speakers, the crowd chanted, “March! March! March!”
It wasn’t until Madonna took the stage, singing “Express Yourself,” that Houston got to start shuffling forward, signs in the air.
The turnout is certainly larger than the organizers expected, which makes things a little frazzled, but everyone is pumped.
Elva Alvarez just said, “It’s like I’m 16 again.”
“I was thinking we’d see monuments and stuff, all I see are people,” one Houston marcher said, craning her neck to see the Washington Monument over the sea of people.
Get live coverage of marches in Washington D.C., Houston and Austin at HoustonChronicle.com.
Saturday, 8:15 am
The Houston contingent has made it. Kind of. At a little past 8 am, the bus dropped the marchers at Franconia metro station, just outside the district.
It was a great strategy: Hop a metro in from the end of the line so the trains aren’t already full when you’re trying to cram on. The thing is, Houston’s bus isn’t the only group of marchers with that strategy. With hours to go until the March and rally, there is already a sea of people in Franconia, slow-flowing in a serpentine line toward the trains.
There must be thousands of people at this one stop. At this point, it looks like things will be very crowded today.
Saturday, 5:30 a.m.
No one knew what to say at first. The women (plus two men, and one young boy) on the bus are so diverse in ideas, family lives, hometowns, incomes, jobs – everything – that they struggle to find a label for the connective “We.”
“Stronger together” Saenz called out, finishing her own chant on her own the first time through. The sky in the Richmond, Virginia hotel parking lot was still so dark there was no blue bleeding into its blackness yet. At 5:30 a.m., the business at hand for the puffy-eyed crew is mostly slow sips of coffee and storing hand drawn signs in the overhead compartment before the final 100-mile leg to the march. “What are we?” Saenz bellows again. Louder, with infectious enthusiasm. “Stronger together,” the voices boom back.
“What are we?” she demands.
The bus begins to buzz. Up in the front seat, Sharon Chapman smiles.
“It feels real now,” she says. “ We’re really doing this.”
Friday, 9:00 p.m.
After slightly more than 24 hours driving straight through (minus gas breaks, which included quicky rest room trips), we have arrived in Richmond, Va., where the bus riders have a block of 27 rooms.
We’ll stay here for the night, and take off for D.C. in the morning. Earlier today, every one on the bus shared the reasons compelling them to join the march and rally. Here they are:
Friday, 4:30 p.m.
Penn Onahara’s sign for the women’s march says “I’m marching for you.” The intent is that whoever reads her sign knows that she’s there for them.
But there’s one person in particular that has inspired her to take the 50-plus hour roundtrip bus ride from her home in Clear Lake City to Washington, D.C. And he’s sitting right next to her, nibbling his way through a box of Sweet Tarts.
Jaiden Higgins, 11, is on his first organized demonstration, and he can’t wait to see what the National Mall will look like tomorrow when he and Onahara, his paternal grandmother, join the thousands and thousands of others marching.
Mostly, he’s excited to be with his grandmother. That’s who he’s for, he says. He even drew a sign for the protest, which proclaims “I’m here for my grandparents.” If you flip it over, you’ll see “Be nice” on the other side.
Being nice is also important to Jaiden.
“A lot of stuff with the election seemed like adult stuff,” he says. The other kids in his sixth-grade class don’t really talk politics much. But something about the headlines caught his attention in the final months of the 2016 campaign.
“He says stuff about girls,” Jaiden says, referring to Trump, who was sworn in as the nation’s 45th president just a few hours ago. “About touching them, and that’s not all right. But he says it’s all right.”
That kind of behavior doesn’t sit well with Jaiden, given what his family has taught him.
And what Onahara promises she’ll continue to teach him.
“For me, it was so important for me to have Jaiden come with me, because of the message that’s being sent to little boys that it’s OK to act that way: aggressively and inappropriately toward females,” she says when Jaiden pops up out of their seat for a quick bathroom break.
“They get that message in so many ways, and my son, his father, is 31, and it was bad when he was a young man. But now it’s worse. And for the president to be a person that says these sort of petty things, that really in my mind constitute assault, it’s important that Jaiden have the opportunity to be a young man who says ‘No, we won’t act that way.’”
Friday, 2 p.m.
Houston Chronicle photographer Marie D. De Jesús is in Washington, D.C., to cover Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington. Here are some of her photos from this week’s events:
Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States
WASHINGTON (AP) — In his inauguration speech, President Donald Trump is repeating the dark vision and the list of the country’s woes that he hit on during the campaign.
Trump describes closed factories as “tombstones” that dot the county and says the federal government has spent billions defending “other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own.”
The Republican president says the U.S. “will confront hardships but we will get the job done.”
He says the oath of office he just took “is an oath of allegiance to all Americans” and said that the country will share “one glorious destiny.”
The inauguration is followed by a parade from the U.S. Capitol building to the White House. See what it’s like on the ground with our interactive tool:
Get live coverage of inaugural events at HoustonChronicle.com.
Friday, 11:20 a.m. (Eastern Time, now)
While there are dozens of women on the bus, itching for their chance to demonstrate and be a part of the march, Cybil Saenz is straddling a slightly different line. She’s here more as an observer – specifically, a filmmaker, documenting the journey of these Houston women.
But even as an observer, she has her points of view. Someday, when she weaves her footage together, well see it through her lens. For now, it’s evident in her mission, and her journey toward feminism.
“I’m going more as an observer. I’ve already thought about that. Everyone is wondering why aren’t you making a poster – I can’t carry it while I’m carrying the camera, that’s my first and foremost goal – is to be the one who tells their voice,” says Saenz, a 41-year-old mother of three children under the age of 5, whose husband is taking the day off to pull daddy duty today.
“What I see, what comes to my mind first is that they don’t want to do nothing,” she says of the other women on the bus, many of whom she met earlier this week at a poster-making party, and at other organizational events even before then. “That was what I got the most out of. And they just feel like they’re been wronged, and it’s about women’s rights for them.”
She doesn’t feel far from that notion herself.
“After the whole election, I just felt like I had a punch in the gut, and I just felt motivated to do something, and not just idly sit by and do nothing,” she says.
If she couldn’t be vocal herself, she could be a megaphone for others’ voices and views – a medium through which underrepresented voices could be heard with equal importance as those with better access to spreading their message.
It’s an incredibly feminist thought. But Saenz is new to the label of feminism, as are many women participating in this march.
“I never really thought of feminism. Now that I’m thinking about it, that I’ve looked up what the meaning of feminism means, I do feel I am a feminist,” she says. “I guess I go by the dictionary term, which means to support equal rights for women. Equal pay, equal health care, equal – just equal.”
And with feminism, often comes sisterhood, another perk Saenz is looking forward to as a result of this journey.
“All these people on the bus will become my friends afterward, and that’s another thing I’m looking forward to: Opening this new chapter of my life with these new people I’m meeting, and seeing where it goes after,” she says. t in her mission, and her journey toward feminism.
Friday, 8 a.m.
As the bus rolls down an off-ramp at 7:20 a.m., Mary Smith spots the white-lettered-green sign that reveals the location.
“Birmingham, everybody,” she calls from the front seat. “You all know what happened in Birmingham.”
The southern city is a treasure trove of Civil Rights history. Some bloody, some triumphant. None of it can be forgotten, says Smith.
“I grew up in the Jim Crow era,” Smith says a few minutes later, after grabbing a breakfast sandwich and something to drink and re-boarding the bus.
She remembers the turning points of history.
“As soon as the Civil Rights bill was passed, I was able to go to Perry’s Cafe, and I walked through the front door that day,” she recalls. “This was in Hawkins, Texas. I was 18, I was graduating from high school, and we heard the Civil Rights Bill was passed. And so we anticipated walking to the front door.”
Perry’s was the only café in town, and she’d dreamed of walking through that front door for years as she used the back entrance to visit her aunt while she worked.
“We could go to the café. They always wanted your money,” she said, a half-laugh rolling off her lips. “So you just went to the back and got it. So we would go in the back. They had one table there, and most people would either go and eat at that one table, or they’d take it to go.”
But on that day in 1964, she walked in the front door – and she was greeted “just fine.”
It was more than a way to walk into a building. It was about equality. She thinks about equality a lot.
“This weekend, I want to stand for justice for women. Justice for everybody really. But for women’s rights. For Planned Parenthood Rights. For women to decide on their own futures,” she says. For her, it’s about feeling as though everyone has the same shot.
“I am black. And this is my concern. I didn’t choose this color - not that I would not have - and I know what it means to be disenfranchised, and to live in a segregated world,” she says.
She doesn’t want to see things move back into a place where oppression is the norm. So she packed her bags and hopped the bus.
“I’ll do anything I can do while I’m alive to make a difference, I’m not a couch person. I’m not one to gripe about things. I’m the one to organize marches and do things,” she says. “I am proud to stand for something in life, because if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for nothing.”
When the bus began rolling back into motion, Smith queued up a move for the rest of the bus to watch through the two hours remaining in Alabama: Selma.
Thursday, 11:30 p.m.
Kristy Rodgers had finally fallen asleep when the bus pulled off for its first stop – a gas station outside Baton Rouge at 11:30 p.m. Thursday. She jerked awake.
It’s her first time riding a bus long distance like this. But she’s doing so with her uncle and her daughter in the seats beside her, and a sense of purpose in her heart. That makes it easier.
“Everything about (Trump) makes me want to scream,” she says as she stands with her uncle, John Rodgers, who first suggested the bus trip to her, and her daughter, Elexys Rodgers, outside the Love’s gas station, waiting for the all clear to hop back on board when the bus driver is finished fueling.
The air has grown chillier since leaving Houston at 7:20 p.m., and fog has been clouding the highway for the past 50 miles or so. But Kristy is unflinching in her short-sleeved shirt as she and her family members discuss their call to march.
“I don’t believe a word he says,” she continues. “I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. Until he proves me wrong, I can’t get onboard. If he proves me wrong, and I hope he does. I’ve never wanted something so bad, but I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.”
The women’s march, for her, is not necessarily about solely women’s issues. It’s more a chance to be heard. And to make sure her daughter is heard as well.
“I just barely couldn’t vote,” says Elexys, who turned 18 in December. “So this was an easy decision.”
Elexys doesn’t agree “with a lot of things he says.” But “I really don’t like the way he talks about women.”
When asked if there was one thing Trump has said that’s frustrated or angered her the most, she pauses.
“I can’t say it,” she says, putting a hand up to her mouth.
Her mom and uncle nudge her to continue. “What is it?” Kristy Rodgers asks her daughter. “Say what it is.”
But Elexys struggles. “I don’t want to,” she says, giving her mom what she hopes is a meaningful look.
That’s because the phrase includes the kind of words Elexys would prefer not to say out loud – leaked quotes from a videotape in which Trump discusses grabbing women by their genitals.
“The way he talks about women, it’s not right,” she says. “Not right.”
Thursday, 7:20 p.m.
We’re officially on board the bus.
A group of about 50 women, plus two or three men swarmed the Cafe Express in Meyerland Plaza for one last meal off wheels around 6 p.m. And then we waited, not-so-patiently, for the bus to come.
Now that it’s here, and we’re all loaded aboard, (along with what seems to be an endless supply of paper towels, garbage bags and two-ply being paraded through the aisle to the back of the bus) the mood is upbeat.
Understandable, given the sweet sendoff we just received.
This bus will drive for the next 24 hours straight, before we pull over for a much-needed hotel stay in Richmond, Va., tomorrow night around 8 p.m. Eastern. We’ll make it to D.C. shortly before the rally and march, which kick off at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Then it’s back aboard the bus for another 24-hour haul back to Houston. I’ll be updating throughout, introducing people whoa re making the journey and sharing their stories. Hope you enjoy.
On Thursday evening, Nisha Randle will board a bus in Meyerland Plaza, folding herself into an economy seat. The ride to the Women’s March on Washington will be a long one - more than 24 hours of driving each way - but Randle is buzzing with excitement: “This feels like the right thing to do.”
Event organizers estimate that on Saturday, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, 200,000 women and a smattering of men will converge on the National Mall for a peaceful demonstration.
Spin-off marches are also planned across the country Saturday. After being announced only a week ago, the Houston march has drawn more than 10,000 replies on Facebook.
And more than 20,000 people have signed up for the protest at the state capitol in Austin. Many marchers say they’re new to feminism and activism -- including Randle, the leader of the Houston delegation to Washington, who began calling herself a feminist only this summer. The Women’s March will be the first time that Randle, 45, has participated in a demonstration.
The morning after the presidential election, something in Randle changed.
“I couldn’t go to work that day. I cried harder than when my boyfriend broke up with me, and I felt like it was a personal affront.”
She found support online. That same day, a woman in Hawaii created a Facebook event for a march on Washington to protest the election, inviting 40 of her friends. It went viral. Similar events popped up across the country, with thousands of women signing up, a loosely organized movement took shape. Soon, a national page was created for the march, along with a subpage for each state. In big states like Texas, chapters were formed for individual cities. And when the opportunity arose for Randle to head the Houston contingent, she dove in.
Glossy-lipped and well-coiffed, Randle is not a stereotypical feminist. That, she says, is a problem with the stereotype: “People still have that idea that you can’t be a feminine woman if you’re really a feminist.”
In 2012, a study commissioned by The Feminist Majority Foundation – one of the dozens of organizations listed as an official partner for the D.C. March – asked women voters if they consider themselves feminists. Among voters under the age of 30, 59 percent said yes. But when read the dictionary definition of the term (“someone who supports political, economic and social equality for women”) and asked if they align themselves with that mission, the share rose to 73 percent.
“Feminism can encompass so many things,” says Randle. “You just have to agree that women and men have equal rights and should be treated the same.”
Feminism was growing even before the 2016 election, according to that Feminist Majority Foundation report. In 2006, 50 percent of female voters said they were feminists; by 2012, the share was up to 55 percent. Strangely, the election – in which a male candidate toppled America’s first female frontrunner – appears to have given the movement a major boost.
“I’d never considered myself a feminist before. Never,” says Ligia Pesquera Leismer, 59, a grandmother who will join Randle on the bus to D.C. “I thought it had been resolved, that everyone was acknowledging that women had their place at the table.”
Trump’s election convinced her otherwise. “Instead of just waiting to see that someone else does something about it, I said, ‘No. It’s time for me to do something about it.”
In D.C., she’ll carry a sign:
“Together we’re stronger.”
In the weeks after Election Day, Randle monitored Houston women’s Facebook posts about trouble finding hotels in the District, or laments that flight prices were nearing $1,000. She booked a bus.
At $300 per rider, the bus offered an affordable option. But with the ride spanning two days each way, it’s less than ideal – especially for working mothers, or part-time workers who can’t afford a long weekend off. Still, it’s at capacity.
It’s a challenge to estimate how many participants will march in D.C. and around the country on Saturday. The national group counts 386 sister marches in cities around the world, with more than 700,000 registered participants.
Robin Paoli thinks that estimate is too small. Paoli is one of the lead organizers of the Houston Women’s March, which will begin at Eleanor Tinsley Park at 11 a.m. Saturday, then head to City Hall for a noon rally.
“I’ve heard from more women than I can name and count that they felt disenfranchised in a process that seemed like democracy was taken away from the people,” Paoli said. “That the American people were no longer being heard, and that women are deeply concerned about the future of this country, and what that future is going to translate to for their families.”
For many, Paoli said, the day of demonstration –- both locally and in D.C. –- is about a chance to be seen and heard.
“The election was a wake-up call,” says Randle. “Hopefully this will be another one – a vehicle for other people to see that we’re not giving up.”
“For me,” she says, “this is just the beginning.”