By Walter Wasacz
Shortly after the Women’s March on Washington was organized in November, just days after the presidential election, I learned Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski was going. I wanted to go as well, made a note of it on my calendar, but scheduling conflicts close to home prevented me from going.
I do regret it.
Protests spread across the world on Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration. Women and men of all ages, races and religious affiliations marched for women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, the environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, workers’ rights — and against the provocative campaign rhetoric and proposed policies of newly-elected president Donald Trump.
It was reported as the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history. The march drew around 500,000 people in Washington, the largest protest in the capital since the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the 1960s and 1970s. Estimates put worldwide participation at 4.8 million.
When the mayor returned we talked about her experience in Washington. She took a lot of pictures and was kind of enough to share some of them with The Review.
Walter Wasacz: What motivated you to go to Washington D.C. for the Women’s March?
Karen Majewski: I voted at the ballot box, but I also felt it was important to vote with my feet, to demonstrate my opposition to the Trump agenda and my solidarity with others — men and women — on issues critical not just to women but to the foundations of our nation. As soon as I heard about the march, I knew I was going. I felt compelled to show where I stood as an individual and as part of something greater than any one of us.
WW: You arrived the morning after the inauguration. What was the atmosphere like in the capital when you got there?
KM: The atmosphere was heady with excitement before we ever got to Washington. It was growing even as we were discovering, through our Facebook Women’s March groups, just how many of us were going and who among our friends were also going. It grew as our buses encountered so many other buses on the road and at the rest stops: Can you imagine, hundreds of people all converging along the way, recognizing that we were all together in purpose, and trying to imagine how many more of us there were out there?
Pulling into DC and seeing all the other buses, many of us chose to walk the couple of miles from the parking lot to the march site, rather than brave the crowds at the subway. Along the way, we saw only support, even from the law enforcement officers, even from the residents of the neighborhoods we walked through. It was enough to make your heart swell.
WW: You took a lot of pictures. What were some of the most memorable images?
KM: As a lot of people have commented, the messages on many of the signs were so clever, so funny, so pointed. I especially loved the way women owned words for and images of parts of their anatomy that are so often referred to in ugly and demeaning ways — even by the president — and embraced them unapologetically and proudly.
Some people might find it vulgar. I found it liberating and empowering, not unlike the feminism of the 1970s that was formative for me. Much has been written about the unwillingness of young women to call themselves feminists. I don’t care what they call themselves, what I saw was multiple generations coming together and testifying powerfully and fearlessly about the issues that define us as a nation and as human beings.
WW: Any guess on how many people from Michigan were there? How many from Hamtramck?
KM: I left Friday night on one of three buses from Detroit, with 55 people on each. Other buses had left earlier in the day — I don’t know how many. Buses also were organized in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, other parts of Metro Detroit, and I’m sure other places in Michigan.
Other people carpooled or flew. So I would have to estimate at least several thousand from Michigan alone. I felt a sense of solidarity with anybody I saw who showed they were Michiganders — the Detroit UAW contingent, for instance. And I even ran into some friends, which was something of a miracle in that crowd.
From Hamtramck itself, I’m going to guess about a dozen. I traveled with one young woman from Hamtramck on the bus, and that was a great experience for me. I had a companion who was not only great company, but who also helped me experience the whole event more fully by seeing it through another generation’s perspective as well as my own.
WW: There were hundreds of thousands of women and men there. What was the mood of the crowd?
KM: I would say the mood of the crowd was determined. People were helpful, the crowd was friendly, but folks were definitely there on a mission. The sheer size of the crowd made virtually any movement next to impossible at times, but folks were patient as everyone tried to navigate through the crush. The only signs of impatience I witnessed came as the rally extended past the time scheduled for the actual march, when the crowd began chanting “Let us March!”
There was some confusion about whether or not we were actually going to march, or whether parts of the enormous crowd were marching, because it was impossible from any one vantage point to take in the whole of the demonstration.
In fact, I ran into three different marches as I walked around the outskirts. I think something that everyone felt was amazement at just how many of us there were: people just kept streaming in from all directions. That amazement was empowering, to know that as far as the eye could see, there were people who shared your convictions, your fears, your outrage, and your ideals. And, judging by the signs, your sense of humor.
WW: Share your overall thoughts of the experience and your thoughts on what Trump’s presidency means for cities like Hamtramck, a city well known for welcoming immigrants throughout its history.
KM: I could say this was the experience of a lifetime, but I expect we will be marching many more times against the policies of this president and in defense of our nation’s principles and the well-being of its citizens (and non-citizens).
In fact, just a week later over a thousand people gathered in Hamtramck alone, on less than 24 hours notice, to protest Trump’s executive order targeting Muslims and refugees. Other national marches are being organized in February and March.
As for the women’s march, I was especially proud to represent Hamtramck (I wore a Hamtramck sweatshirt so no one could miss where I came from) and to stand up on a national stage for our city and its residents. And it’s heartening to know that Hamtramck residents of all backgrounds, ages, genders, and religions are also mobilizing in support of each other, especially in defense of those threatened by this travesty of an administration.
Sometimes over the years we’ve seemed divided among ourselves in Hamtramck, but it’s heartening to witness that our history as an immigrant city really does form one of our shared core values, and that when threatened from outside, we will come together fiercely and uncompromisingly in defense of each other.