They could have been sisters with Officer Henkelman, if not twins, and when I asked if they were, they shook their heads no but smiled. Still, they felt like sisters. Perhaps it was the sisterhood all around me, extending to their kind faces and their strong shoulders standing in uniform. I decided this was the right time to ask if there had been any arrests among the hundreds of thousands of marchers expected to be in the capital that afternoon - their expression and response surprised me.
“No,” they said with a hint of a smile.
“Not one arrest?” I asked.
Not one, they confirmed.
I’d told my ten-year-old son that I didn’t know what might happen at The Women's March in Washington D.C. – that I hoped it would be peaceful but there was a chance I could be arrested. And if I was, I would go with police peacefully because I was there to march in peace and for peace and equality and human rights, not just for his teenage sister’s future but his too, and in support of women and men all over the country who’ve been the victims of sexual assault, racism and inequality.
“I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see women officers here today,” I said, “especially young women like you.”
I saw a glimmer of solidarity in their eyes beneath the shiny brim of their police hats, reflecting the light and hope of hundreds of thousands, if not close to a million, women and men who came to the capital to demonstrate their First Amendment rights without the threat of violence or police brutality.
“May I take your picture?” I asked. All three officers nodded and smiled again.
As I look back at all the smiling faces in my pictures throughout Saturday’s March, theirs stand out the most – one of my closest friends looking over at them with such pride while holding the sign she penned, “YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT – YOU HAVE THE DUTY TO SPEAK UP.”
We thanked them and marched on, but I kept looking back, watching them watch droves of women and men make their way to the National Mall, wondering if their mothers and sisters and brothers were marching too.
One of the most, if not the most, important moments for me during The March was seeing Harriet Tubman’s giant portrait in front of The Treasury, next to Washington, Lincoln, and Hamilton, and I realized then more clearly than ever that women of my generation, born after the civil rights movement, will never fully understand what’s been sacrificed so that all women have the same opportunities as men. We are still fighting, though, for the right to equal pay and the most basic of human rights, the right to govern our own bodies. As we all looked up to Harriet Tubman's larger than life black face next to three white male faces, we chanted, "Black Lives Matter!” over and over until it faded, and I worried that I hadn’t shouted it loud enough or long enough.
I thought about the three young policewomen again and remembered the wet cloths we'd put in Ziploc bags in our backpack. We never once had to reach for them. An older friend, a seasoned protester during the Vietnam War, recommended we bring them.
"They'll help us to breath if police use teargas," she said.
As we packed them in the transparent backpack the march organizers recommended everyone carry to make it easier on police to see what we had with us, I found myself adding up how old I was when she was walking the same streets, protesting for peace, while I watched The Sound of Music in 1970 -- the first time I heard "Heil Hitler" and saw Nazis in uniform. I was five.
By the time we reached the Treasury building, it had been hours since the march began and we had seen no conflicts between any marchers or any police. In fact, at one point when several police vans had to get down a street, they tooted their horns and everyone made way for them. They looked appreciative and I even caught a glimpse of more smiles on their faces as they waved to us. Police officers take an oath to uphold the Constitution, a Constitution that originally did not mention women. We hear, talk, and read about our “founding fathers” but not one word about founding mothers.
As we made it to where the Newseum building resides on Pennsylvania Avenue, I read the First Amendment out loud and loud for the very first time. It's engraved in large letters on the facade of the Newseum. The words reverberated in my ears, and a wave of pride hit me like never before. This is what makes America, America. Whether or not it’s ever been “great” has always been up for debate and dependent on who is talking. Ask the Transgender-American this question and the Gay-American bullied in Middle School, the college students sexually assaulted at American universities too afraid to report it, and any Black-American or Latino or Muslim-American living among bigots.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Reports say that over half a million people assembled in our nation’s capital on January 21, 2017, and reputable news agencies reported that it was the largest one-day protest in U.S. history. In D.C. we were sometimes locked in a stand-still position – I suspect this is how it was in every city that marched – yet, we were still kind to one another, helping each other to stay calm and safe, not just in protest of Donald Trump’s dangerous, disrespectful rhetoric and proposed policies or his long history of insults to women, or even his Twitter rants directed at anyone who opposes him, but in solidarity and support of humanity, decency, and respect for human rights… women’s rights.
It felt so simple and it is truly self-evident. We are absolutely ‘stronger together’ and we had the chance to physically prove it in Washington D.C. and all over the nation. Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latino, Caucasian, Transgender, Gay, and Straight Americans, walking side-by-side, hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, peacefully up Pennsylvania Avenue, marching for our daughters, our sisters, mothers, grandmothers and our great-grandmothers who fought for so long for our rights and the rights of future generations -- long before Reality TV, Nielson Ratings, algorithms, Twitter and Donald Trump.
Women will continue to rise up against oppression, and the men who support us have our gratitude, because there will undoubtedly be more men like Trump who’d like nothing better than for us to keep quiet so their voices are the loudest in the room. But our First Amendment rights define us as a nation, and we are blessed with the opportunity, the responsibility, and the privilege to speak up and uphold our Constitution, just as our law enforcement officers have the responsibility to do. May Officer Henkelman and her colleagues know just how much we appreciated their respect and their sisterhood during The March. Without it, not one of us could have made history on January 21. Marching forward, may we all remember how incredibly powerful it is to peaceably assemble and to petition the government, not just for women but for humanity.