A Young Journalist's March on Washington
By Olivia Blackmore
“Where are you going?” the bank teller asked me as he handed over my American dollars.
His expression went from friendly customer service face to “are you crazy?!” in a matter of seconds.
And that very look confirmed that going to Washington, D.C. to cover the biggest political demonstration in recent history was the right thing to do.
Just like the women (and men) of the world felt it was their duty to stand up to U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, I felt it was my duty as a journalist to report on it.
A couple of days after Trump was elected, I started seeing Facebook events for the Women’s March on Washington. I didn’t know how, but I knew I would be in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21.
It turns out to be as easy as buying a bus ticket.
Two weeks before the march, I found a delegation of Canadian women who were making the 12-hour journey to Washington, and there was my ride and my story.
My next challenge, as a Centennial College journalism student, was finding a publication that liked my idea.
With the help of three teachers, I was able to get contacts at different publications, make my pitch, and land an assignment from Canadian Living.
My job was to write profiles of five women of different ages and cultural backgrounds who were participating in a political demonstration for the first time. I also needed to include an introduction and photos. All due by 8 p.m. the day of the march.
Our bus left Union Station in Toronto at 9 p.m. on Jan. 20, and I began my interviews before we departed. I knew I would be writing on the bus, and wanted to get a head start on my piece.
I sat on the floor of the bus, and put my iPad on my seat. This was my desk for the first few hours of our trip. In retrospect, this was a very strange thing to do, but all I could think about was turning my interviews into articles.
The women on the bus chanted, shared baked goods, and their stories of why they were going to Washington. I sat at the back of the bus with my colleague Anna, and we listened.
There was some doubt whether we would be able to cross the border (there were reports that a group from Montreal were refused entry). We were specifically instructed not to use the word “protest” if asked what the purpose of our trip was (border security does not like the "P" word). We went through with no issues, once we entered Buffalo and our minds were at ease, we were able to get a couple hours of sleep.
Our bus pulled into RFK Stadium on the outskirts of Washington at 9 a.m. and from there, along with thousands of other women and men, we walked half an hour along Independence Avenue, a residential street to Eastern Market where the march began.
The Canadian delegations that bussed in from Montreal, London, Ottawa and Toronto walked together eventually bleeding into the American delegations, and as one, continued walking towards the starting point of the march.
Locals came out of their homes and greeted us from their front porches and others watched curiously from their windows. Cars honked, people waved, and one family gave out coffee from their front lawn as protesters walked by.
I wasn’t sure what to expect before arriving in Washington. A part of me was prepared for danger, but the fear was unfounded. The mood in Washington was one of community and support.
Objectivity was not difficult for me. After I got my five profiles done for my Canadian Living piece, my journalist intuition told me to get a variety of perspectives. Including those of Trump supporters.
A teenager wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat caught my eye. He, along with his parents, were watching the flood of protesters on 17th Street NW beside the White House. I interviewed them and I made sure that they knew I was there to listen to what they had to say. But did not shy away from asking them what they thought about those who felt their rights were threatened by Trump’s presidency.
I finished my piece at 7 p.m. in a Starbucks in downtown Washington. I emailed it to my editor at Canadian Living. By 9 p.m. my article was on canadianliving.com.
The streets were now quiet, the buzz from the day was slowing down, but my adrenaline was still pumping.
We headed back to RFK Stadium. We were scheduled to leave at 9 p.m. but because of mechanical problems our bus was delayed.
A team from the American Red Cross walked us to a tarp tent about 1.5 kilometers away, where we would be waiting for the next six hours.
The Red Cross gave us blankets, food, and told jokes to keep up the morale. We sat for hours in a freezing cold tent in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere in D.C. and all I could think about was what I had accomplished with my article, and how this was the kind of character building experience that I would not trade for anything in the world. Waiting in that cold tent was awful, but in that moment, I did not want to be anywhere else.