Inside the Women’s March in Grand Junction
A flat, grassy park in western Colorado; a colorful playground of ladders and cupolas on which a few children clung and swung; cement restrooms where pre-emptive lines were just now forming. A few dozen people milled about, or was it 100?
When a friend and I drove the hour and three quarters from Carbondale to Grand Junction for the second annual Women’s March there, my expectations were slight. Surely a sequel would never come close to the propulsive energy of last year, when millions of women demonstrated around the world. I thought the effort would be worthwhile but token: a gesture of continued commitment to human rights and other social and conservation issues. As Laura and I stepped out under leaden skies, I saw a thin early crowd, a scant few pink hats. Then again, I didn’t have one on yet either, having only just gotten out of a vehicle.
As we paused, I admired a smiling, fleece-bundled baby in the chest carrier of a young woman standing nearby. The mother said, “I don’t want her ever to be a Me Too,” and that was when I felt the resonance.
In the first hundred feet we saw four friends from the Roaring Fork Valley, and soon a few more, and then someone came over and asked, “Want to come stand with our group?” She was one of 20 from our area, and that soon became 30-plus; and then the multiplying crowds surged toward the rally stage and half of us lost each other. Because suddenly there were hundreds upon hundreds of people around us.
Signs (my own was, “Free Press,” about which I am passionate) read:
“Women’s Rights Are Human Rights.”
“Planet Over Profits.”
“Vote Out Climate Deniers.”
“All People Deserve R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
“Single Payer System.”
“Stop the Madness! Vote!”
“Voting is Our Super Power.”
And from an ebullient Latina in a straw cowboy hat and pink sweater and gloves: “Women Are the Backbone of Our World: VOTE.”
This time last year I had marched with my sister and five friends in Washington, D.C. The mass of people, blowing away every projection, had stretched to all horizons; I will never see so many people again in my life. We were so vast in number (estimates range from 500,000 to 1.2 million present) that we were not even a march, could not take shape or be led. I never heard a speaker or a note of music; never saw the stage.
Laura had marched, with a friend and her daughter, in the massive one in Denver, felt the same thrill of unity and purpose we did.
The Grand Junction assemblage actually felt like a march, and a gigantic arthropod, as we proceeded across the park through tall old elm trees to Grand Avenue toward the Old County Courthouse. I peered ahead, and stretched to look back, and could see neither end to our line.
Our friend Julie started a chant, shaking her fist and torso in rhythm:
“Tell me what democracy looks like!”
She had been in Denver last year, had heard college-age kids bellow it, standing on top of a dumpster and stomping.
We moved so slowly that real conversations were possible. Cheerful volunteers stopped us at every corner, though in the end the crowd was so large the police closed off the street by City Hall. I had wondered if we’d encounter resistance to our resistance. Grand Junction, while containing a mix, is overall among the most conservative cities in the state. But the people driving by waved, cheered and honked. A woman standing beside the sidewalk handed us pink yarn flowers to tie to packs or purses. A local coffee stand offered free coffee to the first 500.
“We’ll never make that,” Julie said, and that was a good problem.
An estimated 4,000 attended. They came from Grand Junction, from Montrose, from Delta; from Aspen. Many men joined in. I saw only smiles, then quiet courtesy on both sides when we passed a small Pro-Life rally.
Later I would watch a video by Working Families showing some 50 marches, from the small (in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and blizzard-blinded Park City, Utah) to the large (Chicago, New York and Los Angeles drew hundreds of thousands). The clips are dizzying. I never imagined such multitudes again. They poured not just through predictable rallying points such as San Francisco and Seattle but conservative communities in Texas and North Carolina.
Carbondale, pop. 6,000, had 400 to 500 marchers. I appreciate these small local marches so much for their accessibility.
Before January 2017 I had never marched, though my mother had — to protest the U.S. bombing in Cambodia, and in more recent years, supporting Obama rallies. But within a year I’ve gone to five, including for science and Planned Parenthood and peace.
This year’s march was, in its way, almost more an affirmation than the first. It represented progress, a new day in which twice as many women are running for office as a year ago, and women are streaming to the polls, crowding town meetings, writing postcards and calling their representatives. Even apart from its size, it was substance.
Laura called it energizing. “It reminds me,” she said, “to stay hopeful.”
Alison Osius is a freelance writer living in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor.