After the election, I couldn’t face my nearly six year old daughter. I couldn’t bear to look into her eyes. I felt like the entire nation had let her down. Like I had personally failed her. Being a hijab-wearing Muslim woman, there was plenty for me to be angry and scared about during the election cycle, but it was the blatant misogyny that cut to my soul. Something shattered inside me knowing that the patriarchy and sexism I had battled growing up, and eventually had given up on, was going to be a part of her legacy also.
When I first heard of the Women’s March, I was indifferent about it, and not certain I would go. It felt like a knee-jerk reaction, and I didn’t see the point. As the time grew closer, I felt a need to be with other women. Growing up with a rebellious mother and strong women in my family, I knew the kind of solace women could provide. On a whim I created a private Facebook page, and invited a small handful of amazing women, from all different backgrounds and life paths, who inspired me and supported me. I asked them to go to the Boston Women’s March with me. They replied with a resounding “yes”. They in turn invited the strong and important women in their lives, and within two weeks we had over 200 people invited via our small Facebook group.
We were an amazing group of intersectional women – mostly Muslim, with many non-Muslim allies who were going to march together. In two weeks we got to know each other, organized, met each other at poster parties and planned.
While we all marching as one, we marched for reasons as unique as each individual. Some marched as visibly Muslim women, many with their children in tow. Some marched as staunch allies to these Muslim women, who often became lightning rods for hate and bigotry. Some marched for basic reproductive rights. Others marched for the fight to keep the Affordable Care Act intact, the dissolution of which would disproportionately hurt women’s health. It seems we all marched with a particular anger and fire, railing against not just this new wave of anti-women sentiment, but against our entire collective, historical and ancestral burdens borne as women.
We gathered at a pre-selected meeting spot close to Boston Common, took a few selfies and eventually made our way haphazardly towards the Commons. As we approached the promenade, which at that point was already packed with thousands of marchers, a path started to clear. People on either side of us parted, making way for us to pass through. As we marched through, in our matching fuchsia scarves, some worn on our heads and other around our necks, the crowd around us started cheering. They whistled and clapped, hooted and hollered. We thought to ourselves, perhaps the March had already started, wondered what we were cheering for, even as we joined in, and as we continued walking. At some point during this walk, it dawned on me, on us, that these people around us were cheering FOR us. For what felt like an eternity, we walked as a beautifully diverse but united group, and people parted, cheered and cried for us. It was utterly surreal. After months, if not years, of being scared, demonized and scapegoated, we were embraced. We were held. We were loved. We were supported. We were seen. If we had turned around at that point and gone home, it would have been enough. That moment in time would have been enough – is enough – to sustain me for a lifetime.
We stayed though. We stood for hours and then eventually marched with all the women, men and children around us. At some point during the March, I leaned down to my daughter and whispered, "look around baby...all these people....they're here for YOU." Her eyes went wide with awe.
This all started as an act of desperation for my daughter. On the day of the March, I felt that I was able to introduce her to the Sisterhood -- to give her something to look forward to and to aspire towards. I was able to restore for her that sense of fierce resolve that had shattered inside me.
Waheeda Saif is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, started her career serving as a Guardian Ad Litem and working with survivors of childhood abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence. She has been with the Riverside Trauma Center since 2008, providing consultation after traumatic events, as well as conducting trainings on a range of issues regarding trauma and suicide. Waheeda teaches as adjunct faculty at Boston College and is currently volunteering as the Mental Health Lead for Ummah Health, a nonprofit focused on the mental and physical health needs of Boston Muslims. She has a graduate degree in Mental Health Counseling from Boston College, and a Post-Graduate Trauma Certificate from the University of Tennessee.