At The Women's March On Washington, A New Generation Of Vermont Activists

Jan 22, 2017

An estimated half a million people gathered in the nation's capital this weekend for the Women’s March on Washington. Among them were Vermonters who traveled for hours, and slept in vehicles and on floors, to add their voices to the crowd. 

Some took a 13-hour bus ride — both ways — from Berlin, Vermont to Washington, D.C., to take part in the historic event.

Aven Williams of Middlesex was one of them.

At 6 a.m. on Saturday, at a rest stop on the side of the highway of New Jersey, Williams was among the many people coming from all over the country, wearing a pink hat shaped with pointy ears.

These "pussyhats" have become the symbol of the Women’s March on Washington.

Aven Williams didn’t vote for President Donald Trump – or anyone, for that matter. She’s only 17 years old. But she was one of the estimated 500,000 people to join the Women's March on Washington.

“I feel like even though we’re not able to vote yet, I feel like a lot of people still value the voices of young people," she said. "So I think there are a lot of other ways you can ‘vote’ without really voting.”

She traveled to the march with her mother Melissa Williams and her 14-year-old sister, Sylvan Williams.

Melissa Williams was a self-described activist before having her children. Now she feels called back to action – this time, standing next to her daughters.

“I’m very worried about women’s rights and that things will be taken back 20 or 30 years,” she said, wearing her pink felted hat. “[I’m worried] my daughters won’t have the rights that people have fought so hard for us to have.”

Alissa Darmstadt, left, her son Sam Darmstadt, 17, and their friends, sisters Aven Williams, 17, and Sylvan Williams, 14, at a rest stop off the highway in New Jersey early Saturday morning, on their way to Washington, D.C.
Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR

Sam Darmstadt goes to school with Aven Williams. He came to the march with his mother, Alissa Darmstadt from Middlesex.

Like Aven, Sam is 17 years old, and has aspirations to be a human rights lawyer and Supreme Court Justice one day.

“Even though I’m a guy, I still believe that women’s rights are really important and I’m a strong believer in social justice,” said Sam Darmstadt, a self-proclaimed feminist. “Just listening to everything that Trump said and all of the other issues that regard women today, it’s a very important time to stand up."

"Even though I'm a guy, I still believe that women's rights are really important and I'm a strong believer in social justice." — Sam Darmstadt, 17, Middlesex

Other Vermont rally busses left for Washington, D.C., from Essex Junction, Brattleboro and Middlebury. Over 400 Vermonters RSVPed to a pre-March gathering with Sen. Patrick Leahy in Washington. But, reportedly, people had to be turned away because the space was quickly filled to capacity.

The National Mall was a sea of pink hats and signs with messages like "Women’s rights are human rights," and "Black Lives Matter," among many others.

The people came from every street, hung out of trees and stood up on trash cans, chanting through bullhorns.

Marchers move towards the Washington Monument in droves with messages of dissent and hope.
Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority saw eight times its regular volume of ridership during the Women’s March. By 11 a.m. on Saturday, 275,000 people had used the Metro.

On Inauguration Day, the day before, that number was 193,000 riders.

Many Vermonters in the crowd could be identified by the palm-size, green patches they wore, which read "Vermont Fight Facism.”

Sylvan Williams, age 14, of Middlesex, holds hands with fellow marchers, wearing her "Vermont Fight Facism" patch that was given out on the bus.
Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR

Aven Williams, her sister Sylvan Williams, Sam Darmstadt and their mothers made their way across the Ellipse – the field ground that directly faces the White House. They arrived just in time for President Trump’s motorcade to pull up to the White House, about a quarter a mile away, behind a barricade.

Men in suits emerged from the vehicles, eliciting boos and middle fingers from the crowd.

Sam Darmstadt took the opportunity to tell the newly-minted president exactly what he thinks of him.

“I didn’t know if [Trump] would be in the White House or not,” he said, his voice hoarse from hours of chanting. “I think it was good for him to see all these people that are yelling at him and want their voices to be heard by him.”

"I think it was good for him to see all these people that are yelling at him and want their voices to be heard by him." — Sam Darmstadt, 17, Middlesex

Sam Darmstadt turned back to the White House holding a handmade “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” sign high above his head.

Sam Darmstadt, age 17, of Middlesex, holds his handmade "I Stand With Planned Parenthood" sign as he marches towards the White House.
Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR

On Sunday, President Trump tweeted a response to the march: "Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly."

Later in the day, he tweeted again: "Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy."

The Women’s March website says 600 sister marches spanned all seven continents.

Protests happened in all 50 states. According to one crowd-sourced estimate, between 3 million and 4.5 million people marched in the U.S. alone. According to Vox, that estimate makes the marches a contender for the largest demonstration in U.S. history.

"[W]hen you look in the streets, being an activist is a choice that you make." — Aven Williams, 17, Middlesex

Standing on the National Mall in front of the Washington Monument, Aven Williams says she’ll keep raising her voice.

“I never really considered how much of a voice I really do have,” she said, exhausted from a day of marching. “I mean, I’ve seen activists and I’ve always looked up to them, but they always seemed like these couple people – these couple women especially. But, really, when you look in the streets, being an activist is a choice that you make.”

In total, Aven Williams, Sam Darmstadt and the other 52 people on their bus drove over 1,000 miles to the capital and back in order to march the historic mile-and-a-half to the White House on Donald Trump's first full day as president of the United States.

And to remind him, their voices will be heard. 

From left, Aven Williams, 17, Sam Darmstadt, 17, Melissa Williams, Alissa Darmstadt, Eve Mendelsohn and Sylvan Williams, 14, get off the 13-hour bus ride from Vermont, ready to march.
Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR