Last month, Oakland erupted with one of the largest public protests in recent memory. Tens of thousands took to the streets in solidarity with women’s rights and equality. Three PEERS staff members participated in the Women’s March. They relate their musings on collective activism and mental health below:

Lyndsey Ellis, Program Coordinator:

Being part of a sister march that stood in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington helped restore my faith in humanity. Passionate supporters in many American cities and over 70 countries worldwide took to the streets, defending inclusivity, human rights, and the power of kindness. For me, one of the biggest takeaways was that people from all walks of life can work together for the greater good even, and especially, when tested. From the moment I squeezed into a crowded BART train filled with determined faces and pink knitted hats with cat ears that morning, to the time I parted with friends at Frank Ogawa Plaza and played back the day’s empowering events as I walked through downtown Oakland, I knew we were all part of something special. Something that needed to happen.

Vilma Sakalauskaite, Program Assistant:

Last week I participated in Women’s march in Oakland. I perceived the march as being peaceful and joyful, a powerful force, uniting women and those supporting them. Many of my friends attended. I met people whom I haven’t seen for a long time.

I never paid much attention to politics. It seemed to me that it is something I have no control over, something that is unfair – something that has to do with money and favoritism. I did not like the concept of political power and I have tried to disconnect. I have also avoided confrontation in the name of friendship, trying to peacefully maintain the relationships that I have. I perceive conflict as evil. It was through therapy where I learned that connections get stronger by going through conflict. Speaking up is a sign of recovery. I marched last week to celebrate the feminine: to celebrate that I have a voice, that I have two legs to march and two hands to carry a sign. Connection is the most important thing in life, yet I have to walk through fear and navigate through conflict in order to connect. We are all one by accepting ourselves, connecting to the body, to the community, to the country, and to the universe. I feel empowered by participating in life. Through solidarity with others and through using my power, I gain more control in life, more optimism: I feel stronger and better about myself.

Patrick Glass, Communications Coordinator:

Last Saturday, despite intermittent rain showers and a seemingly endless supply of muddy puddles to accidentally step in, I was lucky enough to attend the Women’s March in downtown Oakland. I have to say, I was genuinely shocked and inspired by the sheer number of people who attended: an estimated 100,000 in a city of 400,000 people.  Of the half-dozen or so Oakland protests I’ve attended over the years, this was the largest, friendliest, and most creative by a significant margin. Protest signs ranged from the antagonistically profane—“Hands too small, can’t build a wall!”—to the profoundly simple—a little girl carrying sign that read: “Peace triumphs over hate.” I came away feeling hopeful, humbled, and with a renewed faith in the decency and dedication of my fellow Americans. All in all the experience served as a stark reminder that creating a healthy, vibrant society requires more than punny hashtag slogans or pithy soundbites: it requires people coming together out there, in the sometimes crowded, mucky streets of the real world.