With every minute that passed, my heart sank and cold dread slowly filled my body. I sat in disbelief.
It was the 8th of November 2016 and America had just elected Donald Trump to become the 45th President of the United States.
I had started that day filled with optimism and hope. Over breakfast I explained to my two older daughters that for the first time in history a woman was likely to become the president. As I drove to CNN’s media hub at Sydney University to watch the election results come in, I began to bask in the enormity of the precipice I mistakenly believed we were upon.
I contemplated the symbolism in shattering the thickest of glass of ceilings. I felt exhilarated. I braced myself for a truly historic occasion. I readied myself for the free world being led being a woman, who had spent her life championing for women’s rights.
I was wrong.
As the results trickled in, my exhilaration gave way to trepidation. As the outcome became more apparent, disbelief set in. Despair quickly followed.
America had to choose between the most experienced Presidential candidate in history in Hillary Clinton, and the least experienced in Donald Trump. And, they chose him.
They had to choose between a woman who has devoted her professional life to rallying against inequality and sexism, and a man who engenders bigotry, hate and sexism. And they chose him.
For anyone with even a fleeting interest in gender equality it was nothing short of heartbreaking. For the devoted feminists among us it was crushing.
Teresa Shook, a grandmother who lives in Hawaii, was one of the crushed and on the eve of the election she went on Facebook and in a popular political group wrote the first thing that came to mind: “I think we should march”.
Those five humble words sparked the Women’s March on Washington which attracted at least half a million people on Saturday. It dwarfed the crowd at the inauguration itself. At 600 sister marches around the globe, between two and three million citizens did the same.
People around the world came together in record numbers not merely to protest Donald Trump, but to rally against the hatred, the bigotry, the racism, the sexism, the xenophobia that he represents.
Naturally some people, including the President himself, have expressed scepticism about the demonstrations: what does protesting a democratically elected President achieve?
Isn’t it futile?
If the unity and momentum that brought hundreds and thousands of people out of their homes on Saturday evaporates without creating any progress for gender equality, racial equality, reproductive rights, economic equality or LGBTQI rights, then, perhaps.
But perhaps, it will be the start of a concerted campaign to address those deep-seated challenges.
Because one message that was repeated at marches around the world on Saturday was that these protests were the beginning, not the end.
In Sydney OzHarvest’s Ronni Kahn said time, money and action are the three things that communities need to create change.
The very fact that so many people congregated so peacefully, all over the world, unified behind the same issues, is powerful in itself. For individuals it is heartening: we are not alone in wanting change. We can stand together – without violence – and make ourselves seen and heard.
If the march achieves nothing else than emboldening more men and women to take steps to redress the inequality they see, that is a win.
There is power in numbers and these numbers do not lie. The crowds that gathered show – whether Donald Trump likes it or not – that there are a lot people who are opposed to what he stands for. He can dismiss it and deny it, but it will never change the fact that more people came out in protest to his inauguration than those who attended his inauguration.
From Antarctica to Africa to America and virtually everywhere in between, people took to the streets because, for reasons as varied as they are, ambivalence to Donald Trump’s inauguration was not an option.
Because if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
Because racism and sexism and bigotry are not problems isolated to America.
Because no social change has ever occurred by people staying silent on the sidelines.
Because what we permit, we promote.
That is why I was alongside 10,000 other men and women in Sydney on Saturday.
On the eve of Trump’s election, I felt hope dissipate but over the weekend I felt it return.
Not just from being immersed in a united crowd of committed, caring and passionate citizens. But upon seeing the seas and seas of people who did exactly the same thing in cities all over the world, for the same reason, at the same time. That brought me joy and gave me hope.
I am reminded of Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
We are not small so let us not doubt we can change the world. We can, and right now, we need to.