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Arts / Museums

Houston Activist Artist Butts Heads With Washington D.C. New’s Power Players

When Every Steps Counts

BY Sarah Gish // 02.11.17

This is the fourth and final story in a series of artist and activist Sarah Gish’s diary, a veritable Thelma and Louise adventure, without Louise. She reflects on her solo female road trip from Houston to the Midwest, made over the summer, for her Ignite Your Life! art project. Amidst a fraught election year, Gish drove thousands of miles in search of the real America. Here’s what she found…

Ignite Your Life! project has led me down some amazing roads. As I reflected on my summer road trip, I realized it was the perfect springboard to my next adventure: the Women’s March on Washington. I was active in local historic preservation but our latest election season made it clear to me that I needed to blow my art work out to include women and many others whose voices were being silenced in our society.

Growing up in Houston, the most diverse city in the United States, I was no stranger to people of all kinds — and I was ready to stand with and for them. This was about more than just me: It was about America.

We are a country of diversity and immigrants and so many different types of people. It was important to take literal steps to keep their voices alive.

As I often do when I want to make changes, I decided to create art and to act to ensure that women and others would have rights and are treated with respect. I raised money by selling my new Rise bracelets. I made a sign out of photos I had taken, and off I went to Washington, D.C. — looking for yet another way to ignite my life.

I had been to our nation’s capital once before so I knew it would be impossible to fully explore the city while marching and reconnecting with old friends. I was only able to see the National Museum of the American Indian but it was so powerful, that was all I needed.

I went to D.C. with my friend Amanda Smith — the daredevil who accompanied on my very first Ignite Your Life! road trip in 2013 — and we stayed with my Hollins College roommate Bets Thomas. The three of us together were strong women who yearned to make the world a better place for all. I was glad to be in their company.

 

Gish in the streets of D.C., Saturday, January 21, 2017.

 

We got to the march after braving enormous crowds in the Metro stations and on the streets. Armed with our carefully created signs, we set up camp on Independence Avenue at 7th Street, wearing our pink hats and carrying our regulatory see-through plastic backpacks filled with water, sandwiches, and extra warm clothes.

Saturday, January 21 was a chilly day (especially for this Texan!) but we braved the winter weather for hours, standing up, and bonding with almost 500,000 women as we watched the speakers on a nearby screen — Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, Madonna (being incendiary of course!) — were all on hand to cheer us on.

Rebecca Shook, a retired attorney from Hawaii, told us about her simple Facebook post which was the seed that started this movement. It was at that moment that I believe every one of us felt that we each could make a difference. A simple social media post brought millions of people together.

Our boisterous group finally began marching as best we could in such a crowd, putting one foot in front of the other for people everywhere. We wound around streets, marched by businesses, snaked by the Capitol building, and ended up in the Mall by the White House. It was an incredible, once-in-a lifetime feeling to know that we were a part of history. As I kept telling my friends, “This will go down in the history books the way the Suffragette movement did.”

We were there — and I relished every moment as I let the enormity of our day set in.

I took photos, created video interviews, and admired the ad hoc poster displays all over the city. These mini-exhibitions extended the March and were a way for us to see the words our sisters and brothers in this movement had to say. In the end, organizers said there were 673 marches worldwide. And I was there!

My life will be ignited forever because I took a chance to follow a dream and to stand up for what I felt is right.

The goal of my project is to ignite lives and create connections — and it was by leaving Houston that I was able to do that in a bigger way than ever before. Road trips are good for igniting the soul and I can’t wait to see which roads will call me next.

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