They rode a ‘peace train’ to the Women’s March and found community

It was Saturday morning, but the crowds at Poughkeepsie’s train station in upstate New York looked more like weekday rush hour.

The assorted posters signaled the multitude of reasons people were heading to the Women’s March in New York City, some 80 miles down the train line hugging the Hudson River:


I Stand With Planned Parenthood.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

I live in a s***hole country.

As the 8:51 approached, organizers shouted directions over the brass marching band clamoring in the middle of platform, aptly named Tin Horn Uprising.

Participants in this Hudson Valley “peace train” were to board the same car so they could sing, chant and build momentum as more people joined them on stops to New York’s Grand Central Station.

This wasn’t Maura O’Meara’s first time wrangling crowds. One year ago, she helped organize a caravan of buses from the Hudson Valley region to Washington for the inaugural Women’s March.

Back then, she said she was sad, angry and still in shock over US President Donald Trump’s election. Going into this year’s march, however, she said she feels more hopeful than she did in 2017, despite the tumult of Trump’s first year in office.

“People are paying attention now in a way they haven’t before,” she said. “There’s only good things that can come from that.”

O’Meara has seen it in her community. After the DC march, another Hudson Valley demonstrator decided to run for office in O’Meara’s hometown, and won. Now deputy mayor of the village of New Paltz, K.T. Tobin said she shared O’Meara’s hope even as the administration continues to disgust her. That’s why Tobin going to march again this year, to continue building momentum, she said.

“The need is even more urgent.”

As the train left Poughkeepsie, organizers passed out leaflets with chants while others put the finishing touches on signs. The train rumbled south, frozen chunks of the Hudson visible through its windows.

For many, it was their second Women’s March, but not so for Ellen Marx. Trump’s election was too “demoralizing” to get her off her feet last year, despite a lifelong activist streak.

As a college student in the 1960s, she protested the Vietnam War. Then, in the 1970s, she fought for the passage of the Equal Rights Act. In the 1980s, Iran-Contra was her issue.

“Those were single-issue times,” said Marx, 64. “This is all-encompassing.”

She might have sat out this year’s march if not for her child sitting across the aisle. Moss Sherman, 19, identifies as gender-neutral and goes by the pronouns they and them. Just the other day, Sherman said someone on the street shouted “queer” at them in a derogatory manner. The memory of it brings tears to Sherman’s eyes.

“Trump has brought so much fear to so many people,” Sherman said. “I just want my identity to feel supported.”

Unlike other protest signs bearing strident messages, Sherman said they chose a personal message to encourage empathy for all.

“I am hurting and I know you are, too,” it read. “Our struggles may differ but I love you and support you endlessly. Together we may overcome!”

In the background, as the train pulled out of Peekskill, O’Meara broke into the classic protest chant, “This land is your land.” She clapped and clapped, and others joined her.

From the seat behind Sherman, Merrill Sunderland leaned forward. She acknowledged that the group she belonged to, League of Women Voters, struggled to be more inclusive of people like Sherman, in part because of its name.

“We need to make clear this is not just a women’s movement,” she said. “This is a movement for anyone’s who’s suffering under this administration.”

In a folder in her lap, she held a pile of reproductions of a League of Women voting poster from 1907. Her reasons for marching this year are the same, she said — as a Unitarian Universalist, activism and social justice are part of her world view. On a personal level, the camaraderie of a march fortifies; it helps her deal with “the strain of living in an uncertain political climate,” she said.

Sunderland joined the crowd in song as it switched to another mainstay modified for today’s event.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

At the women’s march, I’m gonna let it shine…

At the Tarrytown stop, the car swelled with more adults carrying signs and a handful of children with rainbow hair.

Buoyed by the growing crowds, O’Meara belted out an improvised call-and-response at the top of her lungs:

“Look out New York… we’re coming to town!”

A group of women wearing red T-shirts of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America filled the aisle. One of them, Patricia Colella, said her reasons for marching were the same as last year but had grown more urgent in light of the spate of mass shootings that dominated 2017, she said.

As crowds filled the aisles, the conductor came through and asked them to move to another car. By then, the other cars had filled and there was nowhere for them to go.

As the train pulled into Grand Central Station, O’Meara issued one more call-and-response in honor of Rep. Maxine Waters, who immortalized the phrase last year:

Reclaiming our time!

The peace train members made their way through the terminal and out to 42nd Street. They walked toward Sixth Avenue for a preview of the march route, still waving their signs and chanting. Outside the train their ranks seemed thinner as they mixed with pedestrians near Bryant Park. Some stopped to take pictures of their signs while others impatiently pushed past them.

“This feels different from last DC,” O’Meara noted. “Last year, the crowds stretched for miles. Here it’s like business as usual.”

The mood shifted yet again as they approached Central Park, where a pre-march rally had begun. Janelle Peotter, a member of Tin Horn Uprising, the brass band from Hudson Valley, raised her sign for a photo op: “Well behaved women rarely make history.”

Peotter, 58, has a daughter who lives in Hawaii. She was texting with her the other weekend when a false nuclear threat went off there. In those 38 minutes, she said she never felt more scared in her life.

This morning, she said, “I texted my three adult children and said I’m marching for your future.”