Passing the mantle: Women's March participants find inspiration in America's youth
“I want my generation to solve everything,” Zöe Lucas, 15, of Stafford, Virgina, said.
Demonstrators hold up their banners as they march on Pennsylvania Av., during the Women's March in Washington on Jan. 19, 2019. The Women's March returned to Washington on Saturday and found itself coping with an ideological split and an abbreviated route due to the government shutdown.Jose Luis Magana / AP
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WASHINGTON — Leah Sahni is just shy of 2 years old, but on Saturday she attended her third Women’s March.
“She spent the first one in utero,” Harleen Sahni, 36, said of his daughter. “Obviously, we think it’s really important that she has a future, that she has equal rights and that we don’t have to worry about anything happening to her.”
Firmly planted on her father’s hip, Leah gripped a balloon in the shape of a cartoon baby Donald Trump wearing a diaper, as thousands of marchers gathered in Washington's Freedom Plaza.
Her mother, Caitlin Hopping, 33, recalled another march she attended — the March For Our Lives organized by the survivors of the Parkland shooting — that gave her hope for not only Leah’s future, but also the future of America.
“To see these really young kids who are pretty great orators, too, giving this wonderful message about how children are the future — I’m really happy that these have continued, and I hope that we can see more kids at the front of the marches, too," she said.
More than a dozen parents, college students, teens and children participating in the march who spoke to NBC News on Saturday said they’re looking to the youth of today to pick up the mantle of the marchers and continue to fight for social justice and change.
Shana Henry, who brought her daughters to the march from just outside Detroit, Michigan, said she wanted to show her children how many people from all backgrounds are fighting for equality while reminding them their fight is far from over.
“I’m a fierce egalitarian, and I know our systems aren’t set up for equality right now, and so I like them to see we have a long way to go,” Henry said.
Jacinta Henry, 14, and Genevieve Henry, 11, said their biggest priority is marching for LGBTQ issues. Genevieve added that a woman president is also at the top of her list.
“There’s a lot of things that need to be done differently,” Jacinta said. “But seeing really little people holding their signs, that’s powerful.“
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Genevieve said protest is a common topic at her middle school, and while she said she still hears her classmates joke about things like sexual identity, she said “there are definitely people that are trying to make a change that are our age. That’s important.”
“We’re going to stop the chain of people being ignorant and not teaching their children. I think we’re going to be the one,” Jacinta added.
Across the way in Freedom Plaza, Julisa White, 23, and Sierra Stevens, 21, stood in the crowd.
White, the student body president of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida, said she doesn’t feel the older generation necessarily did anything wrong in terms of how past protests have gone. She said, however, that she feels society is progressing as a whole and that young people are more “accepting of people’s individual rights.”
Stevens said her generation needs to have progressive values, because before long they will be the ones running the country.
“I think young people are the future. I think we’re the generation that’s going to be making the decisions; we’re going to be the politicians the CEOs,” Stevens said.
Echoing Stevens, Yaa Boachie, 16, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, urged older generations not to silence or ignore the younger generation of protesters.
“Sometimes I feel like, as a whole, the youth is not taken seriously as we could be … when you silence one generation or one voice, it doesn’t help anything,” she said.
Many young marchers also said that they feel young people have and will continue to ensure their movements are intersectional and diverse.
Zöe Lucas, 15, of Stafford, Virgina, who marched with a group of friends, said seeing so many young people empowered to march was a motivation for her, and that intersectionality was critical to the movement.
“When you’re a person of color, people forget you exist,” she said.
Zöe said she has faith in her generation, adding that gun violence was a top issue she was marching for.
“I want my generation to solve everything,” she said. “I want them to stop gun violence because instead of thinking about grades I’m scared someone will kill me."
Standing on the outskirts of the Freedom Plaza as many protesters passed, Kate Sergeant’s eyes welled with tears.
Standing with her 12-year-old twins, Jack and Henry, Sergeant, began to cry thinking of all the reasons she brought them to witness thousands of people march on Washington.
“This is how the system work. Everybody has a voice, and these guys are lucky because they’re white boys, but there are so many other voices that need to be heard as well,” the former prosecutor said of her sons.
Jack said he wants to continue protesting and marching for the environment, noting that algae blooms have killed the fish and destroyed the water around his home in Sanibel, Florida.
“I want to change that. I got a new rod and wheel and all that and I couldn’t use it because all the fish were dead. They’re denying global warming just to deny it,” Jack said.
Despite the bitterly cold morning, thousands of protesters, young and old, marched through Washington on Saturday.
As one-year-old Leah gripped the silver string of her baby Trump balloon, dozens of children and infants in strollers filled out the crowd alongside her.
And although as a baby, she smiled at the drumming and gazed at the sea of pink hats and signs, Sahni, her father, said ultimately, when Leah is old enough to decide if she wants to protest, he will leave that up to her.
“It’s all up to her choice, right?” Sahni said. “That’s the point — she should have a choice with what she does with her future.”
Kalhan Rosenblatt is a reporter for NBC News, based in New York.