More than 150 St. Louisans traveled and slept on charter buses to join the Women’s March on Washington over the weekend.
For many, the trip was about reinvigorating family ties as well as rallying for social justice.
On Friday afternoon, Joanne Prats of Glendale and her 15-year-old daughter Emma were among a half dozen mother-daughter teams boarding a bus in Brentwood to the nation’s capital.
“I just thought this was a great opportunity for my daughter,” Joanne Prats said.
Emma Prats was excited to march for many causes.
“Like the lesbian and gay community and just racial topics like Black Lives Matter and abortion and women’s rights,” she explained.
The 50 women and girls and a handful of men on this particular bus embarked on a 45-hour round-trip journey. The majority were members of Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood.
Mecy Stanfield of Mehlville, who works at Eliot, brought her 12- and 15-year-old daughters, Asia and Faith Simms. Asia Simms said there were three things she made sure to bring with her.
“My phone, my Chapstick, and my charger, of course,” she said.
Stanfield said she wanted to march in support of racial, gender and religious equality, to pay tribute to a family legacy of moving forward.
“My grandmother moved 10 children out of the projects to give their children something more, and I feel like my mom then took the next step and tried to give her children more,” Stanfield said. “This experience right here is an opportunity for me to give my children more.”
After a 13-hour, overnight ride, they all got off the bus and boarded the Metro, which dumped them into a sea of pink pussycat hats and protest signs.
By afternoon, the crowd grew to nearly a half-million people, who chanted slogans like, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go” and “Their bodies, their rights; our bodies, our rights.”
Many including Joanne and Emma Prats said they’re concerned about the Trump administration ending same-sex marriage and reproductive freedom.
After a long day of marching and chanting, the Prats returned to the bus and reflected on the gathering.
“It was really very filled with camaraderie and the feeling of, yeah, these folks have the same belief systems that I do,” Joanne Prats said.
Her daughter was ready to do it all over again.
“If there was a part two, like right now, I would go and like run back over there,” Emma Prats said.
The Prats, Mecy Stanfield, her children and 50 others spent a second night on the bus before it rolled into St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.
As they packed up their pillows, blankets and snacks, passengers traded phone numbers and promised to stay in touch. Many said they hope this trip will spark more activism in the future.
"It was very empowering," Mecy Stanfield said.
Theirs was one of four busses that set out from St. Louis for Washington on Friday. One left in the morning, carrying passengers who would spend the night in a D.C. hotel or with friends. Three busses would serve as lodging as well as transportation, at a cost of $180 a person. A few riders traveled on scholarships.
But one of the motel-on-wheels busses never made it to the nation’s capital.
On Saturday morning, the bus broke down in a place that happens to be named Accident, Maryland, population: 325.
Riders hunkered down inside a small gas-station restaurant and waited for a mechanic. Hours passed, and by the time the bus was fixed, it was too late to make it to the march. Another bus brought them back to St. Louis.
During their wait, many including Solange Deschatres of Wildwood pulled out their signs and marched along the road of the small town. They also had conversations with residents who had, at first, seemed apprehensive about the march.
“I think it was valuable for us to spend time there, to talk to locals, to have them see that we're not bad people, and vice versa,” Deschatres said. “I think, if we did more of that, we might see people finding more in common with each other than they do now. I hope that, in some small way, our day in Accident made a difference.”
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL