On January 21, thousands gathered for the Women’s March on Washington. What began as a grassroots event, born from a simple post-election Facebook post, grew to more than 600 events and millions of demonstrators globally.
That same Saturday, Publicis New York filled two buses with impassioned colleagues and drove to Washington to show the world how loud #PublicisRoars. Among them were Liza Oestreich, Technology Operations Manager and and Madhu Malhan, VP, Director of Creative Branding, two of the trip’s organizers.
Now in the wake of this historic event, we caught up with Liza and Madhu to learn more about their experiences that day and talk with them about why standing up and speaking out matters.
What was the Women’s March like for you personally?
Liza Oestreich: The March was a fabulous experience. It reminded me that there are millions of people globally who feel similarly about the direction that the country is heading. Together, we were all willing to stand up and say that this direction is not OK, and that we’re going to do something about it.
Madhu Malhan: Overwhelming. During the bus ride to D.C., I found myself getting emotional just seeing the number of buses and vans heading in the same direction. I tend to get weepy at any demonstration of human spirit or movement—I cry at the Marathon, I cry when I vote—so this was not unusual.
Is this your first time marching or attending an event like this? What was your first experience as an activist?
LO: I went to Mount Holyoke College (one of the Seven Sisters—you can also thank us for the modern A-F grading system), which is an all-women’s institution. Activism is ingrained in the culture of the school, especially regarding women’s rights. So I’m a firm believer in the value of protesting to make your voice heard. My first protest was with Take Back the Night, an organization that combats sexual, relationship and domestic violence. The event was at UMass Amherst, which at the time was known for wild Friday night parties on their, now demolished, Frat Row.
MM: I’ve participated in smaller demonstrations in the past, but nothing like this. The closest to a crowd that size that I’ve been in was at Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity in 2010.
What lit the fire for you to be heard and join the movement?
LO: I had wanted to go down to D.C. to join the March, but was hesitant to go alone. When I learned that Publicis was considering taking a couple buses down, I jumped at the opportunity to help organize and make sure that everyone going had a safe and enjoyable experience. This was the first protest for many of the participants and, understandably, there was some anxiety. I was glad to help organize.
MM: Like many others, I was shocked and appalled at the result of the election. I spent a lot of time on social media that night and came upon Teresa Shook’s invitation for a women’s march in Washington to protest. Having gone to the Rally to Restore Sanity with friends, I immediately decided to organize a bus, split the cost with friends and join the march. When I mentioned it at Publicis, the response was overwhelming. Within a half hour I had about two-thirds of the bus filled. Someone said, “Since there are so many of us, maybe Publicis would pay for a bus so I decided to approach our New York CEO, Carla. Honestly, I was blown away at how quickly she said yes. In the end we had two buses, carrying 100 people toward what was a truly epic demonstration of solidarity.
What was your favorite memory from the day? What will stay with you the most?
LO: More than the sheer volume of people, it was the camaraderie that struck and moved me. People of all colors, nationalities, socio-economic classes, genders, sexual identities and ages came together on a single day with a united cause. That’s powerful.
MM: The creativity of the signs made me smile. The chants filled me with hope. The size of the crowd and the feeling of camaraderie were unbelievable. I was amazed at how congenial everyone was.
For example, there was a medical emergency near us at one point with no STET around. We were packed like sardines and the people close to the woman started pointing in the direction of the emergency and chanting “medic.” Gradually, the chant spread so that even people half a block away were pointing toward the emergency and chanting. Pretty soon there was an ambulance parting the crowd and the woman was taken away.
What advice would you offer someone who was on the fence about being involved or making their voice heard?
LO: Speaking up can be scary, but if you don’t speak up, no one will ever know how you feel or what you want the future to look like.
MM: Malalai Joya said, “The silence of good people is worse than the action of bad people.” All those people who stayed home and didn’t vote during the last election could have made a difference! Speak up. Stand up. Be counted.
What was it like to share the experience with your colleagues?
LO: I’m so glad I got to share this experience with my coworkers and other members of the Publicis Groupe community. I loved having the opportunity to get to know my colleagues outside of the office and learn more about what is important to them. We joked quite a bit about how we were using the “Power of One” to influence change that we believe in. But, jokes aside, I think that has some truth.
MM: Amazing! It was wonderful to share the experience with like-minded coworkers. It made us all appreciate the company we work for and the people we work with.
In a sentence, why does marching matter?
LO: No one will know what you are thinking or what you want if you don’t tell them. We are at a defining moment in history; we can stand by the sidelines and watch it happen or we can join in, create meaningful change and influence our future.
MM: This is a scary time in our country. It is more important than ever to speak up so that we don’t normalize things that are wrong in politics. I was blown away by the spontaneous demonstrations that sprang up at airports around the country this weekend after the immigration ban. I think this administration has woken up the silent majority.
Anything else you would like to add or say to the Publicis New York family about your experience?
LO: I love this quote by Hillary Clinton: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful—and deserving—of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
MM: We work with good people. We are stronger together.