“HECK YEAH!” AN INTERVIEW WITH SYDNEY WATT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON
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2400 Chew St
Sydney Watt Interview Transcription
Becca: This is Becca MacKillop in Dr. Taub’s archives and activism class and I am conducting the first interview for Oral History Assignment #1. My interview subject is Sydney Watt.
Sydney: Hi, Becca
Becca: So, I’m going to be interviewing Sydney about her participation in the Women’s March on Washington in January of this year. Sydney, can you talk about where you grew up?
Sydney: yEah! So, I grew up in Texas, the San Antonio/Austin area. Um, from a family of um, I have my mom and my dad live together, and so do my brother, my younger brother. My mom’s a stay-at-home mom, uh, from a largely conservative family. My dad is a Lutheran minister. And . . . they’re both fairly liberal.
Becca: How did you come to find yourself in Allentown, Pennsylvania?
Sydney: Okay, so I go to Muhlenberg in Allentown, and I found myself here because my mom read . . . she, like, stalked College Confidential. Com and was like, was looked at all the college um, theatre programs, I’m a theatre major. Uh, and we really liked this one. (Pause). Yeah, lil ole bachelor of arts. (Laughs).
Becca: And then you ultimately moved to Pennsylvania, your family did, right?
Sydney: Okay so that’s like . . . totally coincidental. My dad just happened to have a job offer in York, Pennsylvania. He’d previously been doing um . . . like, short term work where he would go to churches after a minister had left for . . . normally problematic reasons . . . or the minister had died and he would work with those churches and . . . he wanted a more permanent position. So . . . yep!
Becca: Alright, so that’s a little bit of background about Sydney. Um, Sydney . . . you went to high school in the San Antonio area . . . can you talk about what your high school was like?
Sydney: Yeah! So I went to a high school called St. Mary’s Hall. And prior to that, I’d been in the public school system. And so, only beginning in ninth grade I was at a private school. And it's a co-ed college preparatory school, not currently affiliated with any denomination but currently episcopalian, with strong Episcopalian roots. It was a small school, I had like 103 people in my graduating class I think.
Becca: How do you find that sentiment regarding activism, and just political leanings in general differs between your high school community and your Muhlenberg community?
Sydney: So it (laughs), it’s kind of like . . . it was like, cultural shock a little bit to go from being in the political minority to vastly the polit- the political majority. Not saying that everyone at Muhlenberg is liberal, or Democratic, or left-wing leaning but it's definitely an assumption that people who go to this school are mostly liberal. And . . . my high school was like . . . I mean it was like the heart of Texas, so it was . . . more conservative. And it was also . . . specifically the students who went to that school were of . . . they were of financial privilege. So . . .um, a lot of their backgrounds were conservative.
Becca: So, how did you hear about the Women’s March and ultimately make the decision to go?
Sydney: My mom! I . . . I didn’t actually see it on social media first, which kind of surprises me because it's a movement born of social media. But, my mom saw it before I did. And she asked if I wanted to go. And I said yes, before I really, knew exactly what it was, and then I realized like, “oh, this is going to be a big deal, sort of thing” and then I was like, “HECK yes.” And then I called you and Devin, and y’all ended up coming, and staying at my house, and then going with me and my mom.
Becca: We did indeed! Um, can you speak to the planning that took place leading up to the day of the Women’s March, and the logistical things that had to be worked out to make it possible?
Sydney: Yes. So, you, Devin, and I (we’re all Muhlenberg students) we drove from Allentown to York. And that night we stayed up pretty late because we were working on posters to bring to the march. Um, so . . . we probably went to bed at like, do you think like, midnight? One? Maybe?
Becca: Yeah I, yeah probably around one.
Sydney: Yeah, and we were getting up really early, like five or six, so we didn’t get that much sleep. But yeah, so we woke up really early the next morning, the day of the march. And we drove from Pennsylvania to, I think it was Maryland . . . and then we parked, got out of the car, and took the train into D.C, and where we got off the train was pretty much where the march was beginning.
Becca: What did that train station look like?
Sydney: Um . . . HELL. (Laughs) There were like, too many people. But also like, yay! Good! Glad there were a lot of people. Um, but yeah no it was pretty packed . . . (laughs) pretty packed.
Becca: So . . .
Sydney: I can also talk about the logistical planning of the, I think it was the ACLU app that we used? So, I think we all downloaded that. Yeah. So, it was this app that ACLU came out with, specifically for the march, where you could record on your phone . . .any sort of video or audio and it would immediately save it to their records. And, there was also like, a button that you could press, so like, so if you turned on location, the app could follow where you were. And if you pressed a certain button it would, warn other people with the app that there was . . . maybe like . . . a physical argument going on . . . or issues with policing . . . etc . . . and then it also listed all of the rights that the protestors had, so that you had that on your phone. It also gave suggestions of like, stuff to bring, stuff to be aware of . . .
Becca: So, a lot of planning on the part of the march organizers it sounds like. What did you and your mom do to plan on the individual level?
Sydney: Well . . . my mom got really cute matching backpacks! (laughs). And . . . we all made our meals beforehand. We knew, uh, generally where our stops were going to be. I think . . . I can’t remember . . . we figured out a place where we were all going to meet if we got lost, right?
Becca: I feel like we did . . . it seems like it would have been a good idea . . .
Sydney: Yeah, I think we figured out a place that we were all going to meet up, because we didn’t know if we were going to have cell phone reception . . . in that area. And also the crowd was huge so it would have been easy to lose people. We didn’t though, thankfully.
Becca: What is your most salient memory about the women’s march?
Sydney: Um, I think when I think of the march , I-I-I think of it very visually. I get a lot of images in my mind. So, I think the image that immediately pops up is, obviously the pink pussy hats, which were everywhere, and kind of like, in the middle of the sea of posters. And people that go on so far in each direction that you don’t really see where it begins or ends. And, the sense of . . . the sense of like, being a communal force.
Beccal Why do you think that that memory sticks in your mind the most?
Sydney: Well, I know that its, I know its not like a specific moment sort of memory. But um, I think just sort of on an everyday basis, it’s . . . I didn’t realize before the march how shocking it was going to be, to be like, to feel like one person in a literal sea of people. Um, and so I think that that was like the most, um, the most like, physically and visually shocking to my system. It was like, was like . . . like, every day I feel like I like, walk around as an individual and that day it was more like, like if we’re going into theatre theory, it was more like Dyonyseian versus Apolonian. Like, that was like, like the Dyonesian, like everybody coming together, like everybody kind of coming together and being a force, like, unto itself . . . Does that make sense?
Sydney: Okay. (Laughs)
Becca: Um, what was your response to media coverage of the Women’s March?
Sydney: Yeah, so I remember um, I don’t . . . I don’t think that I was, I don’t think that we were really on our phones for the most part during the march, except taking pictures and videos, so documenting it for ourselves. Um, but it was really interesting, I remember being in the train station, when we finally found a train station that like, actually had room for people to get on the trains because there were so many people. Um, I remember being in the train station, getting wi-fi reception, and seeing the overhead shots of the different marches, across the nations, and across the world. Which was like, a visual image that was, I thought it was very powerful because I didn’t realize that so many people were going to be involved outside of D.C. And of course there was the side-by-side comparison of the Women’s March and the inauguration, which was also a powerful image because the Women’s March was just so . . . . ridiculously more packed.
Becca: Yeah . . . I remember that also. Um . . .
Sydney: Oh, I also! I remember . . . I remember that, I read an NPR article, where it's about, um, it’s about the symbolism of hats. Which I thought was so interesting. Because, it was about how you could literally tell from someone’s headgear like, their political leanings which was so wild and how, uh, during this campaign, the red “Make America Great” trucker hats. It was like, it was like, the red was very passionate and very bold and . . . you know, you think of things you love but you also think of things like blood. And that The message on it was also very simple. Um, it was written in English. Um, it was written period. And that the trucker hat itself, the design of it is kind of . . . a masculine symbol. And then they talked about how the pussy hats were so interesting because first of all, they were overtly feminine. Which was like, in direct opposition of the “Make America Great” hats. And they were interesting because, while the trucker hats were all the same, the exact same, and they’d been manufactured, the pussy hats like, people had made those like, themselves. It had been like, a grassroots effort. And also there was no like, one . . . one exact style, because people used different types of yarn, they used different shades, some people used different colors. Yeah . . . I don’t know. That like, very much exemplified the difference between the two movements for me.
Becca: That’s so interesting. I remember, um, getting to your house, late at night, and being presented a pussy hat, by your mom, and being like, “no one’s . . . like, what is this?”
Sydney: Right! I only knew, like what they were because my mom’s friend Sheri was making them.
Becca: Yeah! I remember getting it and being like, “I’m not going to wear this funny-looking hat” and . . .
Sydney: Yeah! I remember that literally everyone was wearing it. I remember . . . it was either you or Devin, I can’t remember who, one of you was like, “I feel like the cool kids, I feel like part of the community. Like, because I have this hat on,” And it was also like, they were made by my mom’s friend, who couldn’t participate in the March because she lives in Texas and she mailed them from there to here, so it really showed the . . . geographical outreach of this movement.
Becca: Was there anything that you were expecting to see or experience at the Women’s March that didn’t meet your expectations?
Sydney: Interesting. I’m trying to think back. Because I don't’ really know what my expectations were. Except for when I was really, really young. Like, literally a toddler in a stroller with my mom, like, I’d never been to a march. Especially a march of like, this size. Um, so I didn’t really know what to do expect. I think I thought it was going to be um . . . more intimidating. But I wasn’t like “aw, bummer this isn’t as intimidating as I thought it was going to be,” (laughs). That wasn’t really like a down point for me. Um, but when I was reading all of the rules and regulations, there was a lot of stuff that felt really intense. Like, have stuff to like, wrap around your face in case they use pepper spray. Um and stuff like that. Yeah, also like stuff to wrap around your face so that like, your identity is concealed, potentially like, if something is going to happen. So I was like, kind of prepared for a LOT to go down. But um, the police officers, it seemed like they were on our side? Yeah, it felt like they were on our side. And a lot of them were wearing the pussy hats, so I think that contributed to it. And . . . there were also . . . I had some discussion in my Race and Performance class the following week about how . . . in some ways, it was an issue how compliant they were with us, maybe issue is not the right word. That it was something to be aware of or even like, thinking about critically. Because like, if you compare the police presence at the Women’s March in comparison with the Black Lives Matter movement marches. Because . . .I feel like the image that’s most associated with the Black Lives Matter marches is all of the police officers with all of their hats up, their shields up, in like, a straight line, shoulder to shoulder so that like, no one could pass, which is kind of what I thought it was going to be like coming into this march. But in some way so, like it’s a double standard because they’re both protest movements. And, second of all, no that you want violence from your police officers ever. You obviously don’t want that. But for them to be like, so compliant was like, in some ways the march wasn’t being taken as seriously. That like, “oh this is a bunch of women, what are they gonna do?” You know? So.
Becca: So, similarly to that, and this is something I just thought of, but, drawing comparisons between the Women’s March and the BLM movement and its associated marches, what comparisons did you see between the Women’s March and something like Gay Pride?
Sydney: Interesting. I’ve never thought about that this way before. Well, I think in Gay Pride, obviously half of that is pride. Um, which is, has the connotation of like, celebratory to me. And, I guess strangely in some ways . . . I guess, the Women’s March was a cathartic event in some ways and I don’t know if I would call it “celebratory” per se. But, because you know, sometimes there was some pretty angry chanting. But also there was some pretty silly chanting . . .and so . . .the tone shifted where sometimes it would feel really serious and then other times it would be like, “Oh, here’s Madonna, you know, singing a pop song, concert style.” I’ve never been to a gay pride, I can only . . . Or a BLM protest, so I can only pull from what I’ve seen in media.
Beccal Well, thank you Sydney for your time.
Sydney: Thanks for having me, Becca!