By Patrick McArdle
She may have been in Washington, D.C., as one resident of a small state, but Rutland High School senior Molly Engels said the experience made her feel like a powerful woman.
“A lot of people say, ‘Your vote is your voice,’ and so, in this case, since I didn’t have a vote, my only option left was using my voice,” she said. “I thought that going to D.C. and being there surrounded by women would be something that I could then go and someday tell my daughter about and say I was there, and I was fighting and was doing everything in my power to kind of accomplish and gain these rights and stand up for what I believed in.”
Engels, a 17-year-old from Rutland, was at the Friday inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States and at the Women’s March on Washington the next day.
Engels called that Saturday “one of the most amazing days that I can think of.”
“It was a really cool feeling to look around and know that everybody was there for some of the same exact reasons, but each person obviously had their own story of why they got there,” Engels said. “To look around and see and know that everybody’s life has led them to this exact moment and we’re there and we’re fighting for something that we believe in so strongly.”
She said she had known since April that she wanted to be at the inauguration.
But she wasn’t there without fellow Vermonters. On Saturday, she started the morning at a breakfast hosted by Sen. Patrick Leahy and his wife, Marcelle.
Engels said Leahy “was my version of a celebrity” but said on Saturday she also saw political activist Angela Davis, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Moore, and said singers Madonna and Alicia Keys were just 10 to 15 feet from her.
While Engels said she left Leahy’s event with other Vermonters, when she got to Independence and Third, she “weaseled her way to the front of the stage” and listened to the speakers, then joined the march and got as close to the White House as possible.
Engels said there were many reasons she wanted to be at the march, and said the biggest was, “Why not?” “I guess the whole thing was, I have a voice in this and I can either choose to just kind of let things happen the way they are, or I can know that I went in and did what I could in order to achieve that whole equality and everything that everybody there was for,” she said.
Asked by Rutland High School principal Bill Olsen if her time at the school had prepared her, Engels said it had.
Engels has been politically active at RHS and was one of the student leaders in the anti-bullying group, Cyber You, who pushed Apple to delete an iPhone app that had been blamed for some bullying attempts.
“There’s never been a question of, ‘Do I have a voice as a student?’ because through everything, I’ve always known that. I do. As students, every single student here can go out and say, ‘This is my voice and I want to use it and do everything in my power to possibly get something and anything done,’” she said.
After graduation, Engels said, she plans to go to college. She said she would like to pursue a double major in political science along with business and marketing.
Engels said she hopes to end up in Washington, D.C., and said her dream is to get elected as a senator or president.
After her most recent political experience, witnessed firsthand in the nation’s capital, Engels said she noticed the difference between Friday and Saturday was that on Saturday, the “mood was a lot lighter, and I was not shocked by the things that I was hearing around me.”
She said she thought people on Friday were seeing the end of an effort and just wanted the election season over, while people on Saturday were “just starting,” and “riled up and ready to go.”
But Engels said that she believed that for her and other women, the motivation for action on Saturday was fear.
“The biggest thing that I hear people were chanting was ‘We won’t go back.’
“If something happens and those rights go away, it’s going to take a whole lot more work to get to where we were again right now. So it was a weird sense of fear in knowing, if we don’t jump in now, then we don’t know what’s next. We don’t want to see things that we have now go away and then have to go through the motions and fight for it and gain that stuff back,” she said.
As a young person, Engels said, the experience gave her hope.
“I think walking away, I have a lot more strength and power and courage to do these things that I’ve always dreamed, but then I know that it’s possible. So it’s no longer an idea, but now I see a pathway,” she said.