Jan. 21. The day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, and arguably one of the most divisive elections in American history, the streets of Washington DC are filled with approximately half a million people, all there for one movement-The Women’s March on Washington, to voice their distaste with the current rhetoric and political leanings of the new administration.
This historic movement began as no more than one grandmother, Teresa Shook, who was frustrated by the election results, taking to Facebook and inviting her friends to march on Washington alongside her, but grew into a march that garnered approximately 3.3 million people across the United States, and approximately 267,000 abroad. (Vox)
The March was attended by people of all types, and from all walks of life-not just women as the name may have suggested. The official website for the march lays out a mission and vision, as well as unity principles, allowing the march to have a more cohesive platform while still accounting for all of the issues people in a diverse community may face. The statement at the top of this page reads, “We stand in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families- recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”
The people in attendance all marched for varying reasons, but the underlying message was all the same, “Hear our voice”. Some marched against the misogyny seen throughout the campaign, for the protection of black and brown lives, for the LGBTQIA community, against the hateful rhetoric of the election, for survivors of sexual assault, against the characterization of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, the employment of fear mongering or dog whistle politics, and some just to voice their concern over the size of Donald Trump’s hands. Many attendees also donned pink knitted ‘Pussy Hats’, a play on the president’s own statement about grabbing women by their genitals, as a way to reclaim this sometimes derogatory term while displaying their disapproval.
Though the march was wildly successful, in terms of sheer number of participants, it was not without controversy from the very beginning. The march was formerly named the ‘Million Women March’, which many found to be appropriation of a march done by black women in 1997 in Philadelphia, to expose the issues black women of the time faced. Critics quickly raised these points, citing the fact that it was effectively erasing their movement, and was the reason many women of color were hesitant to attend such an event, especially when white feminism is prevalent and often excludes any cause that is not directly related to their own as white women. The name was quickly changed to The Women’s March on Washington, in an effort to increase intersectionality within the movement. Some critics still found the new name to be troublesome, due to concerns that it was reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.
Though efforts to be more intersectional were made, some people still were not convinced that the march was as all-inclusive as it was made out to be. One student from St. Mary’s College of Maryland who did not attend the march, Jolyn Coleman, felt from the beginning that Trump would win due to America’s unwillingness to address their xenophobia, coupled with the fact that when one attempted a conversation on race or issues of sexism, people hit back immediately, defending America as not being racist or sexist, effectively erasing the concerns of the oppressed. Jolyn concluded by stating, “I was sad to see that when individuals that were in a more privileged position than others felt what I and others have felt for years, now they want to take action.” She is by far not alone is her belief that these issues have been around, yet people are only now wanting to address them, due to certain groups losing some of the privilege they once held.
Another St. Mary’s College student, Simonne Francis, attended the march but only after careful consideration. She does not consider herself a feminist, and instead identifies as a womanist. She openly explains that she was skeptical about the march being intersectional enough, and that there might not be enough people of color in attendance. She discussed how the march was good, but said “I did not appreciate the fact that a white woman started singing a Negro spiritual, and assumed that I, as a person of color knew the words. It was also not fit to be sung at this march.” After, she explained that she felt a sense of empowerment, and was happy she decided to attend. She ended by saying, “We had a march, now what?”
Other critiques of the march exist, varying from those who do not believe that people should be marching because women have supposedly already achieved equality, and have nothing to be upset about, to those who believe the march was not inclusive enough of transgender women, mainly citing the fact that transgender women, especially those of color, will face the highest rates of violence of any women. Some also commented on the pussy hats, arguing that they imply that having a vagina is intertwined with womanhood, thereby negating certain people lacking that anatomy.
After the march, President Trump took to his ever-popular way of communication, Twitter, to hit back at those who marched, saying “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?…” Here he makes the assumption that those in attendance did not vote, but fails to realize the fact that many did, and that as a result of these votes, he lost the popular vote by approximately 2.9 million votes. Though the current president and administration are less than supportive of such protests, they do not seem to be stopping anytime in the near future. In the days since the Women’s March, protests have been held all over America, most recently and notably to address President Trump’s latest immigration ban, being nicknamed ‘The Muslim Ban’. There are also already plans for marches in the future, including The People’s Climate Movement, and The March for Science, though I expect that many more will occur in the time before these, as America is divided politically for the time being, and shall continue to be for the foreseeable future- or at least the next four years. Many issues will be addressed in the coming years, through various forms of protest, including numerous marches, as people campaign for resistance in the Trump era.
If we take away only one thing from The Women’s March on Washington, it is that first and foremost intersectionality must be a priority and the momentum must continue. Many people can all support differing causes, but they must also have each other’s backs on the causes that are less personal to them. The turnout was wonderful, but will that many allies show up to the next Black Lives Matter rally? Particularly white women who have not felt this level of oppression just based on the color of their skin. Will people still turn out for LGBTQ+ rights and communities? In general, will the momentum continue? Only time will tell, but as of yet the feeling of resistance and wanting to demonstrate is just as strong as it was on January 21st, 2017, when millions raised their voices in solidarity and aired their grievances.