The Women's March

A day of protest or a new movement?


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It began organically when Teresa Shook, a retired grandmother from Hawaii was so distressed that Hillary Clinton lost the election and Donald Trump was going to be the new president, that she wanted to do something. Shook was incensed by what many of us wondered on November 9: How could an admitted sexual predator who had called Mexicans rapists, demanded a registry for Muslims, believes climate change is a hoax, started and promoted the birtherism movement against former President Obama, called for the assassination of Hillary Clinton not once but three times, mocked a disabled journalist and so many other egregious acts and comments, be the new president-elect? That something turned into the January 21 Women’s March on Washington, D.C., to be held the day after the Trump Inauguration.

                                                                                                             Teresa Shook


 

The Washington march in turn spawned Women’s Marches all across the country and the world, from Vancouver, Canada to London to Paris to Berlin to Sydney, Australia, nearly 700 marches sprang up in solidarity with American women protesting the Electoral College election of Donald Trump.

As the Washington Post reported and the Women's March official Facebook group notes, Teresa Shook's Facebook post the day after the election proposed "a call to action to forty of her friends to march in Washington, D.C." Her invitation got posted on the Facebook page of the pro-Hillary Clinton Pantsuit Nation group, which has 4 million Facebook followers. Soon, there was a movement percolating throughout Facebook. The Washington Post reported that "In the first 24 hours of the event's creation, over 10,000 people said they would attend the march. Similar events began cropping up on Facebook, with thousands of individuals also committing to attend. Eventually, all of these women's advocacy-oriented Facebook events merged into one collective initiative, which eventually became known as the Women's March on Washington."

Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote by more than two percent and just under three million votes, was referred to as The People’s President on signs and speeches. Many women carried signs reading #ImStillWithHer, a reference to the #ImWithHer and #ShesWithUs hashtags popular throughout the election season.

In an effort to ensure a well co-ordinated and inclusive event, four women well-versed in activism were brought in to coordinate: New York gun control activist Tamika Mallory, Arab American Association of New York executive director Linda Sarsour, Gathering for Justice executive director Carmen Perez, and fashion designer and founder of Manufacture New York, Bob Bland.

                                                       Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, Carmen Perez


To say that the Women’s March on Washington was a success would be one of history’s great understatements. Organizers nationwide were stunned by the turnout as women donned pink pussy hats, many hand-made, and flooded the streets with a sea of demonstrative pink.

A sea of more than three million in nearly 700 Women’s Marches.

The hats were in reaction to Trump’s now infamous audio tape, released in October, in which he declared  "You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful... I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

As it turned out, Trump could indeed do anything and people would still vote for him. While there had been a week of nervousness from the Republican Party and some half-hearted rejections of the candidate after the audiotapes were revealed, come November 8, 91 percent of Republicans voted for Trump. (By contrast 84% of Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton, whereas in 2012, 89% of Democrats had voted for then-President Obama.)

The majority of women overall – 54 percent to 42 percent – voted for Hillary Clinton, not Trump. Of those, women of color voted overwhelmingly for Clinton: 94% of black women, 87% of Asian women and 68% of Latinas.

More white women voted for Trump  53% to 47% – than for Clinton. White men were the defining voting bloc for Trump: 69%.

Trump did not respond to the Women’s Marches on Saturday, despite being in Washington, D.C. and literally within earshot of the National Mall. He did respond later, with two tweets – one intemperate, one more restrained.

Had Trump wanted to help bridge the huge chasm he’s created between the majority of voters who chose Hillary Clinton over him, Saturday would have been the time. There were nearly 600,000 women, as well as men and children, gathered to listen to speeches, protest the election and call for attention to the issues that Hillary Clinton had pledged to address, including healthcare for all, reproductive rights, equal pay, LGBT rights, systemic racism, voter suppression caused by gerrymandering and evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), DREAMers and climate change.

By contrast, the National Park Service as well as the D.C. police estimated the crowd for the Inauguration as quite low –160,000. That number was a source of great upset to the new president and he spoke about it repeatedly over the weekend, including at an event at the CIA. Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a short briefing Saturday in which he took no questions, but insisted that the Inauguration was the largest ever, adding the declarative "Period!" at the end of his statement.

But no revisionism by the president or his staff could alter the facts: three times more women showed up to march than Trump supporters showed up for the Inauguration. And watching a split screen on MSNBC Saturday afternoon as a nervous Spicer fumbled the lies he’d been sent out to tell while a literal sea of pink pussy hats swarmed Fifth Avenue in New York City as protesters moved toward Trump Tower was, well, surreal.

Having covered the Inauguration – more than 12 hours of events, from the swearing-in and Trump’s apocalyptic speech with no mention of unifying the country – I found watching the marches from my hospital bed incredibly energizing and uplifting. Whether it was the relatively small crowd of 50,000 in my own city where no doubt many marchers had planned to go to D.C. before a march was organized here, or the overwhelming crowd in Los Angeles, or any of the tens of thousands in between, it was a stunning response to the grimness of the day before, where even the Trumps themselves seemed morose.

There were, of course, controversies. One of the organizers of the DC march, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, refused to add Hillary Clinton’s name to the list of honorees, many of whom the majority of attendees had never heard of. And the march organizers used the text of Clinton’s famous 1995 "Women’s rights are human rights" Beijing speech as their mission statement, but failed to credit her. Both the elision and the plagiarism spawned a Twitter hashtag #AddHerName that had garnered hundreds of thousands of tweets prior to the march. Articles in the New York Times and Huffington Post, among others raised the question of why the woman who won the votes but not the presidency and who spawned the marches in the first place was not among the honorees. To many, the erasure seemed spiteful and guaranteed to cause dissension at a time when coalescing seemed more important than ever.

Clinton herself supported the Women’s March, and unlike her counterpart, Trump whom most if not all marchers viewed as illegitimate, made no mention of the controversy, tweeting only her support of the march and its values.

Prior to the Inauguration she had tweeted simply: "I'm here today to honor our democracy & its enduring values. I will never stop believing in our country & its future. #Inauguration"

Before the Women’s March began she tweeted, "Thanks for standing, speaking & marching for our values @womensmarch. Important as ever. I truly believe we're always Stronger Together."

And as the Women’s March began she sent out this beautiful image of unity and intersectionality:

Hillary Clinton has always asserted that the presidency was more than one person and it seemed apparent she believed the Women’s March was about issues, not just her loss or Trump’s win, no matter what spawned it. The issues being addressed by hundreds of speakers and more than three million marchers are issues of import to all Americans, regardless of who they voted for or whether they voted at all, as 40% of eligible voters did not show up for the tenth presidential election in a row.

Other conflicts were there: some disabled women felt they had been reduced to a problem for caregivers rather than activists in their own right, as disability rights activist Emily Ladau wrote

There were concerns over the erasure of lesbians. Sex workers rights became a source of contention. A pro-life women’s group that had been included in the groups supporting and supported by the Women’s March were dropped with a rather tone-deaf explanation that missed an opportunity to address one of the main issues some white women gave for voting Trump. And unsurprisingly, given who voted how, some white women felt they were being told to go to the back of the bus as the New York Times chose to amplify.

To be fair to what turned out to be an extraordinary and historic event, women are not a monolith and organizing is always complex and complicated. But going forward, it will be no less so. And therein lies the conundrum.

The motivation for the Women’s Marches was spurred not just by what many consider an election stolen from the first woman president: Trump’s already had a lawsuit filed against him on Jan. 23 and his National Security Advisor retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who tweeted fake news about Hillary Clinton being about to be arrested just days before the election, is reportedly under investigation by U.S. intelligence agencies for ties to Russia.

The motivation for the Women’s Marches was the status of women, their families, their lives in America right now. But the sheer volume of marchers begs some questions that will need to be answered in the coming weeks and months and four years of Trump’s presidency.

Some of us have voiced the same query as Trump – and for likely the only time we shall ever be in apparent agreement – where were all these people November 8

That puts the onus back on us. We all knew definitively that if we did not vote for Hillary Clinton we would have President Trump. We knew because even if the polling didn’t tell us so, everyone from former President Obama to Michelle Obama to Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren to every other progressive politician and feminist and LGBT rights and immigrants rights activist told us so.

We knew that we had the most progressive platform in our collective lifetimes and a first woman president known for getting things done ready to implement it.

So we have to ask ourselves why, when Bernie Sanders said, we have to fight Trump, this is not the time to cast a protest vote and urged people not to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson (whose own VP Bill Weld urged people to vote for Clinton) but to stand behind Clinton as he was doing, how did we get here?

But here we are and here we are going to be for at least another four years. November 9 the race for 2018 began and with it the race to re-take the Senate and as many state houses as possible.

So in the days and weeks ahead as the afterglow of the most momentous single event for women in our collective history begins to fade, will we have the strength and courage and fortitude to turn that momentum into a movement? Or will it be like spring 2016, where thousands of people turned out for the rollicking music and speeches at Bernie Sanders’ rallies, but never went to the polls to vote, either for him during the primaries, or later, in November for Hillary?

We live in a country with two parties. And while many of us, including this registered Socialist, would like to see more parties, the fact is, the will has never been there to make third parties work in America. So we have to push our agenda on the Democrats – the only progressive party we have.

The Women’s Marches made history. Women couldn’t elect a woman president but we could do this. Now we have to hold Donald Trump, president, accountable with our voices and most importantly, our votes. There are elections in November and again next year. Let’s take back as much as we can. Because on Day 1 of his administration, Trump scrubbed LGBT rights and women’s rights and climate change from the White House website and on Day 4 he signed an executive order overturning former President Obama’s funding for family planning services that save women’s lives internationally.

Our lives are on the line – they were November 8 and they are even more so today and in the days to come. We did this magnificent momentous thing on January 21. We did it with joy and elegance and without a single arrest.

We proved the power of women. Now we must keep on proving it – for ourselves, our families and all America.


Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Scripps-Howard Award, RFK Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and A Room of Her Own, senior politics reporter and contributing editor for Curve magazine, contributing editor for Lambda Literary Review and a columnist for San Francisco Bay Area Reporter. Her reporting and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Nation, Ms Magazine, Diva and Slate. Her book, Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic won the Lambda Literary Award, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her new novel, Ordinary Mayhem, won the IPPY Award for fiction and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Mystery. Her book Erasure: Silencing Lesbians and her next novel, Sleep So Deep, will both be published in fall 2017. @VABVOX

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