This past weekend marked two important anniversaries for the United States of America; one year of Donald Trump in office, and one year since the largest organisation of protesters in US history under the historic Women’s March on Washington. And how did America celebrate? A shutdown of Congress after the legislators failed to negotiate extending federal funding and the DACA policy that guarantees the security of immigrant minors to stay in the US. Whatever your partisan views, a complete halt in the legislative process is not the best way to mark one year of a Presidency, especially when your party controls both the White House and a majority in the House and Senate. One would think this would guarantee the smooth progress of Republican-backed legislation, but in this case, bipartisan agreements were unachievable. In contrast, on March 20th, women and men in their thousands turned out at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool in DC to make their voices heard in support of women’s equality against the yearlong Trump administration. It was quite something.
Judging by the turnout last year, the protesters would be arriving in their thousands (despite less advertisement and awareness of the event locally due to the main march being held in Nevada this year). So, we prepped through making signs using the trusty supplies of Walmart. As soon as we got to the metro at Tenleytown to travel to the National Mall, we started seeing people in their iconic pink ‘pussy’ hats armed with homemade signs – some of our favourites read ‘November 2018 is Coming’ (for you Game of Thrones fans out there), ‘On the plus side Mar-a-Lago will be underwater’ and ‘Mike Pence has never satisfied a woman in his life’. You could immediately feel a sense of common purpose and community as we walked off the metro towards the event location, with people high fiving us for our signs which read ‘Fighting for Equality’ and ‘DC Me Polling’. It really gets you ready to march and make your voice heard (despite our British nationality).
At the march itself, people of all ages gathered around the Reflecting Pool looking up to the Lincoln Memorial where at the base, a temporary stage had been constructed for speakers. The water itself had actually frozen so people were standing in the middle of the mall, despite organisers fearing they would fall through in the bright January sun. We managed to get pretty close to the front having travelled there early, and so witnessed speakers such as Hillary Clinton’s former running mate Senator Tim Kaine, DNC Chairman Tom Perez and Minority Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi. As the theme this year was Get Out The Vote for the upcoming 2018 elections, Kaine ironically declared “if you think that the first woman President shouldn’t be mother Russia, get out and vote in 2018!” (a not-so-subtle jab at Russia’s interference in the 2016 election).
While these big names were obviously exciting to witness, I found that the women from smaller organizations were really the most captivating speeches. The organisers did a great job of representing people from all across the women’s movement with people of colour, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and sexual assault victims all being represented, amoung others. This was interesting for me as my professor here at American University who teaches my Gender and Peace Studies class told us that in last year’s March, many of her students in minorities felt as though they were not represented enough during the day for various reasons. As a male myself, I can’t speak for everyone but I admired the diversity of opinions and sentiments expressed at the march. These were echoed as people marched up from the memorial towards the White House, with chants such as ‘We want a leader not a creepy tweeter’ rallying people together. The march eventually finished at the White House, where marchers shouted ‘Shame!’ at the man inside (he was actually home rather than at his Mar-a-Lago resort which was a surprise). Exercising your First Amendment rights never felt so good.
These were echoed as people marched up from the memorial towards the White House, with chants such as ‘We want a leader not a creepy tweeter’ rallying people together.
Interestingly, I spotted two sets of anti-abortion protesters, who huddled inside a plastic square pen that they held in front of their bodies at both the Lincoln memorial and the White House. While they were peaceful, they were challenged by many of the marchers, as expected. While debate with them did not escalate to violence, there was one older pro-life protester and a woman having a heatedly debate reproductive rights, which ended in groups of women shouting ‘Shame!’ at his face and pointing fingers while he stood still clutching his sign and looking onwards. These confrontation’s always have opportunities to escalate to violent outbreaks, but from what I saw the protests were largely peaceful. It was great to see American democracy at work.
The march was rooted in the idea that women are powerful, they have a voice and must be represented in institutions. These are ideas that have become somewhat redundant under the Trump Presidency, where a man who has boasted of sexual assault sits in the very Oval Office that is meant to be an orator for peace and equality as the leader of the free world. In an age of increased dialogue about the equality of the sexes and women’s position in Western society, with recent campaigns such as #MeToo increasingly contributing to the conversation, it is still shocking that such a man sits in such a position.
Activism is a powerful tool only so long as it engenders people to get involved in politics, fight for what they believe is right, and most importantly, vote.
This march, however, proved that feminism is alive and angrier than ever. The recent Alabama Senate race, for example, in which Democratic candidate Doug Jones ousted Republican Roy Moore in a typically Red state, proved black women are extremely important to the Democratic party and progressive politics. 98% of black women voted for Jones, which was echoed multiple times throughout the day over the speakers of the Lincoln memorial. Similarly, in the Virginia elections last year Democrats gained 15 seats in the House of Delegates, which included Danica Roem, the first ever openly transgender person to serve in any US state legislature, a monumental achievement for the LGBT community.
As such, recognising the diversity of our communities and the broad spectrum of the feminist movement is extremely important to the outcome of elections and political campaigns. When women vote they make a huge difference; in the words of my friends’ sign, ‘Angry Women Will Change The World’. It is this anger and motivation that the March organisers are hoping to take into this year’s November elections, which include all 435 seats in the House and a third of Senate seats up for grabs. In political science, US midterm elections are considered as a referendum on the President, and so much of this will depend on the future actions of President Trump. However, if the turnout of the 2017 elections were anything to go by, the pendulum may now be swinging towards Democrats and a change in the demographics of Congress may be on the horizon. This is particularly apt for America as many of the speakers expressed their frustration at the shockingly low representation of women in American politics; the US—despite being an advanced country—is ranked just 104th for governmental representation of women worldwide. It’s no wonder the American people are so angry.
But voters cannot take this for granted. It is easy to get excited and passionate at a protest, but the next elections are a stretch away from now. Activism is a powerful tool only so long as it engenders people to get involved in politics, fight for what they believe is right, and most importantly, vote. In former President Obama’s words, Don’t Boo, Vote! Here’s to feminism in 2018.bookmark me