By Barbara Zaragoza
The Women’s March in Washington D.C. did not encompass a single issue. As the California Senator Kamala Harris explained during her speaker presentation:
‘You want to talk about women’s issues? Let’s talk about national security. You want to talk about women’s issues? That’s fantastic. Let’s talk about health care. Let’s talk about education. Let’s talk about criminal justice reform. Let’s talk about climate change.
Because we all know the truth. If you are a woman trying to raise a family, you know that a good paying job is a woman’s issue. If you are a woman who is an immigrant who does not want her family torn apart, you know that immigration reform is a woman’s issue. If you are a woman working off student loans, you know the crushing burden of student debt is a woman’s issue. If you are a black mother trying to raise a son, you know Black Lives is a woman’s issue. And if you are a woman period, you know we deserve a country with equal pay and access to health care, including a safe and legal abortion protected as a fundamental and constitutional right.
“When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”–(Sign at the march)
I began my day at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. standing in line at the Rockville Metro Station. There had been no line the day before, so I assumed I could get a train card easily. Upon arrival at this station, however—located about 18 miles from D.C.—scores of people waited to purchase tickets. Then, as the train stopped at each of the red line stations, people continued to pour in. We women in the train talked to one another as if close friends, even though we were strangers. The closer we got to the city, the longer the lines to catch a train became.
I disembarked at a station far away from the National Mall. As I emerged from the underground, a volunteer stood with a laminated map to explain how to find Independence and 3rd Avenues. Walking into the streets, it felt as if the march had already started. The number of people attending with signs and pink hats made it clear the number of anticipated participants – 300,000 – would be exceeded.
The atmosphere was electric. People expressed themselves through signs and chants. This was about women’s reproductive rights, climate change, the Dakota Access Pipeline, safe drinking water for Flint, Michigan, Black Lives Matter, a protest advocating for intersectional feminism, a protest against Putin interfering with the elections and, of course, a protest against Donald J. Trump. Thousands of signs told the story of why individuals had descended upon the Capitol.
“This is what democracy looks like“–(Chant at the march)
The Women’s March may have been the largest day of protest in US history with an estimated 3.3 million to 4.6 million marchers. One in every 100 Americans marched. In Washington D.C. alone an estimated 575,000 people attended.
Organizers of this grassroots movement put together the march in only ten weeks. How did they do it? Mostly through communication on social media. On Inauguration Day, the Huffington Post co-sponsored a Watch Us Run conference and Bob Bland, Cofounder of the Women’s March, attended. During the panel “How to Grassroots Organize” she explained, “…I’m also a mother and a volunteer and a wife and a part of my community. This has been very new to me in terms of grassroots activism because actually before election day, I was just a fashion executive. And so for my particular story, this is really about showing that there are points of entry for activism for folks whether they’ve been part of it before or not, and the Women’s March is one of them.”
The grassroots march in Washington D.C. lacked a few elements most of us have become accustomed to. A flurry of advertisements from corporations were markedly absent. The number of food trucks and vendors selling trinkets were somewhat minimal. Large television monitors had been set up all along Independence Avenue for us to hear the speeches, music and poetry. At times, the monitors froze. At times the loud speakers stopped working for a few moments. Nobody cared that the technology didn’t work exactly or perfectly — that’s not why we were here.
Many noted the low number of police and security. Officers were friendly, and one officer even revved up the crowd with his hands, encouraging us to chant. He also helped take cell phone photos for individuals to commemorate the moment.
Were we angry? Hell yes, we were angry. However, the Women’s March professed non-violence in their guiding principles and stuck to it. The entire day was peaceful. Zero arrests took place. People acted deliberately kind to one another. Appreciation permeated the streets. A sense of sheer awe was also present: so many people had not expected such a large crowd. It informed us that — we are not alone.
“We are here together making a chain of love to protect our families.“–(Speaker Sophie Cruz)
The list of presenters on the Women’s March website did not include the many who actually ended up coming out to speak. Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Browser (representing 680,000 voters who did not get an electoral vote because DC is not a state), Alicia Keys, Angela Davis, America Ferrera, Scarlett Johansson and Madonna spoke, among many others.
Poetry, music, speeches uplifted those who came to show their defiance of Donald Trump’s displays of bigotry and misogyny. I encourage everyone to keep this You Tube video (below) so that when you’re down, when you think your voice can’t be heard, if you lose your purpose, if you become divided amongst your friends an allies, you can listen to these speakers once again:
“This is an uprising of love.“–(Speaker J. Bob Alotta, Executive Director, Astraea, Lesbian Foundation for Justice)
Protestors stood in the cold for several hours listening to the speakers. The program went overtime by about two hours. While some began to call out “March, march, march” the crowd remained respectful and eventually turned toward the Washington Monument and began to walk even as the speakers continued.
Disorganized? I wouldn’t call it that. I’d say: less formal and regimented. Unscripted. This is what grassroots movements look like. Each protestor came ‘as they were,’ as they wanted to express themselves. A woman dressed as Princess Leia. Another wore a Lady Liberty outfit. The slogans became the most important part of the march. They made each voice, each person, each cause important:
People also broke out into chants, such as:
This is what democracy looks like
The people, united, will never be defeated
Heh, heh, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go
Can’t build a wall, hands too small
Black Lives Matter
Protect Women of Color
You’re orange, you’re gross, you lost the popular vote
Welcome to your first day, we will never go away
No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here
I, a woman, have my rights
“Women are the wall and Trump will pay.“–(Sign by marcher)
We marchers completed our day at the White House where many placed their slogans along green picket fences. The plethora of signs brought a swell of satisfaction. The White House couldn’t ignore the crowds. Neither could the media. Or Trump supporters.
“How Will You Resist Back Home?“–(Sign by marcher)
By Sunday morning, the signs had been taken down. A large dumpster contained many of them. A few people began to put the signs back along the sidewalk near the White House. As more people gathered to view them, the secret service closed the sidewalk. A tractor stood in the distance, ready to clear away the signs once more.
One powerful message of the Women’s March resonated throughout: we liberals have been complacent for too long. Many of us have sat in front of our computers, posted on Facebook, complained, but we haven’t engaged with our communities. We haven’t worked as organizers and activists, even though it can be as simple as joining a group, attending a school board meeting or going to a protest march.
- Going forward, here are simple actions you can take for the next 100 days.
- Or sign up with Project 1461 to get an action item everyday in your email.
- To get updates from the Women’s March, which will continue to be active, use your cell phone and text the word WOMEN to 40649.
- Sign up to get emails and sign petitions for our new California Senator Kamala Harris.
What about you? Do you have more ideas on how to get active?