The Women’s March: What it was and what it has to be

Millions gathered around the world, celebrating women of all ages, colors and creed. Marching for equality and continued progress! It is important that we take this momentum as an igniting spark of inspiration for continued involvement.

A Comment by Jasmin Gabel

 

A day after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, the biggest single day protest in American history gathered throughout the nation and seven continents.

It was estimated that 725.000 people came out to march on D.C. and overall 3.3 to 4.6 million people are estimated to have marched across the U.S., making it the single biggest one-day demonstration in U.S. history. In comparison, 250.000 people were in attendance as Martin Luther-King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Protests in 1969 and 2003 against the war in Vietnam and Iraq respectively drew around 500.000 people.

 

From Facebook Event to Global Movement

What started originally as an idea of a woman from Hawaii quickly spread from a Facebook event with a couple of friends to thousands jumping in. Due to rapidly growing interest, the relatively small group of women gave organizational leadership to experts in activism to ensure the success of the forthcoming event. Potential partners gathered, permits were acquired, crowd funding removed financial obstacles and a mission statement was formulated.

It deserves to be pointed out that most news reports focused on the anti-Trump aspect of this march. But the mission was clear: the purpose was not to contest the election or even the individual that is Mr. Donald Trump. It was a pro-protest, march for women, for their reproductive rights, for equality in the workplace, for equality of WOCs and of the LGBT+ community.

Of course the motivation alone has been sparked by comments made by both Trump and his team during the election cycle and some protesters openly challenged the new president himself including some celebrities on stage. However and most importantly, this did not overshadow the main message of standing up for women’s rights.

 

A First Person Account From D.C.

And so I went out of the door on January 21st, making my way to the National Mall in D.C. Anxiety encircled me. I hoped that the mood of the crowd would reflect the sentiment of the mission to carry messages of positivity rather than fueling divisive sentiments of hatred towards Trump. But these thoughts were quickly squashed. Staying in a neighborhood 30 minutes away from the city center, it took only a walk to the street corner to run into the first group of pussy hat wearing women. On the ten minutes walk to the metro station, we ended up in a group of about 20 demonstrators from all corners of the U.S., plus one German. As we entered the packed station, the immensity of the day slowly began to seep in. After all we were not even in the center yet! That’s when a message of a friend of mine reached me: the metro in Virginia was shut down because of crowd sizes. They would have to take an Uber. In Virginia!  

The mood was electric. Everybody was chatting, singing and chanting together. And that is how the day continued. Because of the amount of people, it took us almost three hours to get to the actual marching route. People who climbed trees, statues or other obstacles served as the crowd SatNav, directing us towards the inquired destination. Rumors about the size of the D.C. march as well as of sister marches spread throughout, but the accounts differed so drastically that there was no way of knowing what was true. What we did know was that the amount of people showing up in D.C. had to be historical.

The actual gathering of the crowd and then marching down a pre-determined route never happened because the entire route was too packed with people, as were all the other streets surrounding the National Mall. Everybody just tried their best making their way through the crowds taking in the atmosphere, chanting and enjoying the creativity displayed by thousands of posters. We didn’t know many facts for sure, but we did know that we are witnessing history.

 

After the March is Before the Community Work

We now know for sure that we made history in D.C., New York, Chicago, L.A., London, Berlin, Rio, Seoul, Durban, at Ross Sea in the Antarctic, and so did all the other cities and communities that came out. But where do to go from here? As inspiring and uplifting this gathering was, it was a pre-emptive strike on proposed policies uttered by the new administration. It was a sign that women will not accept their rights being taken away.

But just like most successful movements in history, victories aren’t gained in a day. Be it civil rights, women’s rights or LGBT rights movements. All were marked not only by historic marches but continued protest and involvement.

During his first week in office, Donald Trump signed several executive orders taking first decisive steps toward fulfilling some of his biggest campaign promises (e.g. building a wall along the Mexican border, implementing “extreme vetting” of muslim immigrants). This has lead to continued protests throughout the country. Most notably large crowds gathered at major airports, among them lawyers volunteering their expertise to detainees.  

The same enthusiasm that brought together so many people needs now to be anchored in our communities. Be it in small (or big) town America or in other corners of the world, because active communities can be the driver for change. Marching and demonstrating remains historically relevant and powerful and may exert pressure on legislators, but to be truly effective it has to be part of a broader form of activism rooted in daily commitment. This involvement may come in many shapes and forms, from participating in volunteer organizations to writing to a Senator, Representative, local party or even donating to a cause. Everyone can find a way to speak up for a right cause.

As a German, I hope this civil rights movement will continue also in Germany as we approach an election that is set to see certain politicians mirroring the tone and sentiments of Mr. Trump.

The march has to be the beginning of a movement not a one-hit wonder!

 

The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image: Jasmin Gabel. 

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Jasmin Gabel

Jasmin Gabel (25) has a degree in American Studies from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and is now studying Intercultural Communication at Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) and Adam-Mickiewicz-University Posznan. She is involved with the Polis-Program Peace & Security.
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