Women’s March on Washington: Solidarity and Controversy
In the early morning hours of November 9th, 2016, Teresa Shook, a retired lawyer living on the Hawaiian island of Maui, turned to social media, like many others, to vent her frustration over the results of the U.S. election.
But instead of crafting a long-winded paragraph about the potentially detrimental consequences of a Trump presidency or participating in the #NotMyPresident hashtag trend, Shook decided to post a simple five-word statement in a politically-oriented Facebook group page: “I think we should march.”
“I was in such shock and disbelief that this type of sentiment could win,” she told Reuters. “I didn’t have a plan or a thought about what would happen… I just kept saying, I think we should march.”
She created a private Facebook event, invited a few friends, and didn’t expect much to happen. However, she awoke to find that the event page had gone viral, and this past Saturday, Shook’s idea came to fruition in the form of the Women’s March on Washington.
From the main march in D.C. to marches in solidarity across the country and worldwide, all in all, almost 3 million men and women of all ethnicities and backgrounds came together to voice their support for basic human rights. The march’s focus was particularly on issues concerning women and marginalized populations.
Ultimately, the demonstration shaped up to be the largest march in reaction to a presidential inauguration and potentially the biggest protest in U.S. history. Other notable post-swearing in marches include the anti-war protests after Nixon took office in 1969 and 1973 and the 20,000-people demonstrations that took place alongside Bush’s inaugural parade.
These recent marches drew six-figure crowds, such as the half a million participants in the Capitol and about 250,000 in Chicago—so large that actually marching became logistically infeasible. However, that is not to say there was any shortage of activity on Saturday. The D.C. march featured a star-studded rally with the likes of Gloria Steinem, Michael Moore, and Ashley Judd getting the crowd ready to go. By 1 p.m., the scheduled march start time, Independence Avenue was tightly packed for almost twelve blocks with people smiling, shouting, and waving their homemade signs. Marchers flooded the nation’s capital, donning those signature pink knitted caps, fondly known as “pussy hats” as a response to the notoriously lewd comments that President Trump made in a 2005 conversation with Billy Bush, that have come to represent the movement.
Yalies decided to show their support for the march in a variety of ways, from making the trek down south to participating in a rally here on campus. Several buses departed from the Women’s Center, the Afro-American Cultural House, and other organizations that offered seats to students. Other students flocked to trains and rental cars for the journey.
“After a particularly punishing election in which so many groups were demeaned and true hate was exposed, it is important to send a message to the new administration and frankly the entire world that Trump’s rhetoric and policies are not something we support,” said Tom Battles, ’20, who participated in the D.C. march. “I attended the march this Saturday to stand with oppressed people of all kinds, including women, even though I am not one. Resistance against an oppressive power requires an intersectional response.”
Back at home, the rally at Yale featured activist chalk art and a performance on behalf of Whim-n-Rhythm, an exclusively female seniors-only a capella group. Garima Singh ’20, a Women’s March liaison for Yale, explained the purpose of organizing a “Sister March” at Beinecke Plaza on Saturday for those who weren’t able to make it to the nation’s capital this past weekend.
“[The purpose of the rally was] to show support for the people marching in D.C. and around the nation. There are many at Yale and in and around New Haven who support the WMW and what it stands for, but were unable to make it to D.C. for many reasons,” said Singh. “We [the Yale WMW college liaisons] wanted a Sister event at Yale so that those people could participate in the WMW movement as well.”
Although many were left feeling inspired by this global show of solidarity, there was a fair amount of controversy surrounding the demonstration. Many criticized the event for its exclusivity and promotion of “white feminism,” one such critic sharing a now-viral photo of an African-American woman with a sign that read, “Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump,” walking in front of white women taking selfies.
Angela Peoples, the woman featured in the forefront of the picture, is a progressive advocate and Director of GetEQUAL, an organization that promotes LGBTQ equality.
“We need to be really honest about why we’re here,” Peoples told The Root in a recent interview. “There was a sense for me of being at the march and in community with folks that were wanting to resist this horrifying reality, but also not wanting folks to get complacent.”
The President’s response to the Women’s March has been a mixed bag. While Press Secretary Sean Spicer was concerned with clarifying the Inaugural crowd size, early that Sunday morning President Trump tweeted the following: “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”
But a mere 96 minutes later, he changed his tune: “Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”
Let’s hope he sticks with the latter view for the next four years.