We are all riding high from the marches this weekend. I could never have predicted how much it would heal me, and how much it would instill Obama-style hope for the future. When we are knocked down – and we will be – we can point to this moment and say, “this is why.” And we will keep trying, knowing our sisters stand behind us.
I know it’s hard to remember, but we were really terrified of John McCain and Sarah Palin. We mobilized, we spoke, we won.
My imagination is running wild with fantasies that a diverse coalition of women will usher in our progressive future. And I believe that if anyone is prepared to resist, it’s women. We have so much at stake. If Trump and ISIS can rise to power using Twitter, imagine what we can do. Feminism isn’t a fringe, extremist movement, and the sheer volume of marchers proved that. I hope Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan looked at photos of the marches last night and this morning and thought, “maybe we cannot take as much as we thought from these people.”
Marching is an American tradition, and often leads to change. The big question is whether people are going to carry this momentum home with them – that will determine the change we see. I know we will; I have faith in us. In fact, the Women’s March is already setting a plan in motion to capitalize on their huge audience and all this momentum and optimism we all feel right now. A brief overview of some of our history’s significant marches:
March for Women’s Suffrage, 1913
It wasn’t the first march, but it was the first one that led to a series of political events that ended up with the 19th Amendment. Many of the over 5000 women who marched were assaulted, abused, and arrested. Fortunately, the very visible mistreatment of these women gained them political allies. Between that parade and the passage of the amendment in 1920, women such as Alice Paul continued to protest and demand attention from huge racist Woodrow Wilson, and earned themselves jail time. He largely ignored them – they screamed and broke the law to get attention, over and over again. Eventually, Wilson changed his tune, in part due to other countries giving suffrage to their women, and the 19th Amendment passed.
(I want to make note of the fact that the Women’s Suffrage movement was incredibly racist, and purposefully left out women of color, which is among the reasons there is a racial divide in feminism today. White women owe a lot to these brave suffragettes, but it’s understandable when women of color feel differently.)
Bonus Army March, 1932
This march consisted of about 20,000 WWI Veterans who were to be awarded bonuses in 1945. Due to the Great Depression and general desperation, they marched because they needed them sooner. The protest lasted weeks, until President Hoover turned the army loose on them. This horrified the population to the point that it is blamed for Hoover losing the 1932 election to FDR. When they demonstrated again in 1933, FDR sent his wife, Eleanor, to listen to the veterans and in turn, she promised them positions in the new public work relief program called the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The most significant change did not come immediately, but the end result was the passage of the GI Bill, allowing veterans to attend college for free, which is one of the most significant progressive programs passed in the 20th century.
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963
This is where MLK made his “I have a dream” speech.
An estimated 200,000 attended this march. It happened during a moment when there was civil rights legislation being filibustered in Congress, and created momentum and energy that eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
The reason the march ended up effecting change was that it kicked off activism on a local level, including voter registration drives and more marches. King convinced people to be active and engaged.
Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, 1987
The march occurred at a time when AIDS was understood as a disease for gay men and had started ravaging the community, all the while being fully ignored by Reagan’s government. Approximately 200,000 protestors descended on Washington. Its legacy was that it helped mobilize the movement, leading to the passage of the Ryan White Care Act, which was a federally funded program for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Significance of our Women’s March on Washington
An estimated 2.6 million people marched in the US alone, making it our largest protest in history. Weird, that’s almost the exact difference between Hillary and Donald Trump’s popular votes! Every march had triple, quadruple, quintuple the number of attendees they expected. In DC, the route had to be expanded to accommodate.* Yuge.
I hate to say it. Trump – with all his cards on the table, telling us exactly who he is, and literally personifying oppression and bigotry and corruption – he might be the exact thing progressivism needed. He is a commonly accepted 80s-style bad guy who millions around the world have rallied against. There has been a brilliantly disguised movement to disenfranchise, un-educate, and oppress people in the western world throughout the world over the past few decades. Trump has not only taken the mask off in a way that makes it difficult even for moderates to deny; he is also willing to throw his allies under the bus when it suits him. He is the perfect villain.
A united front against conservatism and white supremacy can form with an offensive, easy-to-find enemy. Hopefully we will not have many casualties in the process.
Reverend Dr. William Barber (leader of North Carolina’s NAACP) thinks this is the start of a period of Reconstruction. Barber agrees with Van Jones when he pointed out that we are currently experiencing a “whitelash.” Comfortingly, we are in familiar territory in many ways (something I think many of us, particularly white and privileged, have forgotten). Does this sound familiar? He’s referring to post Civil War Reconstruction:
Conservatives began to wail against taxes. The cry about cutting taxes was an effort to end the First Reconstruction by keeping the state governments unable to fulfill the promises of the post-slavery economy and to lift up the former slaves. They wanted to keep the fusion coalition from expanding opportunity and enlarging democracy and supporting public education.
Why were they doing all of this — rolling back voting rights, taking away criminal justice reform, and undoing equal protection under law? They said they wanted to “take back America.” They said “we came to redeem America.” Look at that word “redeem” — they used moral messages for immoral activity. And by the turn of the century, all of the gains of the First Reconstruction had been overturned.
I really hope so. The thing is, we can make this whatever we want it to be. It’s not that it’s symbolic of this historical pattern or that one; it’s that we need to see its potential and capitalize on it. See also: Sikh activist Valarie Kaur, speaking at the Metropolitan AME church on New Years’ Eve. Her question is, “What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but of the womb?” What if we are not experiencing a death at all, but that we have been in labor for a long time and are about to give birth?
I got both the video and the Barber article from a feminist forum I participate in.
We will not know until years from now what, if any, significance this massive protest holds for the course of history. But we are in a position to affect it.
In the coming days I’m working on collecting information on the leaders of our resistance so you can be informed and make a plan, but in the meantime:
- Thank the people in your life who marched, especially if they traveled or are physically disabled or made any other special sacrifice. If you were able to march but others weren’t and wanted to, tell them you were thinking of them.
- Register with the Women’s March on Washington for their 10 actions for 100 days plan.
- If you haven’t already, post to Facebook about how you feel right now, so you remember it in a year. If not Facebook, maybe set a calendar alert. This time next year, we’ll be gearing up for midterm elections.
- Get to know the sponsors and partners who helped make the march a success, and consider supporting them.
- Boycott the following companies (and any others you know of – the list is endless) who are anti-woman or anti-LGBTQIA or otherwise anti-progressive (click links for information about why):
- Give yourself a day or two to bask in sisterhood and hope and then wake up ready for action.