I had the privilege of joining an estimated 100 000 people at the Women’s March in London on January 21, 2017. I got off at Marble Arch tube station to walk over to the U.S. Embassy and was immediately greeted by a trail of pussy hats and placards. I followed, tucking my google maps away. We took off together en mass, with helicopters circling above and media personnel snapping pictures. After over three hours of marching, we arrived in Trafalgar square to find it completely filled with fellow Women’s Marchers.
I looked out from the steps of the Canadian Embassy in absolute wonder. It’s truly amazing that so few people were able to create a movement so large. Power, it seems, is not just vested in politics but also in the sheer will of everyday people to tap into an issue with a global pulse. The steps of the Women’s Marchers were the heartbeat of this pulse, everybody marching with women’s issues in mind and connected internationally through this one commonality.
It was incredible to see how widespread the march was as people tweeted and instagrammed their first hand experiences. The connectedness I felt, to the fellow marchers in Trafalgar square and all over the world through social media, was inspiring beyond measure.
The Women’s March website defines the march as:
“answering a call to show up and be counted as those who believe in a world that is equitable, tolerant, just and safe for all, one in which the human rights and dignity of each person is protected and our planet is safe from destruction. Grounded in the nonviolent ideology of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s March was the largest coordinated protest in U.S. history and one of the largest in world history”
The Women’s March was a big deal. But just like I stopped at Trafalgar Square, the Women’s March had to stop somewhere. The popularity of the Women’s March has dwindled and the organizers face the challenge of keeping the marchers engaged and inspired to take further action. The momentum created by the march was electric, during the march. Now, will the march go on and if so, where does it go from here?
Although ironic, Donald Trump is in part, to credit for the Women’s March. Without his politics being an overt example of everything intersectional feminism is against, there was no common enemy for people to point to. Latent interests turned into a fire when Trump ran for president, becoming an entire wildfire of marchers after his inauguration. As much as many women were motivated by Trump and his platform, he was never the sole purpose of the march for the organizers. The March continues on because it separated itself from this presidency after the actual March finished.
In the months following, the Women’s March organizers have promoted various acts of resistance, most notably with their campaign of 10 actions in 100 days over social media. Actions promoted by the Women’s March organizers include telling followers to call senators to stop confirmation of Jeff Sessions and Betsy Devos. Following the imposed travel ban, Women’s March organizers backed the #nobannowall and promoted ways to resist the ban.
On March 8th, the Women’s March organized A Day Without a Woman with three clear guidelines for participators as follows; do not engage in work, no spending money, and wear red in support. On April 13th, there were local vigils held throughout America for #WomenforSyria to show solidarity with the people of Syria. With #He, they advocated for ending felony disenfranchisement. They’ve also encouraged their followers to divest from major banks funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. On July 14th, the Women’s March has organized a protest for #NRA2DOJ and states that “threats of violence can’t and won’t stop us”, promoting the theme and mission echoed in their published letter to the NRA. Beyond these main examples, the organizers have also advocated for climate change issues, trans issues, and issues around police brutality like Black Lives Matter. With this diverse list of campaigns, it seems the Women’s March recognizes the need to represent a plethora of issues and seeks to establish itself into the framework of American politics not through fighting with one president, but through the collection of small but meaningful actions by everyday people.
The Women’s March has not had as great an impact globally compared to it’s impact in the United States, despite the large number of international protesters that participated in the first March. Trump explains this in part, as he is promoting issues and policies that Women’s Marchers are protesting against. He is a reasonable political figure for Women’s Marchers to devote energy to, both globally and domestically. On the other hand, the world and it’s women do not revolve around Trump. There are numerous other issues in global feminism that may not be being dealt with adequately because American issues are being presented as the focus. The Women’s March is doing an excellent job of representing a diverse set of issues, as exemplified above, within the United States, but globally, it’s falling short. The Women’s March Global has a mere 5,750 followers on social media, whereas the Women’s March page has 494,000. There is both a platform problem, with the actual organizers giving less focus to global issues primarily, and an engagement problem, with significantly fewer Marchers actually keeping up with that aspect of the movement. Beyond anything, it’s critical for the work to continue. The Women’s Marchers cannot stop literally or metaphorically marching.
Moving forward, the March must establish itself as not about Trump and more feminist issues. The Women’s March organizers faced two challenges when the march finished; to keep marchers engaged and to broaden, while clarifying the distinct purpose of, their movement beyond just being anti-trump. Their platform is likely one of the most diverse and inclusive platforms a movement has ever presented. This is an aspect of the movement that must remain. It may seem contradictory, but the Women’s March needs to be less about women. By promoting inclusivity and diversity, the March can extend its platform and scope beyond women’s issues and in turn, promote the intersectional vision feminism is centered around. Intersectionality is a strength of the Women’s March. It gives the Women’s March more power by extending its influence beyond just the main circle of pussy hatters.
The signs from the recently concluded March on London lay discarded later in Trafalgar Square, littering the otherwise clean streets of London. The placards were in heaps, as if they were books already read. The challenge for the Women’s March now is to keep the heartbeat alive, to continue inspiring and empowering its diverse group of marchers to engage politically.
The march is done, but our work here is far from over. I know that the Women’s March was historic, but whether or not it has changed the course of history is yet to be determined. As Rebecca Solnit argues in her topical novel “Hope in the Dark”, “Cause and effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways.”