The contrast couldn’t have been greater: a soulless inauguration ceremony, full of foreboding and lacking in poetry, followed by an outpouring of spirited protesters, most of them women, into the streets of cities and towns across the United States and throughout the world. Millions of them.
That the Women’s March on Washington drew far more people to the nation’s capital on Saturday than did Friday’s inauguration of Donald J. Trump clearly irked the new president, who sent his press secretary to the White House press room to issue a statement condemning the media for stating the simple fact that a modest numbers of Trump supporters made the trek to Washington for the showman’s swearing-in, especially when compared with the two inaugurations that preceded his.
If Trump hoped to deflect attention from the women’s marches taking place nationwide, he failed. But he did throw yet another shiny object before the media, one they had no choice but to chase, the object having been pitched from the White House podium.
On Tuesday, Trump lashed out at the women of the world by issuing an executive order that will likely have the effect of depriving women in developing countries of access to birth control. While the order is framed as a denial of U.S. funding to groups that provide information on abortion, Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch reports the effect of that order as impacting a portion of U.S. aid estimated to be 15 times greater than the Bush administration’s gag-order policy on abortion, the Trump order being designed to target a broader range of humanitarian groups that provide information on reproductive health care to the people they serve. The photo of Trump signing the order shows the president surrounded by white men and no women.
THE ORIGIN OF THE Women’s March was notoriously contentious. It began with a couple of Facebook posts by white women activists with little or no organizing experience, who made the suggestion of staging a march in Washington, D.C., on inauguration weekend, to protest the Trump agenda. (That the women who started the Facebook campaign initially framed it as the “Million Woman March,” appropriating a framing from African American marches while including no women of color in their initial organizing, set things off on a sour note. After it became clear that professionals were needed to stage a protest of this size, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez—all women of color—stepped forward to take the helm. Eliza Carney profiled them here.) But show me a movement whose origins haven’t involved internal conflict and I’ll show you an astroturf mobilization with top-down messaging. Real movements are messy.
Trump’s abhorrent treatment of women both on the campaign trail and in his life (most famously revealed in the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video footage that shows him bragging about sexually assaulting women) may have provided the spark that fueled Saturday’s march, but protesters did not limit their umbrage to issues traditionally described as women’s issues. The president’s climate change denial and threats to free speech were among the many issues reflected in the protesters’ signs.
Yet the unfamiliarity of some in the media with structures built by and movements mobilized by women leaders who claim the credit they are due yielded moments of rueful amusement for seasoned women, such as this still from CNN’s coverage, featuring eight men and one woman on a commentary panel. Then there was the mansplaining about how this marching stuff is all well and good (I mean, 3.6 million marchers is a pretty decent number), but here’s what you ladies need to know in order to build a movement.
Truly, I think we know how to do that, dudes. And, seriously, you’re welcome to help. In fact, there was no shortage of organizing—small-group organizing, large-group organizing, mass organizing—taking place on Saturday, and every day following.
Across the District of Columbia, organizing events surrounding the march sprang up. At the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Library, African American activists Jamia Wilson, Margaret Prescod, Loretta Ross, and others held a reception and discussion for marchers. All Souls Unitarian Church was full all weekend, welcoming visitors from far-flung congregations, but also recruiting people to ongoing involvement. Outside the church, organizers asked people to commit to run for local offices. The Sunday following the march, the 11:15 service was standing-room only, filled with marchers who stuck around to hear Melissa Harris-Perry, the Wake Forest University professor and television personality, preach from the All Souls pulpit. Rosemary Bray McNatt, president of Starr King School for the Ministry, was on hand, having been at the fore of the Unitarians’ national response to the call to march.
Connections made between activists from across the country in these spaces are likely to last and flourish, especially in the age of social media.
Women have this thing, fellas. Women, especially women of color, have been organizing successful protest movements for centuries. (Anybody remember Rosa Parks?) For this feminist, part of the beauty of Saturday’s march was the number of men who turned out for a march organized by women—women who brought together all segments of the progressive coalition. The nation may not yet have seen a woman president, but the resistance to Trump will be led by women. Deal with it.