The Women’s March on Washington appears to have surprised everyone, even many of the organizers, and may go down in history as the largest demonstration ever in the U.S., and one of the largest worldwide – so far.
It all started a day after Hillary Clinton’s stunning failure to become the first woman U.S. president. This perhaps equally surprising event in November prompted a grandmother in Hawaii named Teresa Shook to suggest on Facebook that women gather in Washington, D.C., after the inauguration of President Donald Trump to demonstrate for women’s rights and tolerance.
Shook’s idea, to put it mildly, caught fire and, on Saturday, massively expanded beyond all expectations into a worldwide protest by those who regard the Trump presidency – the rise of extreme nationalism, isolationism and xenophobia, in general – as a serious threat to human rights, tolerance, equity and democracy everywhere.
From Seattle to Nairobi, from Budapest to Berlin, even in Antarctica, women led more than 670 sister marches in more than 60 countries across the globe. Even as the media today argues to distraction with the Trump team over the size of the D.C. crowd on inauguration day, estimates so far have tallied the global protest at nearly 5 million people.
Though the issues were diverse, the focus on equity and fundamental human rights unified the day. Organizers emphasized women’s rights and empowerment, of course, but the event naturally expanded to embrace the related concerns of many people marginalized in society – the poor, people of color, gender and sexual diversity, immigrants and various faiths.
Those who marched were constantly reminded by speakers that this movement must be nourished to have impact beyond this one historic day. In Washington, D.C., speakers from Michael Moore to Tammy Duckworth told the more than 500,000 in attendance of the need for new leadership to help end the “Trump Tragedy,” and stressed the importance of people calling their elected officials and running for office.
Seattle, home base for Humanosphere, hosted one of the world’s largest marches with a crowd estimated by officials to have been anywhere from 100,000 to 170,000 participants.
Janet Keen, 68, of Seattle said that she and her partner had been planning to retire, live the good life and simply “check out” of major political engagements. Keen now says she has changed the way she plans to spend the rest of her life. “We have to make it clear that there are more of us that believe in what is right and good about this country, than there are on the other side.”
Elizabeth Hunter-Keller, public relations chair for the Womxn’s March on Seattle (which added the X to welcome transgendered people), said the slogan “women’s rights are human rights” is intended to show that the movement is about equity for all groups.
“This is more than a protest against Trump because many of the issues at hand have existed before the election,” said Ebony Miranda, social media co-chair for the Womxn’s March on Seattle. “Marginalized communities were always fighting for rights and representation, this election just brought those issues to the forefront.”
In fact, after Trump was sworn in, the new administration’s whitehouse.gov site removed pages related to LGBTIQ rights, immigration, human rights and other pressing issues of equity in the U.S.
Trump has demanded that Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act “very quickly,” and signed an executive order on his first day in office undoing the unpopular requirement that individuals carry insurance or face fines, leaving many people worried about what the future holds for their health care.
As many as 2.5 million women could lose their health care if Congress defunds Planned Parenthood, according to Chris Charbonneau, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Pacific Northwest and Hawaiian Islands, who spoke during the rally in Seattle. “An action against any of us is an action against all of us,” she said.
People expressed concern about Trump’s threats to target Muslims to combat terrorism. Aneelah Afzali, executive director of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound-American Muslim Empowerment Network, said Muslim Americans are concerned about policies that would target them, including a religious registry.
“Targeting based in religion goes against the character and nature of our country,” Afzali said. “When you attack one of those bedrock values you are really attacking our country.”
Brady Fletcher, a schoolteacher from Rochester, N.Y., said at the Washington, D.C., march that he has Muslim students who experienced discrimination right after the election.
“Obviously, that’s the kind of behavior we shouldn’t condone and unfortunately, the person who’s our president has incited this,” he said. “So we have to stand against it and show people it’s wrong.”
Afzali said her organization hopes that the marches will build coalitions among different minority groups.
“Our struggles are united in many ways,” she said. “We want to build a movement that will stay in effect long after inauguration day. People cannot just come out once every four years to vote and consider themselves politically involved. This is something that will require a sustained effort on our parts.”
Yvette Dinish of Seattle said people should remember that elected officials do pay attention and it works when we speak up.
“We have to remember that it is not ‘the’ government it is ‘our’ government,” she said at the Seattle march. “If you speak up, show up and vote your politicians will listen.”
More than 180 organizations were at the Seattle march to sign up volunteers or solicit donations. Organizer Miranda said it is always a concern that this momentum could die down but even small things count.
“I have been telling folks that it does not matter how big the gesture is to get involved, but it is about consistency,” Miranda said. “If everyone took one consistent action to do community work, that impact alone would be huge.”
Jerin Arifa, president of National Organization for Women (NOW) inaugural virtual chapter: young feminists and allies, said that it’s important for Trump supporters to stay engaged, as well.
While she dismissed those who espouse racist views as “dinosaurs,” she said to the Trump supporters who voted for him despite misgivings, “this is a plea for you to really hold your candidate accountable so that he does not move forward with all of the hateful polices that he promised in his campaign. … You need to call your elected officials and stay engaged.”
The unity felt among the crowds was a salve after inauguration day.
“When we come together and we share these experiences, we realize we’re not alone and together we need to mobilize,” said Clio O’Toole Brooklyn, N.Y., at the Washington, D.C., march. “And it starts for me with going home and getting more involved in local politics. Today feels good.”
Humanosphere reporter Joanne Lu contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.