The Women’s March on Washington—and the nearly 700 sister marches across the country born in solidarity—took place on January 21, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
In eight of the largest cities in the United States, at least 2.6 million people marched and rallied. There were countless other cities, where tens of thousands of people, turned out as well. It was one of the most massive protests in U.S. history.
The guiding philosophy observed by developers of the march was based off of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s model of social action, which includes five principles of nonviolence.
While the march emphasized a diverse platform, which included support for a variety of communities, it centered around the message of “women’s rights as human rights” in an effort to unify these communities. The organizers, who also served as co-chairs, included New York City-based activist Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, and Tamika D. Mallory, national organizer for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
The Women’s March partnered with Planned Parenthood, United Healthcare Workers East (1199 SEIU), American Federation of Teachers, (AFL-CIO), the Southern Poverty Law Center, and many other organizations fighting for access to healthcare, reproductive and gender equity, environmental justice, and civil rights.
There was a significant faction of women, almost entirely from the Hillary Clinton camp of political engagement, who demanded organizers apologize for not including Clinton on a list of women, that “paved the way” for them to march. This list included Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis, Berta Caceres, Marsha P. Johnson, and others.
The social media campaign #AddHerName was an illustration of the overwhelmingly reactionary philosophy guiding bourgeois feminism—that unbridled gratitude should be offered to a failed candidate that has stymied progressive movements and promoted violent policies for the sake of civility, and respectability.
Take for example the reaction of Joan Walsh, National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation and author of What’s The Matter With White People, who described leaving Clinton off of a list of honorees as “unimaginable”. The thread that was born in reaction to Walsh’s statement was evidence of a deep-rooted cult of personality. One person even went so far as to allege that women of color were “removing [Clinton’s] existence from the March,” thereby arguing that this move was an act of erasure by women who should know their place.
Julia Carmel, an organizing fellow for NYC-based nonprofit Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), helped lead a contingent of progressive Jewish marchers in the NYC Women’s March. Carmel, whose organizing mostly focuses on advocating for victims of police violence, planned to march with comrades from Brooklyn Democratic Socialists of America or with another cohort, but ultimately, she responded to a call for co-leaders.
Much like JFREJ’s executive director, Carmel believes Jews have a critical role in responding to Trump and his administration and saw their participation in the Women’s March “as an opportunity to build our community’s unified resistance against Trump’s oppressive policy proposals.”
Carmel also considered the march an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of women to demonstrate their collective power by marching together and vowing to resist what she called “the anticipated misogyny and anti-feminism of the country’s new political order.”
That said, Carmel took issue with some of the clumsy messaging and initial lack of self-awareness and cultural context from the organizers. But they made “a good-faith effort to do something here that will mark an historic defiance against the hate and discrimination that Trump represents.”
While attendees and their allies lent their support for the central vision and guiding principles, criticism was still present. Adriana Maestas, a writer and consultant based in southern California, told Shadowproof while she likes the idea of the Women’s March her initial reservation was with the naming of Gloria Steinem as an honorary co-chair.
“To me and some other women of color, Steinem is emblematic of the white, middle to upper class brand of feminism that the Democratic Party wrapped itself in with the “I’m With Her” sloganeering for Hillary Clinton,” Maestas argued.
Another point of reservation was the participation of Emily’s List, which Maestas described as an organization dedicated to electing women to the Democratic Party.
“The Democratic Party-styled, white woman feminism often leaves women of color out of the conversation and has burned women of color candidates, who don’t fall in line with the D.C. establishment’s expectations. That said, I am heartened that women of color [took] to organizing the event.”
Maestas noted women of color made sure the list of speakers at the rally in D.C. was a diverse list.
The turnout in D.C. for the Women’s March exceeded estimates to such a degree that attendees were unable to make the journey toward the White House because of how many people were on the streets.
For organizers, this was a promising illustration of what is possible, especially if this energy is harnessed for direct action, including specific causes, such as the struggle for Medicare for All.
Protests have always served as kindling for greater mobilization efforts. All we need now is the fire.