Women Marching on History
A cross-country flight with harrowing turbulence, and a long delay at LAX due to bad weather later, I’m back home in San Francisco from the Women’s March on Washington. This was not my first march or protest, however, it has been the furthest I’ve traveled for one, and the largest I’ve participated in. The Women’s March on Washington along with its coordinated sister marches across the country had an estimated 3.3 million people in attendance — appearing to be the largest demonstration in US history. The March was organized in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. An open campaign of misogyny that ultimately defeated the first US female candidate for President from a major party left a wound so deep, a female backlash was imminent. However, a vulgar, blatant lier, dangerously unqualified for public office won the electoral college while loosing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes by exploiting divisions among Americans, and the existence of those divisions is a challenge to organizing a concerted opposition. From my standpoint, the March organized around an intersectional and inclusive platform that I could get behind — so I made my way to Washington DC along with men and women from around the country.
I joined up with two friends in DC, one from Arizona, the other from Massachusetts. While walking from the metro to the pre-march rally, we discovered that each of us, upon sharing our plans to attend the march in DC with people we knew were asked the question “What does attending this march accomplish?” Interestingly, we each had our own unique perspective on what our attendance at the Woman’s March achieves. The common thread between the reasons that compelled us to march was thinking in terms of the big picture. Shaping history was something on each of our minds; being on the right side of it, being part of the movements that determine it and creating a moment that will have impact for years to come.
Despite the linear progression it’s often taught in, the making of history is not curated. Looking back in retrospect at the confluence of events over time determines what has enough significance to be remembered in history. Besides being able to say “I was there” and “I heard Gloria Steinem speak”, I couldn’t tell you exactly how I would be making history by attending the march, because time can only answer this question.
My friends and I met for a power breakfast before the pre-march rally that was set to start at 10am on 3rd Street and Independence Ave. Our server arrived at our table thrilled. Turns out she had to work the last two days serving the crowd in town for Trump’s election and it’s been absolutely depressing for her. Now, she’s overjoyed to be surrounded in the atmosphere and excitement of the women in town for the march. This interaction gave me pause to recognize just how privileged I am to be able to afford the luxury of time and money to attend a march. Seeing the critical mass of women opposing Trump made her happy, and it made me remember that we’re not just marching to send a message of opposition to the Trump administration; we’re also marching to give hope to our fellow citizens.
After breakfast, we made our way to the rally. One after another, activists, artists and elected officials stepped up to the stage to fire up the crowd to build a united movement for immigrant rights, reproductive rights, racial justice, climate justice, economic justice, and protecting the vulnerable groups of people under attack by the Trump administration. Poets and musicians eloquently moved us with their words. Singer and actress Janelle Monáe, one of the stars of Hidden Figures, a movie telling the recently untold stories of 3 pioneering black women at NASA, took the stage to deliver a powerful speech that began with giving tribute to her grandmother, a sharecropper, her mother who worked as a janitor and declared her mission to “Fem the Future” and “stand against the abuse of power.” She asserted that the abuse of power and women will no longer be hidden and challenged the crowd to “choose freedom over fear.” The speech segued into a performance of her song ‘Hell You Talmobout’ with an all female percussion group to provide the rhythm for a call and response between the audience and the four Mothers of the Black Lives Matter Movement that Monáe brought on stage. Monáe taught the crowd the chant by instructing us to shout “say her name” in which she responded into the microphone “Sandra Bland”, the black women found dead in Texas jail after being arrested for not signaling while driving. Monáe continued the chant leading the crowd to say the names of Natasha McKenna and Tanisha Anderson. Next she gave the microphone to Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis to say her baby’s name 8 times in call and response with the crowd, followed by Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, then Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre Hamilton and closing with Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin. Chanting in unison the song of a movement bonded the crowd, then, the legendary Angela Davis, embodiment of speaking truth to power stepped up to the stage to forever forge the crowd in DC with the long enduring struggle for civil rights and racial justice with her presence and words.
Aerial photos of women surrounding the Washington monument and filling the streets around the US Capitol made the front pages of all the newspapers accompanied by headlines such as “Women’s March on Washington Was Three Times Larger Than Inauguration” and “Half a million people show up for Women’s March on Washington as others flock to sister marches across globe.” I am filled with hope that the unity that brought people from diverse backgrounds to march in solidarity will grow into a powerful movement and usher in an era of justice, freedom, and prosperity for all.
What we do next will determine if the March changes the course of history or peaks as a headline about numbers. As someone on the ground, I believe I was present during a turning point when women and men of all colors said the names of murdered black women and men yet to receive justice in call response with their mothers. The genocide of indigenous people and African slavery established a racial caste system at the time of the nation’s founding, institutionalising the dehumanization of non-white people. 241 years later we are still striving to dismantle all vestiges of white supremecy and fulfill the promise laid out in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Over the history of our nation, black mothers have silently suffered the degradation of their children being raped, beaten, sold, mutilated, lynched and murdered. The mass incarceration crisis and Black Lives Matter movement have exposed how violence towards black and brown bodies continues today through systemic racism and the criminal justice system.
The Black Lives Matter movement successfully pressured 2016 candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for President to include racial justice and criminal justice reform into their platforms. While Republican Party candidates such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio were willing to speak to these issues, Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the primary with a Nixon era dog whistle stance of “law and order” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The fact Donald Trump won the election reveals the sad truth of race relations in our country and even gives insight into why the Mother’s of the Movement have yet to receive justice for their children. But at the Women’s March on Washington, a moment in American history took place on stage with the Mothers of the Movement. Thousands of people grieved the pain of injustice with these mothers as we said the names of their children. Their lives mattered. Justice for black lives mattered. Each and every mother’s child mattered.