Why We (Still) March: Women's March Leaders On The Importance Of Momentum
A year after President Trump was sworn into office and millions gathered in protest, resistance has yielded some important victories. Here, leaders of the Women's March and its official partners weigh in on why it's more important than ever to keep up the momentum of activism.
It’s been a surreal year since Donald Trump stunned the world (as well as himself) by being officially sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.
But it has also been a year since an estimated 6 million people around the world marched in solidarity against the policies Trump campaigned on—policies that the protesting masses viewed as sexist, racist, xenophobic and violence-inciting. We're talking the anti-Muslim travel ban, a tax plan that endangers the health care of 13 million Americans, an all-out war against the media, too many terrifying tweets too count, and his taunting of North Korea and their nuclear capabilities (just to touch on a few standouts).
But if there is any silver lining to be ripped from an entire year of daily horrifying headlines, it is this: The resistance is strong. The 2017 Women’s March was the largest single-day demonstration in US history. “What we're talking about is not just a wave, but really a tsunami here,” says Alexandra De Luca, press secretary of Emily’s List, a political action committee that focuses on getting pro-choice women into office.
The after effects have had a lasting impact—especially on the communities hurt most by the Trump administration's policies. “As a Muslim woman who has seen the impact of anti-Muslim policies for years, I never thought I would see a day when people rose up to defend the rights of Muslims, much less to demand their entry into the country,” says Manar Waheed, legislative and advocacy counsel for the ACLU.
“Nothing compares to my memory of seeing airports flooded with people [in the wake of the travel ban announcement], Muslims praying with people forming a protective ring around them, or the shouts of 'Let them in' ringing in my ears.”
And while the bleak days have certainly outnumbered the bright spots, the momentum of resistance efforts is palpable. Numerous important elected positions previously held by GOP politicians were taken by Democrats this year, and while there are certainly other factors at play, it’s impossible to separate the momentous year of women speaking out against sexual assault from the fact that Donald Trump—who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 19 women—sits in the most powerful seat in the country.
“I think everyone can agree that Women's March really set the tone for 2017—especially for women,” says Breanne Baker, Director of States & Global for the Women's March, which is focusing its efforts this year on getting people to vote in the high-stakes midterm elections later this year. The theme of this year’s march is “Power to the Polls,” with a centralized event taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 21 and sister marches taking place around the world on Saturday, January 20.
Baker cautions against relitigating the missteps that led up to 2017. “I think a lot of people are still hung up on even past issues and the past election. And look—I’m still upset about it too. But at the same time, we need to look at the situation we're in now and look at what's about to happen and really pull each other out of the mud and be like, ‘How can we get through this?’”
Here’s what you can do this weekend—and this year—to keep the momentum of movement going.
Run for office
Last year served up some major wins for female and minority candidates, and it’s only the beginning. “We have two choices to make moving forward,” De Luca says. “You can run for office yourself, or you can help a woman run for office. Emily's List has heard from over 26,000 women since election day 2016 who are interested in running for office. And to put that in perspective: During the entire two year 2016 election cycle, we heard from 920 women.”
Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of activism organization UltraViolet, envisions what this could mean for the future: “The Women's March was just the start of a movement of women leading every resistance effort—from winning elections in Virginia and Alabama to saving Obamacare and demanding justice for Dreamers,” she says. “A year from now, the march will look like more women running and winning office.”
And Heidi Sieck, CEO & Co-founder of #VOTEPROCHOICE, has some words of caution for those who chalked the 2017 Women’s March up to a parade of pink hats and quippy posters: “The folks that were activated last year and marched are running for office this year. We're not knitting hats anymore. We're re-knitting our civic fabric, one election at a time. That's how we'll fix this.”
Support women of color
Black female voters in Alabama are quite literally the reason there is not an alleged child molester currently sitting in the Senate. In one of the reddest states in the country, 98 percent of black women voted for Democrat Doug Jones in the special election last December, while 63 percent of white women supported Roy Moore. The special election was profound glimpse into the power of galvanizing populations who have historically been discouraged from voting or made to feel their voice isn’t important.
“The first thing to do is to start the conversation. The second thing is to really follow women of color right now—follow their lead and really trust them,” says Baker. “Ask them what they need, and how you can support without asking for anything in return.”
Get involved locally, and stay involved
Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress says, “It is critical for women to get involved in activities in their communities, and to send a message to policymakers that women are paying attention to what they do. There are local Women’s March efforts, United State of Women summits, grassroots organizations, and other community organizations where women can play an important role."
After all, as Nadya Okamoto, a college sophomore and the founding director of Period: The Menstrual Movement reminds us, “The Women’s March is not just about coming to coming together on one day and making posters and demonstrating.”
Pace yourself. And practice a little self care
With the incessant onslaught of stressful headlines that has become our day-to-day norm in the last year, it’s essential to identify where your efforts are best placed. “Everyone cannot engage on every issue and we do not all engage in the same way,” says Waheed.
“Some days we will see wins and some days, the wins come further down the line. We have to take care of ourselves and learn how we most productively engage so that we can build sustainable movements for the long haul.”
Connect with the woman marching next to you
While a movement is built on the culmination of individuals deciding to take action, it’s held together by the bonds of solidarity that are formed between its participants and a greater, more nuanced understanding of our differences.
Fatima Sadaf Saied, president of the Muslim Women's Organization says, “It is essential to connect with the allies that are at the marches and rallies at a deeper level. We are all fighting the same fight,” she reminds. “The issues may be different, but the underlying cause is often the same. For example, racism will lead to economic, immigration, political, and religious persecution, and if we all fight together the impact will be multiplied.”
Yifat Susskind, executive director of human rights advocacy group MADRE adds that while “it's vital to take local action, whether it's to attend a community organizing meeting or to sign a petition, even more important is to raise your head up and seek out new allies, even beyond your community.”
Locate your local march via the official Women’s March interactive map, and check out the list of logistical must-knows of attending a march here.
Words: Deena Drewis
Additional reporting: Eva Grant