After the results of the US election were announced, a retired attorney in Hawaii took to Facebook to make a suggestion. Why, suggested Teresa Shook, didn’t women who were upset with the result gather for a march in Washington on Inauguration Day?
That was in November. Since then, the Women’s March on Washington (as it is now formally known) has grown to include over 100,000 registered attendees. Some 150,000 people have clicked “attending” on the event’s Facebook page, and organisers estimate 200,000 people will participate in the protest once inauguration weekend rolls around. As a result, the Washington Post reports that the march is likely to be the biggest protest over the weekend Donald Trump is sworn in as President of the United States.
“We plan to make a bold and clear statement to this country on the national and local level that we will not be silent and we will not let anyone roll back the rights we have fought for and struggled to get,” Tamika Mallory, one of the march’s main organisers, tells the Post.
The protest is not specifically anti-Trump, according to its organisers
While the timing of the march seems to strongly indicate that the Women’s March on Washington is a protest against Trump, the organisers say that this is not the case. “We’re not targeting Trump specifically. It’s much more about being proactive about women’s rights,” says Cassady Fendlay, spokesperson for the march.
However, organisers acknowledge that Trump’s election has motivated many women to get involved who wouldn’t necessarily have been interested in feminist activism before.
“[It] is ironic, because a lot of us thought a Hillary presidency would motivate women,” Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Centre for Women and Politics at Pittsburgh’s Chatham University, tells the Post. “A lot of women seem to be saying, ‘This is my time. I’m not going to be silent anymore.’
The organising group was initially criticised for a lack of diversity
Teresa Shook, the woman who first created the Facebook event for the march, had never considered herself a political activist. As a result, she enlisted the help of the first few women who messaged her to volunteer – all of whom were white. As the march grew in prominence, questions were raised about the racial make-up of its organising group, the Post reports. The current organising committee is made up of veteran female activists from a diverse variety of backgrounds.
There was also some early controversy about the march’s name. Shook had initially suggested calling it the Million Woman March (the name of a 1997 gathering of hundreds of thousands of African-American women in Philadelphia). Many interpreted this as a co-opting of an important moment in black feminist history.
Similarly, when the name “the Women’s March on Washington” was proposed (a nod to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a cornerstone of the civil rights movement), some questioned whether it was inclusive enough of African-American women who have historically felt excluded from mainstream feminism.
It has support from major organisations
Over 100 groups – including Human Rights Watch, OXFAM, Black Girls Rock and the National Centre for Lesbian Rights – have signed on to support the protest.
One of the march’s most prominent partners, Planned Parenthood, has been unambiguously and directly threatened by a Trump presidency. Incoming Vice President Mike Pence introduced the first bill seeking to defund the reproductive health service provider back in 2007; today, Planned Parenthood remains at risk of being stripped of vital federal funds. “I am committed to… defunding Planned Parenthood,” wrote Trump in a September letter to anti-abortion activists.
There will be a sister march in the UK
The Women’s March on London is taking place on Saturday 21 January, the same day as the March on Washington.
“[On] the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency… We call on people of all genders to march in London as part of an international day of action in solidarity,” write the organisers on the event’s Facebook page, adding: “We unite and stand together for the dignity and equality of all peoples, for the safety and health of our planet and for the strength of our vibrant and diverse communities.”
Sister marches are also planned in some 30 cities including Paris, Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Sydney, Stockholm, Athens and Frankfurt.
Images: iStock, Rex Features