On Jan. 21, five million individuals marched on major cities worldwide in an act of defiance against the inauguration of President Trump. The Women’s March on Washington and rallies in sister cities in the U.S. comprise the first organized reaction to the Trump administration since the election— protesters are not only demonstrating, but also enacting step-by-step plans to get previously disengaged citizens involved in political representation. In the face of a new type of threat to the progressive agenda, Americans are learning to mobilize, and be both vocal and effective in an era of heavy-hitting conservatism.
Countless Vassar students descended on the protests to champion reproductive rights and gender equality, among other protections compromised by Trump’s cabinet appointees. Despite the gravity of these grievances, many students report feeling empowered upon arriving at the various locations.
Suzanna Varrichione ’18 described her expectations of the march, saying, “Shortly after the news broke of a March on Washington I was determined to go, but due to timing I decided to attend the NYC march instead. On the day of the march, before arriving, I was heavy hearted. The inauguration had taken a lot of my emotional strength from me. However, once I arrived it was hard not to feel uplifted by the sheer number of people gathered together in solidarity. I took the subway downtown, and at each stop more women got on wearing pink hats and carrying signs. New York City provided a clear stance with the election results, and on the day of the march it was no different.”
Varrichione recalled that there was a palpable tension and agitation amid the crowd. Since it was the day after the inauguration, marchers were imbued with a renewed passion for change and sense of civic duty. She said, “I would say that the entire crowd was on edge… The aim of the march was to provide solidarity and a voice for all women, as well as to send a message to the new administration of the resistance that is to come for the next four years. “I think the goal is strength in numbers and change through action. The Trump administration can bully its way through politics for only so long, and the more resistance Trump faces, the harder it will be for him to get away with his tyranny. His scorched earth-style leadership cannot sustain longevity, and if our voices continue to be loud, he will have to listen.”
Soraya Perry ’17 attended the march in Philadelphia, but described a more joyous atmosphere. She recounted that her interactions with fellow protesters were cheerful, but noted that there was a discrepancy between the march’s goal of inclusivity and the demographics of the protesters. Like others who attended the marches worldwide, Perry surmised that the lack of friction among protesters themselves or between protesters and police was caused by the dearth of diversity in the march.
She said, “The atmosphere was joyous and people were very friendly and patient with one another. However, I think that may be a result of the protestors being quite uniform in race and class background.” In fact, one of the larger critiques of the march was the homogenous nature of the protestors. Perry observed, “Many of the protesters seemed to be coming in from wealthier and whiter suburbs of the city. Though the majority of the rally leaders were Black folks, the Black people of Philadelphia largely didn’t participate in the march. I think this made it easy for those marching to imagine a solidarity with one another, because they didn’t have to do the work of bridging a socioeconomic divide.”
Sophie Koreto ’18 agreed, noting, “I would say it felt invigorating to be there and I’m a firm believer in strength in numbers, but there were definitely shortcomings in terms of inclusion. I wish the march had taken a more intersectional direction.”
Optimistic that the march will ultimately support the rights of all femmes, the Women’s March’s mission statement reads, “We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up.”
Varrichione remains hopeful that marches such as these will continue to mobilize, and that they will evolve into the more intersectional, inclusive protests of the activists’ hopes.
She said, “… There is definitely room for improvement in regards to these kinds of marches, which there will be more of, for sure. Hopefully there will be increased intersectionality, more room and visibility for trans women, more awareness of the power behind the words put onto signs and into chants, and a continuing growth in participation.”
In the days following the marches, both the media and public turned to protesters for answers regarding the sustainability and efficacy of the event. Was this march a one-time uprising, or does it have hope as a continued movement? And above all, the most prevalent response to the surge of femmes across the globe was, ‘where were you in November?’ President Trump himself tweeted, “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”
Conservatives and liberals alike are now wondering if, despite Clinton’s victory with the popular vote, enough individuals took proactive action at the polls before turning to reactionary action in the streets.
Varrichione echoes this sentiment, lamenting that the tone of the event was overshadowed by the grim reality of U.S. politics. “The event was a mixed bag of emotions for me. I was comforted to see how many of my neighbors and fellow New Yorkers were passionate and active,” she said, “Additionally, it was uplifting to see marches take place around the country and globally.”
Despite the positive emotions of the march, Varrichione could not forget the reason they were marching. “However, it was also immensely frustrating to see all of this action but know that at the end of the day, our flawed system of the electoral college allowed Trump to win the election, against the majority of the vote, and to the detriment of society. In the week following the march, too many appalling policies have already been enacted,” Varrichione noted.
Protests have also sprung up against Trump’s executive orders surrounding an immigration ban on seven Muslim countries. Many see this as a response to critiques of the Women’s March as a one-time protest, hoping the airport protests signify that women and their allies will continue to challenge the administration.
For activists, the prospect of progress lies solely on the capabilities of the movement. When more femmes can vocalize their grievances and find solidarity in the movement, it will grow into a formidable political agent. Without space for all women, however, the campaign will surely and rightfully fall short of its aims.
Perry mused, “I think this movement is a useful tool during this initial period where we’re all grasping for any form of protest and resistance that is available to us, but I don’t think it’ll be sustainable until it has been reshaped into a movement constructed and led by people of color. If people of color aren’t participating in a movement, it’s probably a broken movement.”