Feature photo by Alessandra Puopolo
On January 21st, 2017, I traveled from Montreal to attend the Women’s March in Washington D.C. and protest the threat that newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump poses to women’s rights in America and around the globe. In contrast to the predominately white audience that attended Trump’s inauguration the previous day, the March attracted a diverse crowd, comprised of all ages, genders, races, and nationalities. Whilst the March was organised to voice opposition to the President’s regressive stance on women’s rights, many men had taken to the streets in solidarity. They recognized that women’s rights are human rights and warned of the negative impact that the infringement of these rights would have on all of society.
On the morning of the March, after first having been turned away at the metro station – all of the trains were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of protesters – I hopped on a bus, headed to Capitol Hill, and was greeted by thousands of others that had already gathered. The originally planned route through Washington was cancelled as the peaceful mass of pink pussy hat-wearing demonstrators (an impudent retort to Trump’s infamous pussy-grabbing video) had seemingly taken over the entire city. Nonetheless, after patiently waiting for hours, the crowds finally began their march towards the White House. Protesters carried signs written in English, Spanish, French, and Russian. Some of the most memorable signs included: I can’t believe that I still have to protest this shit, Respect Existence or Expect Resistance, as well as the more direct: Fuck Trump. Moreover, there were a disturbingly large number of banners defending women’s reproductive rights that had large iron coat hangers affixed to them. The coat hanger is not only a symbol for dangerous abortions; it’s a symbol of inequality.
It came as a surprise to many that the nation known for having been a beacon of liberty, which elected its first African American president eight years ago, has now turned towards a xenophobic bigot who promotes nativism. The combination of poor education, inaccurate reporting, sluggish economic growth, and the Democrats’ consistent failure to institute promised change has produced this drastic shift within the American political sphere. Many Americans look back on the Obama era, not as the golden age of the pax americana, but as the period during which liberals had failed them. Billion dollar bailouts were handed out to banks whilst the country suffered its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the Flint water crisis was largely ignored, and gross inequality rose.
Since Trump’s inauguration the presidential administration has undergone a considerable mutation. With twenty-two executive orders already signed, the executive branch has been quickly transformed into a decree-issuing office.
However, a mutation can also be identified in the response to Trump’s election. America’s population appears to be empowered, shifting from passive to active resistance. In nationwide protests not seen since the Vietnam War, throughout the past two weeks disgruntled Americans have consistently taken to the streets to voice their opposition to Trump’s ill-conceived policies. Trump seems to have ushered in a new wave of American politics, but he alone cannot dictate the direction of America. In the coming years, civic action will be vital in combating the newly-inaugurated President’s policies.
One of the most striking signs of March was one held by a solemn African-American woman. On her sign she painted the following powerful words in large print: I am the 94%, where were you? She was referring to the the exit poll figures showing that 94% of black women had voted for Hillary, while only 53% of their white female counterparts had done the same. And yet, most of the women marching were Caucasian. This sign underscores some of the significant divisions in American society that precipitated Trump’s election.
The Women’s March represents a complex paradox that is currently pervading American society. There exists a unified opposition to Trump that is simultaneously exacerbating divisions within the current American landscape. However, with several demographic groups currently facing a threat to their very rights as American citizens, the call to action in protecting those rights trumps the false aspiration supported by the new president – the aspiration for total American unity under the veneer of false patriotism. As a global citizen, I know this to be true – and so, too, did the millions of women who marched in solidarity around the world.