Yesterday afternoon, a rumor started spreading through the crowd at the Women’s March on Washington: the physical marching portion of the event had been cancelled. Apparently, the sheer number of women, men, and children that had arrived to protest made marching the planned route impossible. The route was already covered with people. We stayed in position. Thankfully and shortly after the rumor, an official announcement went out of the PA that “we are marching!” The roar of the crowd was deafening.
A group of neighborhood women and I arrived around 10:00 am the day after inauguration. We were armed with comfy shoes, layers of clothing, snacks, emergency toilet paper, poignant signs, and a few pink hats. The crush of the crowd was inspiring and many times I heard marchers say: “we are making history.” Some people were there to protest with colorful language, while others were there to advocate for an agenda dear to their hearts. The level of tolerance was fascinating. No one booed a position that they were not there to advance. The cheering was voluminous. We chanted “Sophie” to support a six-year old immigration activist. Our arms were in the air when Ashley Judd, reciting a poem written by Nina Donovan from Tennessee, proclaimed that our lady parts were not for grabbing, but for “birthing new generations of…nasty women” and the men who would support them. The crowd firmly and loudly proclaimed that #blacklivesmatter. We named those who had been unjustly killed and wept for their mothers.
The speakers were diverse and numerous. Many were last minute additions. From Angela Davis, to Cecile Richards, Michael Moore, Gloria Steinem, J. Bob Alotta, Maryum Ali, a plethora of female politicians, and so many more, the day was akin to a graduate level crash course in how to articulate the issues dividing our nation and, better yet, how to overcome the obstacles to progress. The musical performances were invigorating and profound, yet as I heard over the chords, “this is really cool, but I’m here to march.” The ever-patient crowd stood nose to nose with their best friends and strangers for more than four hours. We waited, knowing that we could stand all day and walk all night if needed. Eventually, the march proceeded on a modified route that covered Independence Avenue, Constitution Avenue, parts of the Mall, and up Pennsylvania Avenue as we headed toward the Ellipse and the White House. Our wall rolled like a tidal wave.
The Women’s March on Washington meant, and means, many things to many people. My personal agenda was for the equality of women, racial equality, LGBTQ rights, voting rights (especially for those who were discouraged from participating in the November 2016 election), the right of a woman to access safe and legal care through Planned Parenthood and others, and the preservation of our earth and the defense of science. This is not exhaustive; I will stand up for anyone being discriminated against and not be a bystander, as will the millions of women who marched or were with us in spirit yesterday. One woman in the crowd and I agreed that both personal pro-life and pro-choice stances need to be respected, provided one does not restrict the other. Such a monumental decision is between a woman, her doctor, and whichever God she chooses (or does not choose) to worship.
Before the March even began, the nay-sayers were organizing, proclaiming that this march would accomplish nothing, that we would fall by the wayside, and that this was not true activism. This kind of talk is not unique to this march. The bar to which we hold women, even Hillary Rodham Clinton, is far higher and more dangerous than we set for men. As the gut-wrenching story goes, we need to be smarter and better prepared, but should not mention our intelligence out loud. We need to dress in a way that legitimizes our right to be at the table, but minimizes the fact we have breasts. We are expected to run the household and return to work six weeks after giving birth on account of our “temporary disability,” yet are shamed for feeding our babies in public because that is way too sexy. Loudly, and for the record, I am so over this.
I’ve spent considerable time pondering why the standard is so different and why, admittedly, I was once harder on my fellow woman than man. On a benevolent note, perhaps we know we are the stronger sex and we expect more out of our gender. However, I think there is something darker going on here. The preservation of a certain power status quo is predicated on the myth that women do not deserve 50% of the seats at the table. Hypothetically speaking, we look at the 30% female portion and go after those positions, rather than vie against the 70% male demographic. As we are told to believe, we deserve 30% and subtle cultural narratives will reinforce this, lest women actually unify.
One of these narratives, perpetuated by women and men, is that feminism is a dirty word or outdated. Ladies, this is a tactic to divide us and keep us apart. Yesterday, a woman in Foggy Bottom was wearing a hat supporting our newest American President and a shirt that read: “I am not a feminist.” I should have bought her a cup of coffee and asked a few polite questions with the intent of really listening, but we were geographically far apart and walking in different directions. I’ll do better next time. Returning to the terminology, there is a virulent myth spread by those who would hold us back and hold us down that feminism is some sort of bra-burning, man-cursing extravaganza. Yet, feminism is literally about equal rights—not more rights or less rights. I am going to do what I can to educate those around me so that we can reclaim this term. The idea that we deserve equal rights is elementary, and we need to get out of our own way on semantics, unify, and focus on action.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) touched on this, saying:
“But I promise you, if we had 51% of women in Congress, do you think we’d be debating access to contraception? Do you think we would be debating whether to have paid leave? Do you think it would be so hard to end sexual assault on college campuses and in our military? It would not. This is the moment of the beginning of the revival of the woman’s moment. This is the moment you will remember when women stood strong, stood firm, and said never again. This is the moment that you are going to be heard.”
Forgive the lengthy quote, but this is not the type of message that should be truncated or paraphrased. We deserve 50% of the seats to advance a plethora of issues, because all issues are women’s issues. This is going to be scary to many who will actively work to keep this from happening. The psychology of negative messaging is designed to keep you from action, infusing your thoughts with the idea that this won’t change anything and that you do not matter. However, yesterday was a point of no return. One sign in the crowd quoting Mohadesa Najumi stood out: “The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.”
The aforementioned nay-sayers underestimated both the size and strength of those who ended up protesting across Washington, DC and all seven continents. They said that the march lacked a firm agenda and would fail to accomplish anything, comparing us to Occupy Wall Street. To claim this is to minimize the complexity of being a woman. Our ability to multi-task and sacrifice is profound. I don’t need one issue; I can comfortably fight for five issues, while grocery shopping, lesson planning, and fitting in a little Gilmore Girls binging—all in one day. This is scary to some.
Any level of activism, even wearing a pink hat, is an awakening and should be applauded. We are now more aware than ever of the stakes and each person will translate that awareness into activism in her, or his, own way. For some, this will mean running for something, maybe Congress. For others, it will mean helping a refugee in a grocery store or quietly changing her vote on Election Day. This cannot be undone. The mountain has moved.
I believe that a great nation founded on democratic principles has a moral obligation to its all people and the people around the world to do better. The education I received at the College of William & Mary was on the backs of generations of tax-paying Virginians who could not afford to go to school. The money I make comes from hundreds of years of government policy that allows me to spend a little and save a little. My life would be dramatically different if I lived in Russia and I do believe that, as an American, some of my money should go to charities and the causes I support because I was helped by this system. I did not build this life alone, nor did the farmer or the banker. It is absurd that a fifth of our children live in poverty, that Texas has the worst maternal death rates in the developed world, among about 19 other things I could mention here. We can do so much better and I will legally and peacefully exercise my right, as the philosopher Karl Popper said, “not to tolerate the intolerable.” That was my sign, by the way.
For those who think women can still be held down and that the Women’s March meant nothing, let me put this in very clear terms. You came between a momma bear and her beloved cubs, plural. As said by Van Jones, the “love army and this movement is built on that momma bear love. That momma bear loves those cubs. And that momma bear’s not gonna let you mess with those cubs.” Our cubs are represented in the sea of signs from yesterday, in the words spoken over the loud speakers, and by what we carry in our hearts. And, according to Jones, “when you have a movement based on that kind of love, you can talk to people on both sides of the aisle.”
The millions of women, and our supporters, who marched have more love and tenacity than you can ever imagine. The positive messaging of what happened on January 21, 2017 will be carried in our hearts and our brains, with exponential results. Welcome to our revolution.
About the author: Kathryn Floyd is a former Editor of Diplomatic Courier. She is on Twitter @khfloyd. Photography courtesy of the author.