The independent news organization of Duke University

Women take Washington

On January 21, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets of Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March. Across the nation, they were joined by 3.2 million more in cities from New York to Los Angeles. After a bitter and divisive election cycle, the march brought together protesters of all genders, races and ages in a moment of hopeful catharsis. The movement was significant not only for its sheer size and level of coordination—sister marches cropped up in 161 cities around the world—but also because of the wide-ranging platform it espoused. While many recent popular movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter have centered on one issue, signs and chants at the Women’s March reflected a smorgasbord of causes, from women’s reproductive rights, racial equality and environmental protection to LGBTQ rights, immigration reform and disability rights. Politically, that Donald Trump’s first day in office was marked by a sign-touting flood of protesters in the nation’s capital denouncing his comments and policy proposals while voicing pride in progressivism, sent a clear message of resistance towards the new administration.

The march and its causes likely portend further consolidated action in the next four years. While the march’s critics have argued that it lacked a cohesive message, and that activists’ insistence on representing minority interests caused divisions within the feminist movement, it is quite probable that its large base will in fact ensure its longevity. Whatever divisions might have been present at the march between gender reformists, immigration activists, civil rights advocates, etc. are an inevitable growing pain of various reform movements grappling with differences. In that sense, the march’s multifaceted platform reflects a modern feminist perspective that gender identity does not exist in isolation, but interacts with identities like race and class to affect women’s experiences.

Of course, the march should not stand on its own. While it served as a powerful symbolic act and rallying cry for opponents of Trump’s policies over the next four years, its end has raised a question: “What now?” Pink hats and banners alone are not enough to drive resistance to real policy changes and their consequences. Rather than being a reason for complacency, the momentum of the march should propel its participants into further action for the causes they mobilized for. The Women’s March began as a small coalition of women organizers and should circle back to its grassroots beginnings. Change trickles up from the bottom through progress at the community level—through joining local political bodies like school boards, city councils, and even parent-teacher committees, supporting community organizations that help vulnerable groups and lobbying local officials. In daily life, the legacy of the movement can be sustained by seeking to understand the needs of diverse populations and by standing up for causes beyond self-interests.

Altogether, the march represented a near unprecedented scale of mass mobilization against a new president and administration. That such a broad swath of the population saw themselves as part of the movement speaks to how many groups Trump and his administration have alienated. Remarks from Trump and spokespeople about the Women’s March have been largely dismissive. Yet the scale of the movement and the dedication of its participants is a harbinger of the widespread and deep dissatisfaction a large part of the population feels towards their government. Moving forward, Trump and his administration must address this if they are to achieve their stated goal of promoting “unity” and healing national divides.

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