Five Things I Learned from the Women’s March

Five Things I Learned from the Women’s March January 23, 2017

Womxn's March Seattle

One. When women are in charge the world is more peaceful.

The march was a gentle moment, just people walking. We can credit this to the fact that it was organized by and around women. Of course there are hawkish women leaders who have authorized war acts, criminal women who have committed assault and murder, women soldiers serving in the military. Even so Joshua Goldstein in War and Gender concluded that in the history of the world it has been mostly men who have gone to war. Cultural gender teaches aggression to men and delegates keeping peace to women. So if you want a peaceful world, put women in leadership.

This is especially true when women of color are in charge.

Women of color confront racism as well as sexism. They work in community and build coalitions. My experience with social justice organizing is that women of color make sure everyone gets heard. I’m proud that the Womxn’s March Seattle was organized by women of all ethnicities and orientations and prioritized women of color on the speaker’s podium.

Police presence was supportive.

It helped that there weren’t many police at the event and that they were not in riot gear. I saw many fewer police at this event than at what is being protected. Black Lives Matter events are significantly more tense and the riot gear comes out.

Two. Women’s issues are human issues.

On Jan. 21 2017 women didn’t just march for an end to violence against women, or equal pay for equal work, or parity access to positions of power. We didn’t just march for issues that affect women. Marchers carried signs about education, health care, immigrant protection. There were a lot of “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts. Each message spoke to one issue, but in the aggregate they covered any human concern imaginable.

In the New Yorker Jia Tolentino argued “it made sense to organize the first major post-Inauguration protest march around women, who are almost fifty-one per cent of the American population, who have been maligned and attacked by the new President, and who make up a group within which every other vulnerable population exists.”

Women’s events are inclusive.

The Seattle march organizers spelled “women” with an “x” to signify inclusion of all the not-male genders as well as feminist men. I’ve found in other events gathering women that they also draw trans women and intersex people along with feminist men.

There were kids and ninety year olds and people in wheelchairs, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native, White, veterans and anarchists. There was even one lone marcher with a “Trump/Pence” sign. Any one of the sign-carriers in the march would get beaten up at a Trump rally, but this Trump supporter trusted the crowd to welcome him peacefully. There is a profound lesson in this.

Human rights include the rights of life.

Not the repressive “right to life” that fundamentalist groups impose to control women’s reproduction and women’s bodies. The rights of life I mean here include the rights of animals, of plants, of oceans, of the interlocking organic web. Signs in the march addressed deep concerns about climate change and the destructive impact of human activity on the natural world.

I’m looking for a term that sums up all these concerns: women’s rights, human rights, the life of the planet. “Humanist” focuses on the people part of the equation at the expense of the natural world. “Progressive” implies the metanarrative of progress that authorized the white colonization of non-European cultures and the natural world. “Inclusive” draws the biggest circle (although at the expense of specificity) so it’s what I’m going with until I find something better.

Three. Haters gonna hate.

Those who benefit from the exploitation of the natural world, people of color, and womxn respond to the defense of human rights with brutality and oppression. They deny that rights are being violated, refuse to believe the experience of people sharing their stories, and mock our speech, appearance and concerns. It’s important to stand up to the hate and refuse to let it intimidate us. That was a main purpose of the march.

Eyewitness accounts are important.

People on my Facebook feed refused to believe the marches had actually happened. They advised each other to believe Trump who said that media had fabricated the stories. Confronted with the overwhelming evidence that the marches were enormous, Trump’s counselor asserted that he offered “alternative facts”.

In the face of Trump’s strategy to lie and repeat the lie, it’s important to assert our right to our own stories. I marched in Seattle, joining the front of the group as it headed into Seattle Center. I walked around, took pictures, got lunch, and left hours later, and people were still coming in. I saw the stream of humanity on Fourth Avenue. It took three hours just to empty the park where the march started. At one point the march filled the three and a half miles from the start point to the end point. At least 130,000 people filled the streets.

Seattle was just one of the places we marched. People on my Facebook feed posted pictures of the marches they personally attended in little towns all over the country. Reporters posted aerial shots from the big city events. Crowd scientists estimated that the Washington DC march drew three times more people than the inauguration. This may have been the biggest free speech event that has ever occurred in this country.

Four. It isn’t just about America.

Sister marches took place in the big cities of the world and on every continent. This is partly a reflection of the power America has had to shape the lives of people all over the world. The most terrifying power lies in our arsenal of nuclear weapons; we are the only country in the world that has ever used one, and control of that power now lies in the hands of a profoundly unprepared man.

The fear of Trump’s literal power to kill wasn’t the only motivator for the companion marches. People everywhere long for peaceful lives. We long for safety from war and violence, to eat real food and drink clean water and have decent health care and education, to have the freedom to think and speak and worship as our spirits move us. Around the world people poured out into the streets to assert those fundamental rights.

Five. The most important thing is to act together.

When I joined the river of people in the street my eyes filled with tears. It was the first time since the election that I felt relief from the brutal hand of power. The peace of the moment washed over me. I’m not alone. I’m one of millions and millions of people who are willing to act together to defend each other and the living world.

It is important to get out into the street.

Some people on my Facebook feed mocked the event: “Marching is great but what are you going to do next?” My first thought is that there are always trolls. My second thought was that they weren’t there! It was vitally important to be there in person. So many people shared the sense of power that comes with physically standing together. Peaceful gatherings topple regimes. The power to govern derives from the people. No weapon and no law grants it, and no repression can repeal it. We need to continue to get out in the streets and stay there until the rights of every human being are assured.

We are the majority.

Trump took power through a flawed and outdated electoral system. Unfortunately his appeals to fear and hate did succeed with enough people that he now actually sits in the office he is not fit to hold. Does this mean that humanity cannot fashion a system of governance that protects the vulnerable and creates prosperity and peace? Will those who act on their basest impulses always be given free rein to spread misery?

Trump did not win the popular vote by

What will we do going forward? We will reach out to the people who voted for him. Some already regret their vote. Trump demands that his supporters trust only him. This is abusive. It might be helpful to treat these folk like we support people in every kind of abusive relationship – don’t directly attack the abuser, continue to offer snapshots of reality, offer support when they are ready to receive it.

On the other hand, we will draw the line against racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. We will oppose people who are motivated by hate and the need see others suffer. We will stand against billionaires who try to squeeze even more riches from the poorest of the world. We will act on behalf of the life of the planet so that we and future generations all may live.

We are strongest when we act on behalf of each other.

This month I had the chance to see Professor Angela Davis speak. She said something that stuck with me: working for freedom means that we free someone else. We can and should advocate for our own rights, but we are most powerful when we use our power to advocate for others. In the fight for human rights there is no disposable population. We are all worthy.

Love trumps hate. Hope trumps fear. There are more of us on the side of life than those who peddle and deal death. I will continue to work for human rights for the rest of my life. On the march, it seemed to me that there are enough of us to succeed.

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