It started with a small idea on Facebook, born out of despair after the election — a group of women marching to protest the presidency of Donald Trump. Soon, the idea of a women’s protest ballooned through social media channels into a viral event with thousands expected to descend on Washington, DC, the day after inauguration.
Organizing the protest got off to a shaky start. The initial organizers, white women, sparked controversy for calling the march the Million Women March, the same name of famous marches organized by black activists in the ’90s to address struggles of the black community. Some women took to the Facebook event page to express their fear and frustration that the protest represented an exclusive feminism for white women only, ignoring intersecting race, class, and sexual orientation identities that may have other needs.
Over the past few months, the organizers of the Women’s March have brought several women of color with activist backgrounds onto the leadership team. Recently, the march released its official platform, which united a series of progressive causes with a strong emphasis on intersectionality and the inclusion of all marginalized groups. Rallying issues included dismantling gender and racial inequality in the criminal justice system, reproductive, immigrant and LGBTQ rights, freedom from sexual violence, and labor protections for all workers.
The range of issues encapsulated in the protest under the banner of the Women’s March is diverse. For some women, these ideals are still isolating — Jamilah Lemieux, for example, wrote that she did not feel comfortable marching alongside white women when 53 percent voted for Trump and some might not express solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
But for co-organizer Mrinalini Chakraborty, the Women’s March’s platform of intersectionality stands for a host of progressive issues close to her heart. “It’s about standing up for as well as standing beside various minority groups, whether they are women or religious or ethnic minorities, whether they are the LGBTQIA community, these groups whose rights are being threatened and are being treated as second-class citizens,” she said.
On January 21, Women’s Marches around the United States and the world, including Australia, the Philippines, India, and Mexico, drew out thousands of attendees. Here in Washington, DC, an estimated 500,00 attendees gathered, twice the expected number.
We asked many of the participants why they came to march. Here are some of their answers:
To demand my rights
Susan Gushue, 59
I’m here today for the radical notion that women are people. Trump’s administration have no real message except us, us, us. You know? It’s terrifying when you hear him talk; he’s not saying anything. He doesn’t have a plan. It’s just about, “We’re other, we’re better. You guys are worse. We’re better. We’re gonna stay better. All we care about is being better.” That’s not a message, really.
To be perfectly honest with you, as a trans woman I feel hopeless. I waited until I turned 40 to start my process, to start to walk my true self. And I am completely afraid. I am so afraid. This is one of the main reasons why I’m here. Out of all of these years, I finally got up the courage to walk my truth, to live my truth out loud. And now this. It’s a little scary.
I’m remaining optimistic. That’s all that I have to hold on to. I have to have faith.
Samantha Jenkins, 23
Laila Al-Eryani, 30
Samantha: I wanted to come here and fight for women’s rights. It’s really special for me to come here with my Muslim friend Laila so that she feels comfortable in this country. I also want to support and be there for sexual assault victims, like myself and so many other women across the world who have been there. For LGBT people, just for everybody, so that it all feels inclusive.
Laila: I don’t want to be special. I want to be like everyone else. I come from a country, Yemen, where women don’t have many rights. And I’m here to stand for equal rights for all women, not only from where I come from but for all women around the world. I just want to see their energy, I just want to see people who support this, and I want to be part of this huge piece of history.
DeDe Smalls, 47
Demi Smalls, 18
Demi: When you look at Congress and see that the majority are men, yet they are voting on reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood, or anything else involving solely women, you go, whoa, that’s kinda crazy. They know nothing about it and they’re not as knowledgeable. Look at the voting majority who is white, yet they are voting on minority rights and immigration. It’s an eye-opener. It makes you want to say, “I want to do something about this.”
DeDe: The energy is great. Everyone we’ve talked to and been around is very warm and welcoming. It’s about love. Love trumps hate.
Ruth Jansson, 66
Back then, if I was raped and did not have a witness ... now how many rapes are witnessed, I could be attacked in court for what outfit I wore, if I ever had relations with a young man — all that stuff was evidence, and it was legal evidence back then. I can honestly remember being on campus and being frightened. ... That was ’73; how many years are we from there? It could not be that different. ... It kind of mortifies me that this thing hasn’t been put to bed by now. It’s my body, so why is somebody else telling me what to do with it?
Kate Kendell, 56
We as LGBT people are literally everywhere. We are in every community, we are in every demographic. Every issue is an LGBT issue. The only way we keep the LGBT community safe is if we understand and appreciate all of those identities.
To stand with my family
Chris Shea, 57
I’m here because I support women’s rights, and I think this last election season has put those rights under significant stress. I’m here to show support for women. I’m a husband, and I’m a father of a daughter. Women hold up half the sky, and we need to support them; they can’t do this by themselves. We need to help them out.
Sharon Holland Grey, 63
Asia Wright, 24
Jovon Chase, 32
Kennedy Myers, 14
Kennedy: This is my first protest. I’m so happy to be here because this, women and equality, is something that I really stand for. It’s so exciting to be here.
Sharon: I couldn’t believe what Trump said about John Lewis, and that he said that he was all talk, no action. The disrespect. How could you say that he has no action? John Lewis, an icon, who they sent the dogs after for fighting for our civil rights, decades ago? How could you say that?
Nidia Bautista, 26
As a woman of color, it’s really important to be here. I have a niece, 8 months. I’m kind of being wedged between the generation of my mother, who is an immigrant mother and is apprehensive about these sort of protests, and my young niece in terms of fighting for what her future is going to be like. I’m kind of between that and wanting to be a role model for my niece and have her join in. She’s about to get here, and we are going to march together.
Melinda Martin-Beltran, 41
Susan Wheatley, 69
Melinda: Twenty-six years ago, my mom took us to a march organized by a national organization for women. That march was such a transformative experience, I knew that I wanted to be an activist and a feminist. This Women's March was a great way to commemorate our experience together. She was 41 back then ... now I'm 41, and a mother of a daughter myself. It's an eerie coincidence how the math worked out.
Susan: What we need most is equal pay. With equal pay comes a lot of respect. And along with this comes this idea of intersectionality, that we need to embrace all women, women of color, low-income women with very few opportunities. I want to see all of these women celebrate their femininity and their right to be treated equally. Trump seems to be so openly and blatantly misogynist, and we need to be the same — we need to be open about supporting our right to be treated equally.
Jessica Aguero, 25
Juan Acosta, 24
Juan: Donald Trump does not represent me or anybody in my family. I’m here to support my fellow gay men, Latinos, my Muslim friends, trans friends, and just make sure that they know that we’ve got their back and to also communicate to Trump and his Cabinet that we’re watching and people are not just going to sit idly by and let him do some really messed-up things.
Jessica: I think this women’s march has [raised] a lot of important conversations about intersectionality. A lot of my friends aren’t marching. They have a lot of legitimate reasons having to do with the fact that their identity isn’t supported by the platform. I think all of those feelings are legitimate, and I also feel it’s important that those conversations are happening.
Shannon Watts, 44
I founded Moms Demand Action just over four years ago — the day after after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook [Elementary] School in Newtown, Connecticut — by setting up a Facebook page calling on American mothers and women to rally around gun safety.
The policies the NRA [National Rifle Association] lobbies for makes it easy for domestic abusers to get their hands on guns. As the largest outside donor to Trump's presidential campaign, the NRA has been emboldened to push their deadly agenda now more than ever. But Moms Demand Action volunteers and gun violence survivors won’t fall in line — we’ll hold the line.
To fight for science
Alex Amick, 34
Mona Orr, 31
Kim Jacoby, 28
Alex: My reason for being here is to demonstrate that women scientists are a group that we think is underrepresented, especially in the new administration. Science has an important place in the ongoing strength and leadership of the United States. As women, we think it’s really important for going forward that decisions are made based on scientific evidence and fact and not just driven by emotion or irrational decisions.
Corey Brewer, 29
Each piece of my sign represents various rights that the Women’s March is working for. Reproductive rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ — it’s not just that one thing. If I have the ability to control my ability of birth, I also have the right to an education, I have the right to have a job, I have the right to move if I need to. So to me, it’s all tied together.
Wendy Benchley, 75
Sally Cogan, 69
Sally: Climate is women’s issue also, I mean, for heaven’s sakes. Climate is the most important thing happening to humanity and to the whole world at this moment. If we don’t get on it and support the Paris [climate] agreement, we will fall way behind, and as you know, we’ll have floods, we’ll have mass migrations, we won’t have food, we’ll have unusual weather. We are begging Trump to wise up, use his brain, don’t be a troglodyte and get going with climate issues.
Interviews by Karen Turner and Nesima Aberra; photos by Kainaz Amaria.