What started with a grandmother in Hawaii and her circle of Facebook friends has spread across the globe, reaching as far as Nairobi, Kenya, and Lima, Peru.
That would be the Women’s March, conceived, at first, without a plan so much as a rumble of protest over the election of Donald Trump and an idea to amplify that frustration in a manner deeply resonant to many Americans: a march on Washington.
As it grew, what started as a general call to the streets began to take more clear shape. It’s now being billed as a chance for people — of all genders, not just women — to take a public stand against the vitriolic, divisive rhetoric surrounding the election, and to promote a platform of progressive values, with a particular emphasis on women’s, LGBTQ, and immigrant rights.
The Women’s March on Washington is expecting some 200,000 protestors to descend on the National Mall on Saturday — the day after Trump’s inauguration — and there are sister marches being planned in all 50 states.
But that reach might have been expected. What’s unusual is that the movement has now gone global: At last count, according to the march’s organizers, 60 different countries are holding one or more of 616 sister marches. The rallies vary in size and scope, and they range from marches focused specifically on America to ones focused on more local issues.
Yet the undercurrent of them all appears to be the idea that the age of American influence must not be extended to include the misogyny and xenophobia expressed during this election cycle.
I reached out to organizers in a handful of cities around the globe to learn more about what inspired them to hold rallies in their own countries, what issues they are most focused on, and what they hope to accomplish. Here’s what they had to say.
For two of the organizers, Nadine Freeman and Leda Perez — both of whom were born in the United States but have lived in Lima for years — creating a rally in their adoptive home city came partly from a wish to stand in solidarity with Washington, but also from a desire to show their friends and neighbors in Peru that there were Americans who were upset, even angry, over Trump’s rhetoric and the image of the United States Trump is offering the world.
“We want to show another face of America,” says Freeman.
Yet the organizers of Lima’s march have made a “concerted effort to not mention Trump at all.” Instead, they are focusing on the “hatred and vitriol” that marked the 2016 election.
“In this case what is so petrifying and worrisome, for the United States and the world, is that in this presidential election there was a strategy” to open “the Pandora’s box of hatred,” adds Perez.
They are also not focusing on local issues. This is not a rally about Peru, though Lima saw a massive outpouring of women rallying for their rights this past August, at a protest that drew thousands and clogged the streets of Peru’s capital.
This rally, instead, is meant to stand up and represent another America.
They also want to send a message: Americans abroad will be paying very close attention to what happens back home. “We will be vigilantes, we will be watching, and we will not be quiet,” declared Freeman.
The Nairobi march, by contrast, is focusing heavily on issues specific to Kenya.
The official Facebook page for the march lays out their platform:
Here in Kenya we will march to demand reproductive rights, women's land and inheritance rights...We will march to end sexual harassment and assault, female genital mutilation, and the trafficking of women and children; and to end discrimination against LGBTQ people, sex workers, disabled women, HIV positive women, refugee women, women in the informal sector and other marginalized groups.
“Any issue which affects women globally,” says Kenyan entrepreneur Ritah Mutheu, “affects women everywhere.” But, she says, “We want to also tell the government, to impart a message that anytime a politician decides a policy that violates women or human rights, women will not take it. We will rise up and fight against it.”
In past years, Mutheu has participated in protests addressing violence against women and the difficulties women have, in Kenya, prosecuting rapists. These issues, too, she says, may be folded into Saturday’s rally.
But for Mutheu, among the most significant things she would like to see addressed this weekend is the importance of the women’s vote in giving women a voice and an opportunity to shape the future in their own image.
“The vote,” she says, noting Kenya holds elections again in August, “is power.”
Prague, Czech Republic
That the women’s march in Prague will be held in historic Wenceslas Square is no accident: The square has been a “historic space of opposition and peaceful resistance from the student demonstrations against the Nazis to the Velvet Revolution,” says Bonita Rhoads, an organizer. Rhoads is a former professor; she now leads a company providing “scholar-led” tours of Central European capitals. She was born in New York.
For Rhoads, the rally is personal. “This was the first election that my 8-year-old daughter Lucy ever really followed,” she writes in an email. “It was devastating the day after the election.”
Rhoads teamed up with Ewan McLaren, a Canadian-born theater director in Prague, and Julia Bryan of the Czech Republic’s branch of Democrats Abroad, the official Democratic Party arm for Americans living overseas. As the event began to take shape, Rhoads says it “snowballed,” bringing in co-sponsors from all sorts of different activist groups: women's rights groups, Greenpeace and Amnesty International, the Czech Writers Association, groups advocating for the rights of Roma, and pro-LGBTQ groups.
“Love Trumps Hate” is the Prague rally’s official slogan. Like the others, it promises to be non-partisan, non-violent, and inclusive of all.
“We were inspired by the initiative in DC,” Inge Snip tells me via Skype, but the Tbilisi march will also address the “rights of women in Georgia itself.” Snip, a journalist who speaks perfect English, was born in the Netherlands. She studied in Sweden and New York City, is married to a Georgian, and has lived there for several years.
Snip notes that this is not the first time Tbilisi has had protests against issues of a “patriarchal society,” including her adoptive country’s problems with domestic violence, securing equal pay for equal work, and political representation. But, she says, this rally is also an expression that Georgia is “part of the global community” and that people there “support women’s rights and human rights and fundamental rights around the globe.”
“We don’t want to be specifically against Trump,” Snip explains. But one reason the march is being held now is because, as Snip puts it, “one of the most powerful people in the world gets a platform for misogyny.”
Yet she sees Trump as a catalyst for necessary conversations not just about women’s rights, but also about the populist political wave sweeping the West.
“This populist tone is so full of hate,” she laments. And since the United States has long been seen as a source of inspiration for countries around the world, Snip says, she fears Trump’s rhetoric could have a spillover effect on other countries.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Mindy Goldberg, a fundraiser for an Israeli nonprofit who lives in Modi’in, a city in central Israel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, has helped organize the Pantsuit Nation Israel rally, which is to take place outside the US embassy in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening. A second event, organized by Democrats Abroad, will take place in the Mediterranean port city of Jaffa.
Goldberg, a nine-year resident of Israel, says they’re expecting about 150 to 200 protestors at the embassy event, mostly from the American-Jewish expatriate community.
“What was troubling to a lot of people [during the election] was the rise of white supremacy and racism and anti-Semitism,” says Goldberg. “And as Jewish Americans, with [our own] history of discrimination, I was brought up that it is my responsibility to speak out to others who are being discriminated against who don’t have a voice.”
The rally, she says, is “nonpolitical” and “nonpartisan,” and they are not taking on local issues. But they are delving into the Israeli-American relationship.
“I’m sure you know that Bibi has made no secret that he has always been in favor of having a Republican in office,” says Goldberg, using the nickname for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The Israeli government has been pro-Republican, and there is a [perception] that the American Israeli community is also generally Republican.”
But, she says, “We are here to say that’s not the case, and maybe our voices have been quieter because we have had a Democrat in the White House.”
That ends on January 20, when Trump takes office. And on January 21, Goldberg and dozens of her compatriots will take to the streets to make their voices heard, loud and clear.