Women's March becomes largest protest in U.S. history

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On Saturday, by estimates, over 500,000 women and other protesters — twice the figure expected by organizers — marched through Washington D.C. to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States. They were accompanied by hundreds of thousands of others in hundreds of sister marches in cities across the United States and on all seven continents, including Antarctica.

The main march in Washington D.C. drew over half a million people.
Image: Ted Eytan (Flickr).

Though different publications are providing different figures, The Independent reports that between 3.3 and 4.6 million people walked and carried signs, 750,000 in Los Angeles, 575,000 in Washington D.C., 450,000 in New York, 250,000 in Chicago and many smaller figures in other cities, making this the largest protest in American history. In contrast to the protests on the day of the inauguration, not one marcher was reported arrested in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Seattle.

At the march, women, men and children chanted slogans like "This is what democracy looks like!" and "Women's rights are human rights!" and carried signs evoking images from Rosie the Riveter to Princess Leia or referenced things that Trump had said during his campaign, as in "Fury coming out my wherever" and "Hands too small can't build a wall." Though celebrities such as feminist Gloria Steinem and singer Alicia Keys gave speeches, only a fraction of the demonstrators were close enough to hear them.

The idea for a women's protest to the election of Donald Trump is credited to two people, retired attorney Teresa Shook of Hawaii and fashion designer Bob Bland of Brooklyn. Both women posted their ideas online, gaining many followers before the movement finally merged.

The march's mission statement reads, in part, "The Women's March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us."

Protestors at the march with signs.
Image: Mark Dixon (Flickr).

Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune called the march a response to the "presidential inauguration of a man who has breezily, relentlessly disrespected women and who is set to oversee changes in our laws that go beyond disrespect." Senior counselor at the Albright Stonebridge Group and former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs Wendy R. Sherman wrote in USA Today, "For me, the agenda is clear. It is solidarity. It is saying to the new administration that misogyny cannot rule. Whether reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, an end to sexual violence, women in combat or the importance of girls' education worldwide, we are here; we will not relent; we will not give up."

The march did focus on traditional women's issues such as reproductive rights but also addressed issues such as gun control and the environment from a female perspective. "Gun violence is a women's issue," attendee Amy Schumer posted online, "American women are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than in other high-income countries. In an average month, 50 women are shot to death by a current or former partner in the United States. Approximately 4.5 million American women have been threatened with guns, and guns are the weapon of choice in domestic murders." "A healthy environment is a basic right for all of us," stated Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh.

The event organizers' stated principles included "open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education" and Planned Parenthood was the march's single biggest sponsor.

"I think it's important that a pro-life feminist voice is there. I am not going to protest," antiabortion activist Abby Johnson told the Washington Post. "I am going to join in solidarity[...] and to be honest, abortion is not the only issue I'm concerned about. I'm concerned about the pay gap. I'm concerned about the lack of women in the political arena. There are a lot of things that are important to me."

The following day, President Trump responded, via separate tweets, "Why didn't these people vote?" and "Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views."