Protests of the Inauguration of a president are common in American history. Over a century ago, on March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson became president, women gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue to advocate for their right to vote. The Woman Suffrage Parade, as it was later known, became one of the most effective protests in American history. Its legacy lives on today: the urge for universal equality echoed in Philadelphia’s Million Woman March in 1997, and most recently in The Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017.
Last Friday, Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. His inauguration brought severe backlash in the form of violent protests, arrests, and arson all over the country. Americans were left with little hint of what to expect the following day for the widely anticipated Women’s March on Washington, as well as its 673 sister marches in major cities across the world, including Bates College’s neighbor Augusta, Maine.
In preparation, artists such as Shepard Fairey and Jessica Sabogal circulated their artwork on the internet as free downloads for signs. The Pussyhat Project, created in response to Trump’s sexual assault allegations in November, brought pink cat-eared hats to the marchers on Saturday in over 100 drop-off locations.
This weekend, many students from Bates College sought out both near and far to participate in the historic march for women’s equality. It is estimated that in Washington D.C. alone half a million marchers showed up to protest— a sum hard to ignore. For those who could not attend, the event was livestreamed on social media platforms and broadcasted on all major television networks.
Jesse Saffeir ‘20, who attended the march on Saturday in Washington D.C. reflects that, “It felt totally safe. The atmosphere was positive and supportive. Strangers would start conversations with each other, and whenever a mom with a stroller, or a person in a wheelchair, or an emergency vehicle was trying to get by, the whole crowd would make way for them.” Indeed not one of the protestors was arrested on Saturday, concluding a peaceful and effective protest.
The Women’s March was started by Teresa Shook, a resident of Hawaii, after she created an event on Facebook to protest Trump’s election win. She later invited Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez as co-chairs for the event. Partners of the Women’s March included Planned Parenthood, The Natural Resources Defense Council, the NAACP and Amnesty International USA. The name “Women’s March” alludes to 1963’s March on Washington, in which Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.
In Dr. King’s footsteps, speeches during the Women’s March delivered by Gloria Steinem, Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Moore—to name a few—all promoted the change that needs to take place in this country.
In address to the major criticism that the March has received in having too many issues, actress America Ferrera responded, “[I]f we fall into the trap by separating ourselves by our causes and our labels, then we will weaken our fight and we will lose. But if we commit to what aligns us, if we stand together steadfast and determined, then we stand a chance of saving the soul of our country.”
This brings attention to the intersectionality of the movement: that there are many causes under the umbrella of feminism including equal pay, access to healthcare, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and many other issues that affect women’s rights.
Saffeir said that her favorite speech was delivered by Senator Kamala Harris from California: “[She] gave a speech about how ‘women’s issues’ are more than just access to Planned Parenthood, they also involve the economy, foreign policy, gun control, and so many other contemporary issues, because first and foremost women are citizens.” When asked what the most memorable sign was, Saffeir said she had seen an elderly woman holding up a sign saying, “Now you’ve pissed off grandma”.
The Women’s March on Washington may have ended on Saturday, but it is our responsibility to keep the flame burning. There are many things students at Bates College can do to participate in politics both locally and nationally. Perhaps the easiest form of political participation is to donate to causes that directly support women’s rights. Other ways to participate include conducting petitions, attending other protests, posting on social media and writing letters to your Federal, State and Municipal officials expressing your opinions and concerns. That this country was designed by the people and for the people, and that government is to be governed by the people’s consent. It is important for Bates students to be aware of consenting to officials who promote rhetoric that undermine rights, and remember to march on. After all, Bates has long been a place that recognizes the value of equal opportunity for men and women in fostering an elite education.