DC Women’s March: Women and girls keep America Great as a global beacon of democracy and human rights
Key Messages of the march:
Women’s rights are human rights. Any issue is a women’s issue.
Intersectional activism: to not let causes and labels separate women, to commit to what aligns women together, so that America’s soul stands a chance at being saved.
This is not a moment, this is a movement. Janet Mock gave a beautiful definition of a movement: that space between this reality and your vision of a better world.
Women, when you get back home, you are needed to protect and make change happen at the local level.
Women, you are not alone, especially after you set up your own rapid response team.
Blue states and blue cities in a sea of red: you have the power to model change and that it works from the ground up, at the local level, which will trickle up to Washington, D.C.
The first 100 days are critical to show the new President and his mostly inexperienced Cabinet what the American People really want.
Activism at this pivotal time is a daily routine: make yourself heard, call your congressional representatives everyday.
DC is not the only center of power: your home, your home city, your home state are. Let’s get home and let’s get to work, together.
Trust in the power of love: the mama bear love that will fight for all its cubs in the nation; the radical love that will go beyond the easy and the scripted to achieve greatness; the love chain that will prevent families from being destroyed, and be the army of love that will tell people, with the best love for them, to remember the kind of Americans and the America they want to be.
By PACYINZ LYFOUNG
AAP contributing writer
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 22, 2017) — The women’s marches on Saturday collectively took action to say that America and the world stand for moral courage and equality and for that to be recognized by elected officials.
America has long earned its place as the beacon of democracy and Jan. 21, 2016 is a reminder that America can still inspire greatness as women, girls and allies came together in groups of 500,000 in the nation’s capital, around 2 million more in cities around the United States and countless more in cities around the world.
The symbol of the DC Women’s March held the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump was the “pink pussy” hat — used to protest an America that many feel is being steered to xenophobia, racism, misogyny, science-denial and disdain for the arts — the new normal signaled by the early actions of a new administration.
A sea of pink hats with cute kitty ear angles in every shade and from every material bobbed around the National Mall highlighting the deep grassroots character of this historic event. Women and girls and the men supporting them flocked to the nation’s capital from all over the nation by plane, train, bus and car — wearing the hand-knitted or hand-sawn or hand-dyed hats made by volunteers who could not attend, or by their moms and grandmas, or just do-it-yourself in the tradition of their foremothers.
It was both refreshing and heartening to avoid blandness and conformity by avoiding organizationally branded outfits — which then resulted in perfectly capturing the breadth of interests coming together to resist one common threat.
Handmade signs expressing the marchers’ passionate conviction, sometimes borrowing from well-known quotes, as well as arising from personal creativity, reflected the same diversity. Some of the messages included:
“The only position higher than the President is the People”
“Nasty Women Run the World”
“Mommy, what does Pussy mean?”
“Equality limits no-one”
“Fight like a Girl for the next four years”
“I am deaf but I hear you loud and clear”
“=Pay = Work”
“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”
“We Can Do It! With Intersectional Feminism”
“End Voter Suppression”
“We The People- ACLU”
“Black Lives Matter”
“I March for the Climate” (polar bear poster)
“A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance” (Princess Leia poster)
“Abort Unwanted Presidency”
“They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds”
“Strong Men don’t Need to Put down Women”
The frontline marchers were an estimated 500,000-strong assembly gathered in the area close to 3rd Street Southwest and Independence Avenue. The crowd of tightly compacted bodies filled the streets from side to side with an overall mood that was whimsical and hopeful. People patiently stood enthusiastically for 5 to 7 hours, avidly absorbing and reacting to the eclectic line-up of speakers and artists.
Courtesy and kindness permeated each small disruption, be it making room for wheelchair-bound attendees heading to the front, accommodating indisposed attendees, or helping to find lost friends and family. Desperately seeking hope and community on this fine day of collective action, all attendees’ eyes and ears were glued to the stage or the large screen one block down. Chanting echoed statements that particularly resonated. Dancing, bobbing and bouncing reflected the fun and joy of the songs performed to celebrate the spirit of womankind.
New and diverse voices were among other familiar faces who spoke to the hearts of the many who were compelled by a sense of alarm to come protest a new administration perceived as unfriendly to women. The first presidential acts on Friday were to repeal a low-income homebuyer program and several components to healthcare reform. Women, who make up a disproportionate number of households with lower income, benefitted the most from those services.
The opening song celebrated the role of women as stewards of ritual and honored the place of Native Americans as the first people on the American continent. The traditional music sought to call to the spirits of the ancestors for guidance on this day.
Charlie Brotman, the longtime official announcer of the inaugural parade, who was infamously replaced by the Trump inauguration planning committee after 60 years of service, was the first speaker to open the march event. Calling the women and girls present “Charlie’s angels,” Brotman praised the organizers for achieving a march of such magnitude after being told it would be impossible.
The speakers started with America Ferrera, a first–generation American from a community under attack, who reminded women that they can refuse the man who won on a credo of hate, fear and suspicion. She urged people to resist policies that would take America back to being “a nation of ignorance” and asked women to stand united. She encouraged them to keep believing in common decency and justice for all.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, spoke of the environment and of policies that threaten the future of the planet. She reminded people that only recently has the nation began addressing rivers that are polluted to undrinkable levels and the cities that are drenched in smog.
Gloria Steinem, legendary feminist activist, joked that because of her long life she remembers when things were worse. America had already once endured the death of its future with the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy — that paved the way for Richard Nixon to the White House.
Steinem rejoiced in the benevolent impact of President Barack and Michelle Obama, of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) who supports economic justice and free education, and of former New York U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who emphasized women’s rights as human rights — a theme of the march.
Unlike other democracy heroes who passed on too early, those iconic figures continue to shine a light on the proper path for the nation, she said, and cautioned that President Trump’s inability for self-control presents a reasonable risk to his role in office.
President Trump stated in his inaugural speech that everything before him was a disaster and that everything after him will be wonderful, Steinem said. She expressed concern that this attitude actually did not inspire confidence in President Trump’s leadership of the country. She moved on to a more positive topic by delighting in the global power of the DC Women March, which spurred simultaneous women’s marches all over the country and the world.
Steinem highlighted the Berlin Women’s March, where she said women know first-hand that “walls don’t work.” She concluded by sharing that this is a time in which democracy is threatened as never seen before in her lifetime.
One DC March organizer was on stage with her infant, who was born with the Women’s March movement. As a first-time organizer, she said anyone can become an effective activist. She encouraged women to start their journey to activism when they go back home, by organizing community meetings, partnering up with others to start new conversations and new dialogues or writing letters to local and congressional officials.
Be active in these crucial 100 days, she said. This is the time to get friends and family together and make history.
Roslyn Brock, the national chair of the NAACP, said “this is the time to walk for the least of our children.” She noted that the NAACP’s first woman co-founder was a white woman, but she pointed out that nowadays black women have voted in the largest proportional numbers in all three recent elections, in 2008, in 2012 and in 2016.
Brock said that with the 2016 elections people have learned the hard lesson that presidential elections have deep and long consequences. Black women and their children have not been heard from a long time and this is not new, she said, and urged women to fight and prevail against the U.S. Attorney General nominee, “so we make sure civil rights do not skip this generation,” and left with a powerful blessing of peace and power.
J. Bob Alotta, executive director of the Astrae Lesbian Foundation for Justice, with more than 40 years of work in the struggle for civil rights, praised the women at the march for choosing to “show up, stand up and fight together.”
“In the coming four years, people will be bombarded by news, articles and other messages that will test their values,” Alotta said. “People will have to make certain choices daily. It will be important for people to become their own moral compasses and their own North Star.”
Alotta encouraged women to not choose one neighbor over another and to beware of letting the powers-that-be choose any one version of God and not let them define each person’s own divine. Alotta joked that she was invited as an LGBT activist and therefore, she was expected to discuss radical love. However, she shared a broader definition of radical love that could inspire all women: the idea of radical love as the courage to step past the easy and the scripted to find the greatest possibilities and rewards.
The March today is neither a singular phenomena nor a one-time occurrence, but a longer-lasting uprising of love, she said.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced herself as a “chick mayor” and shared the important message that all mayors have the power to make a difference in their cities and need to stand up now. She said it is an outrage not be given the choice to decide to use one’s own tax dollars to support housing and healthcare for low-income women.
Bowser said women must speak up and so must the men who support women.
Amanda Nguyen, founder of Rise, a national civil rights nonprofit working to implement a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, said that she found the strength to successfully get a bill written into law out of her despair as a rape survivor further victimized by a broken justice system: it was a matter of her survival as a human being with self-worth.
She affirmed that no one is powerless in numbers and urged everyone to join a movement. But she also warned it may be a long task, involving the courage and commitment to plant trees under which we may never sit under.
Documentary filmmaker and activist Michael Moore greeted the crowd on what he called the “second day of the Trump tragedy.” He said the march turnouts show where the majority of Americans are with the new administration.
For people looking for a purpose, they can take on the job of stopping Trump cronies, he started. He urged people to adopt a routine of calling Congress daily with a message of any concern at 202-225-3121. He also urged people to join and participate in groups and to set up a “quick response team” for the times when action is needed fast, in situations such as having to immediately protest under-handed efforts to terminate the Ethics Committee without public awareness and discussion.
Moore urged people to take on the Democratic National Party in the wake of Trump’s victory in the Electoral College. The DNC needs new leadership that better captures the concerns of people, he said.
Even blue states or just a blue city in a red state can have power that will have national impact, Moore said. They can enact progressive laws and model what a more fair system looks like. He pointed to the example of Roe v Wade, which did not come out of a vacuum but became possible at the national level, after the large States of New York and California made abortion legal.
He urged people to stand up for people who are victims of unjust laws. This is a time when one cannot afford to be shy and must get out there to get things done, including running for office and get in a position to make just laws, he said.
Ashley Judd interrupted Moore, who was a little over time and starting to sound paternal. She masterfully delivered a spoken word performance of 19-year-old Anita Donovan from Tennessee’s poem, “Nasty Woman.”
One of the most powerful moments of the poem came when it highlighted the pervasive gender bias in the laws: that women’s tampons (necessary for women’s hygiene) are taxed, with Ashley Judd modifying to the generic name instead of the brand names in the text to avoid corporate sponsorship- a value of the March, while Viagra and Rogaine (men’s luxury ego products) are not. The speaker after her followed up on the theme that “the future is nasty and if you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.”
Van Jones, a former Obama official who is now a progressive media commentator, said the movement is “a love army.” Love is dismissed as weak stuff by some, but just look at the fierce love of a mama bear. Love is universal and the most powerful motivator, he said.
Love for conservatives means they must be told they are better than Trump, he said. Conservatives have a love for the Constitution and clean government.
Love for liberals and progressives means they must be told to be better than putting down the red states and describing Trump voters as bad people.
“When it gets harder to love, then, love harder,” he said. “One million women in pink hats can take America back.”
Janet Mock, a Native Hawaiian and African American writer and transgender activist, said that being a sister’s keeper means holding the harsh truth close and sharing the rage of any threat to her sisters. The approaches do not need to be identical but they must be intersectional and inclusive, she said. She also offered her definition of movement as the space between this reality and the vision of a better world.
“One’s liberty is intrinsically tied to the liberty of the undocumented woman being taken by the authorities,” she said.
Troublemakers and hell-raisers are not the problem, they are the solution, she said. It was troublemakers and hell-raisers who demanded to own the right to control their own bodies.
Donna Hylton, formerly incarcerated, spoke about justice for women in prison.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a Jamaican-Asian-Indian American, said this is a pivotal point in history as a movement of women who are not necessarily activists. In the same way that any woman finds herself at the moment of looking at herself in the mirror, America is at that moment of looking at itself in the mirror and asking, “who am I?”
This nation was founded with the central idea of equality and the immigrant community has always represented the heart and soul of what it means to be an American, Harris said. The premise that we the people have the power includes the power to stand for what is right, she said.
She shared that when colleagues come to ask her to talk about women’s issues, because she is the first woman they encounter in a similar position of authority, she tells them, sure, let’s talk about the economy. The dialogue on women’s issues includes the economy, national security, healthcare and climate change, she said.
“Women are tired of being classified as specific constituencies or demographics,” Harris said. “They cannot afford to be written off on the sidelines. Women’s work is cut out for them with this new, non-woman friendly president. It will get harder before it gets better.”
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) spoke as a wounded and disabled U.S. veteran, and brought her 2-year-old daughter with her to the march to urge women to resist “this new swamp cabinet that forgot it has accounts in the Cayman Islands.”
Aja Monet reminded people of the power of language, as language is what got Trump in power. She praised the women present as daughters of a new day and shared her own poem as a daughter of an activist, “My Mother was a Freedom Fighter.”
Sophie Cruz, the 6-year old who dared to grab the Pope despite security lines out of love and daily fear for her undocumented parents being deported, urged, in both English and Spanish, women to form a chain of love, so families won’t be destroyed.
A young woman organizer shared the powerful MLK quote: “I will not remember harsh words from my enemies, but I will remember the silence of my friends.”
Scarlett Johansson, who was criticized for accepting the role of The Major and whitewashing the iconic role of Motoko Kusanagi in the film version of the Japanese anime, Ghost in the Shell, had an impact on the march crowd with a powerfully eloquent personal testimony.
Johansson said that as a 15-year-old actor she was poor and relied on Planned Parenthood for healthcare. Planned Parenthood is more than just a women’s clinic, it is healthcare for women on the whole range of their medical needs and it is access to basic healthcare for many women, she said.
An enthralled yet exhausted crowd heard Judith Leblanc, Director of Native Organizers Alliance, an advocate for clean water. The physical endurance of people standing five hours on their feet in one spot became too much for some attendees.
Older women, some in wheelchairs, with walkers or with backpacks containing oxygen concentrators, started to leave the packed streets to start the delayed march. Others followed in their steps not knowing the march was canceled due to the high turnout. Many still walked the streets loosely aiming for the original route and packed the National Mall surroundings.
Madonna, an unexpected guest, had exiting marchers turning around to hear the iconic celebrity speak and sing. It was clear that the singer put a little bounce back into the steps of the marchers to conclude a historic, but exhausting day of collective action.
Asian American marchers peppered among the crowd came alone or in small groups of friends and families. They were present out of personal concern and conviction.
One Asian American marcher, Wilma Mui, stood with friends from the Peace Corps. She was on a business trip abroad when she heard about the march and joined the organizers’ committee upon her return.
Mui said that as a minority and as a citizen, she is concerned that the country is back stepping and feels the urgency to fight that by adding her voice. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, Mui said she is also a global citizen who has a second family in Senegal. She also have relatives who are still in China.
“America should reflect the globalism of Americans,” Mui said.
Another middle-aged Asian American woman from Virginia, attended with a non-Asian friend. She said it is important for everyone to come together and make smart decisions. As a mother, she said, her children need to know they have a voice and need to express themselves, especially at times when more tolerance is critical.
She hopes her presence at the march will help the nation to focus on necessary priorities and to not let certain legislations pass that would be detrimental to people and families. There should be no hate and no fear in this country and refugees should be welcome, she said.
A Korean-adoptee woman raised in Seattle and now living in Virginia also attended with a non-Asian friend. She said she came to stand up with people and because what can be done today could not be done 50 years ago and that there is no going back.
Krissy, no last name given, said she is an Asian American woman who came because she wanted to be an ally of the undocumented. She said, people need to get involved and try to support each other. Being an American means showing up, she said.
Krissy is also here as an ally of the Native American effort to stop an oil pipeline across a river just north of Standing Rock, North Dakota.
The Diaz family came from Chicago, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Those present included moms, aunts, sisters, daughters and nieces, who said they gathered as one extended family in support of all marginalized and disempowered people.
A group of young friends came from New York and New Jersey because they said they are fed up with lies and wanted to show solidarity. They will try to remain active by working with Asian American organizations. The group supports addressing climate change, LGBT rights, women’s rights and wants equality not bigotry.
Another group of young friends from New York and Washington, D.C., said they want to see people showing up. Chris Lee, a young Asian American man in the group, said that as an attorney he is looking to start in his activism by possibly doing pro bono work for civil rights.
Sanita Ly-Smith, Sorina Ly, Isabelle Smith, and Sovi Ly said they were proud to have come as a Cambodian American and mixed family to the DC March from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They said all should be equal in education and want their girls, and all girls, to know their voices need to be heard and to always be compassionate.
A mixed Asian American family said they felt the election process is biased and do not think the new president can lead. The family said it would keep socially active and support groups that fight for women and immigrant rights, for science and healthcare.
An Asian American woman from Virginia who retired early from the federal government said she wanted to attend the march in person and enjoyed being in the midst of civil rights activities. In her former job, as one of 62 federal employees working as civil rights analysts, she only dealt with civil rights as data that needed to be analyzed and said it was good to see the real thing, beyond the statistics.
Lynne Yamamoto came from Massachusetts because she said there are threats to the arts, to Planned Parenthood and to the Muslim community. Those issues are close to her heart as a Japanese American from Hawaii whose family has lived that history, as an arts teacher, and as a gay woman who supports gay marriage.
Yamamoto said she doubts that the March will make a difference for Trump but it might make a difference for Congress and make them think harder before they dismantle hard-won civil rights.
May Ping and her two friends came from New York because they want the president and the nation to know they are upset. They said the march is putting those officials on notice with a message that they must represent all Americans.
They said they also came because they wanted to feel they were not alone. The march was uplifting and will motivate them to stay socially active.
May Ping said she has already been invited to facilitate trainings that will help people articulate an agenda. They will also make contributions to organizations protecting civil rights, such as the ACLU, she said.
The DC Women’s March event officially turned off its screens on the notes of Beyonce’s Formation. Later, the news marveled at the 600 plus women’s marches taking place simultaneously in solidarity all over the world, a global phenomenon. American women and girls can take pride in their active role to keep America Great as the beacon of democracy the whole world cherishes.
Pacyinz Lyfoung is an Asian/Hmong American attorney, activist and poet currently based in Washington, D.C.