A force to be reckoned with

January 24, 2018

This year's Women's Marches surprised organizers and participants alike by living up to the massive turnouts that made January 21, 2017 the largest single day of protest in U.S. history. One year later, the disgust with and opposition to Trump is obviously still going strong. Here, we publish accounts of the demonstrations in four cities from SW contributors Héctor A. Rivera, James Zeigler, Lisa Guertin, Lilian Wehbe, Jesse Joseph, Tess Carter and Nikki Williams to give a further flavor of what brought several million people back to the streets.

Los Angeles

Some 500,000 people turned out to the Women's March in Los Angeles on January 20. Organized by national women's rights groups, with strong backing from the Democratic Party in Los Angeles, as well as many Hollywood celebrities, speakers included well-known actresses as well as Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Although the themes of the march were "Hear our vote" and "First we march, then we vote," many participants had more on their minds than just voting.

Signs and chants extended well beyond the current dissatisfaction with the Trump presidency, taking up anger at the Republican tax-cut bill, the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles, support for the Black Lives Matter movement, celebration of LGBTQ rights and more.

Some marchers expressed solidarity with imprisoned Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi. This was especially important because of the march organizers' decision to feature actress Scarlett Johansson, a proud spokesperson for SodaStream who has denounced the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

Protesters make their voices heard during the Women's March in Philadelphia
Protesters make their voices heard during the Women's March in Philadelphia (Rob Kall | flickr)

Johansson's presence led the Palestinian American Women's Association to decide to boycott the march. Fortunately, among at least some who attended, there was a recognition of the importance of standing against the likes of Johansson in solidarity with Palestine.

The #MeToo movement was obviously significant in bring out marchers. "I think women have been empowered through this movement, to open up about really personal circumstances that are often horrifying and discouraging," said one marcher, Charlotte.

Charlotte and her friend Samantha both mentioned the changes they've seen in the workplace since the start of the #MeToo movement.

Young women representing the diversity of Los Angeles made up a large portion of the march. One group of 10 students came from the Monroe Activist Club, a newly formed activist club at Monroe High School.

Citali Castellanos spoke about how "my mother, who is the head of a check-cashing location, was told to pay men more than women, because of the way they handle money."

Castellanos also spoke about the special burdens that Latina and Middle Eastern women face because of policies like the Trump administration travel ban, and the escalation of border security and deportation threats.

While the official theme of the march was to get people ready to vote, when asked about why they were there, most marchers said that it was more important to continue raising consciousness around issues like workplace equality, an end to sexual violence, the fight for immigrant rights and more--and to continue organizing other women around these issues.


Philadelphia

City officials haven't released an official count, but organizers of the Philadelphia's Women's March are reporting that the demonstration was larger than last year, with unofficial estimates of around 50,000.

Many signs that marchers carried referenced Black Lives Matter and anti-racist politics. Others were about electing Democrats.

Prior to the march, reports that organizers were working with police to allow checkpoints and other heightened security measures drew widespread condemnation and led to some individual and organizational boycotts. On the day of the march, however, there were no security checkpoints, metal detectors or bag searches, and no visible stop-and-frisks.

Speakers at the march included Amy Gunzelma, a 17-year-old senior at Spring Grove Area High School who spoke about her experiences of being a feminist in a conservative school. She described finding an outlet in her school newspaper to write about sexism and inequalities in the workplace, the attack on reproductive rights, and self-care for women.

The young activist organized more than 10 protests to oppose the racism of a local school board member--who was forced to resign. Gunzelma's message from the stage was that in the face of injustice, action and organizing can prevail.

Pauline Thompson Guerin, a member of Veterans for Peace, shared that she was sexually assaulted in the military. She discussed how misogyny damages women's mental and emotional health, and the fact that the suicide rate for women in the military is at epidemic levels.

Another student activist, India Fenner, came to the mic from Temple University. Fenner organized a march last August for Black women and reminded the crowd that the lives of Black woman victims of police violence matter and need to be remembered.


Portland, Oregon

In step with actions in major cities across the U.S., people came together in Portland, Oregon, for a number of rallies and marches on January 20.

A #MeToo speakout, organized by Socialist Alternative, drew a crowd of approximately 650 people to Pioneer Courthouse Square, to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence and harassment. Survivors were given a platform to come forward with their stories.

The square burned with a quiet compassion. Supporters formed a tight circle, shoulder to shoulder around the speakers, as they listened to their stories. Signs in the crowd read, "We want to own our own bodies" and "Houseless women matter, too."

Survivors spoke about the isolation they felt in their abuse, but also about how the day's events made them know they do have support, and that together, ordinary people can fight to end sexual violence. "Naming it is just the beginning. Our stories are all linked. I believe in you. I believe in us," said one.

Speakers repeatedly emphasized the power that survivors have together. Said one: "We are not wrecked, but a force to be reckoned with!"

Several speakers set the tone that systemic change is needed to address the plague of sexual violence, with one saying, "We must dismantle a system that creates predators." Many emphasized the way that women of color and poor and working class women are disproportionately victimized by sexual violence.

Nearby, a group of more than 1,000 people gathered for a march for impeachment, with many joining in the #MeToo event as the march passed by.

With multiple events taking place in Portland, members of the far-right group Patriot Prayer were seen roaming the streets, apparently looking to disrupt the various rallies and marches. At one point, a small band of right-wing agitators tried to disrupt the speakout. Some members of the crowd went to confront them, while a majority of the audience stayed, encouraging the speakers to speak louder.

After the speakout, participants marched and chanted through downtown Portland. The chant of the day was "No justice, no peace! #MeToo is coming to the streets!" As the movement continues to grow, it's clear that it will be a priority to continue giving a platform to women whose voices have gone unheard for so long.


Seneca Falls, New York

Seneca Falls is a small town in the northern part of New York state with a big history: In 1848, U.S. feminists held the first women's rights convention here.

This year, more than 15,000 people gathered, in conjunction with millions around the world, for the Women's March, filling the streets for blocks beyond what the eye could see.

Carrying signs ranging from appeals to vote to radical demands for women's liberation; for an end to capitalism, racism and LGBTQ oppression; and in support of environmental protections and more; marchers chanted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump's got to go," "Our body, our choice" and "No to hate, no to fear, immigrants are welcome here."

Disability rights advocate Tammy Mills, LGBTQ rights advocate Shauna O'Toole, and Michelle Casey, the head of Planned Parenthood of Central New York, all addressed the crowd.

Powerfully citing the legacies of figures like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, African American Studies professor Arlette Miller-Smith called on those present to bridge racial, political and generational gaps in organizing. In a call-and-response poem, she charged "per-sisters, in-sisters, re-sisters" with continuing the struggle.

Sally Roesch Wagner, a longtime activist, women's studies professor and executive director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue, welcomed the crowd to "our revolution," saying:

We have finally reached a critical mass where we have the collective power to name behaviors that have always been unacceptable but were culturally accepted...With our collective voice, and the support of our male allies, we will end the whole spectrum of violence against women.

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