By Bruce A. Smith
In an historic display of grassroots political power, millions of women marched in at least 670 cities around the world on Saturday, January 21, to protest the policies and rhetoric of President Donald Trump. USA Today conservatively estimated the total number of protesters to be 2.5 million women worldwide.
In the United States, women marched in 300 cities, including Olympia, Seattle, Bellingham, and even Friday Harbor. KING 5-TV reported that the Seattle Police Department estimated the crowd there to be 130,000, and characterized the demonstration as the largest in the city’s history.
Similarly, the 10,000 women who marched in Olympia, Washington were reportedly described by one police official as being the “largest crowd I’ve ever seen.”
I joined the women in Olympia at the Capitol campus, and it was a joyous and celebratory gathering to affirm our dedication to social justice, the environment, and human rights. Like marchers throughout America, nearly half the women wore handmade or knitted pink “pussyhats,” in playful – but pointed – mockery of Trump’s infamous claim that he uses his star-power to “grab women’s pussies.”
In Olympia, the marchers were women of all ages, with a sprinkling of men, and most were white. Many of the women were gathered in clusters of family or friends, and the whole crowd was washed in a sea of pink clothing. Many women displayed signs that championed virtually every social cause of our day: equal pay, reproductive rights, protection from hate crimes and discrimination. “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” was a common message.
But the march was also a call to power, and hundreds of women carried signs that were edgy, such as: “Ovulators – It’s Time to Mount Up!” Another sign simply read: “I Have a Vagenda.” Others proclaimed: “I’m SO Angry I Made This Sign,” while some simply read: “RESIST.”
Although generally playful, the mood of the marchers possessed a serious undertone that the Trump Administration is dangerous, and that the work of protecting women’s rights is not done despite many of the gains in the past decades. Many of the older women in the crowd carried signs that read: “I Can’t Believe I Still Have to Protest this Shit.”
Some of the younger marchers displayed a somewhat different generational perspective: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun-Damental Rights.” Many carried signs that read: “Love Trumps Hate,” and during the march dozens chanted: “Love – Not Hate, It Makes America Great.”
There were plenty of strollers, with loose groupings of moms and babies bumping along as the crowd surged. Several fathers and grandfathers were present in the stroller sections, and many of the older men sported long, scraggly beards, suggesting that this protest march “was not their first rodeo.”
However, the marches throughout the United States, and certainly in Olympia, were peaceful. I never saw a cop or any official presence until the latter stages of the gathering when marchers headed up Capitol Way and needed to be protected from traffic. Nor were there any signs of counter protests or Trump supporters.
The Olympia march was clearly a massive grassroots effort. There were no celebrities that spoke to the crowd, nor any politicians. In fact, the PA system that was used was the equivalent of what a homeowner might use for a backyard barbecue. It was largely ineffective, and I couldn’t hear much of what was said at the beginning of the rally despite being only 100 feet away from the central area. In addition, there was no stage for speakers to use. Further, the crowd was much bigger than the 2,500 that planners had anticipated initially, with the concomitant lack of porta-potties – there was only one stationed on the grounds of the Capitol campus – and there were no visible first aid stations.
The grass-rootsie nature of the march was further underscored by how it developed. Apparently, all of the marchers around the world and in the United States began to organize only after the election, and the “pussyhat” phenomenon was started by a woman in Hawaii, with social media carrying these ideas to every corner of the globe. There was even a protest in Antarctica when 30 demonstrators raised their signs aboard a research vessel moored in McMurdo Sound.
Along those lines, the march in Friday Harbor, the central hub of activity in the San Juan Islands, reportedly had to be held up until the ferry from Orcas Island arrived. Once everyone was together, the total number was marchers was estimated to be 2,000.
In sleepy little Bellingham, Washington, an estimated 5,000 marchers protested. Portland, Oregon had at least 70,000, and KING 5 reported that officials were calling that the largest public gathering in the history of the city.
Similarly, in New York City an estimated 500,000 marchers forced the closing of vehicular traffic to lower Manhattan for much of Saturday. Media estimated 400,000 in Washington, DC, with KING 5 graphically portraying how the seven lanes of Constitutional Avenue were so flooded with women that they were nearly immovable for a significant portion of the day.
Although marchers in Olympia braved the 43 degree weather and a mix of sun and rain, the 5,000 marchers in Boise, Idaho withstood a snow and sleet storm.
All of this grassroots energy portends well for the future, as it will likely not dissipate nor get manipulated. To me, that suggests the resistance it will morph into purposeful and creative action, both politically and culturally.
Photos below are provided courtesy of Jane Henderson. They are from the Women’s March in Olympia on Saturday January 21, 2017.
The above pictures shows marchers surging past the Soldiers Memorial on Washington State Capitol campus.
The picture below is from the Women’s March in New York City. It is provided courtesy of long-time Mountain News-WA contributing writer, Barbara Jean Heller, who attended the rally with members of her family.
The pictures below come from our friend Lisa Pilkinton in London, and used with her kind permission. She has included a brief note to explain the photos. The second one is taken outside the US Embassy in London.
“I attended a protest on Friday for a short time at the u.s. embassy in London, and again attended the rally before the March on Saturday. I had prior work commitments but felt it important to go along to as much as I could. What an important day in history. It is just the first step to an ongoing action and resistance. I feel proud to have been a part of it and proud to know so many worldwide who stood up and said, it is NOT okay!”