I attended the Women’s March on Washington, and discovered it was about much more than gender equality

I attended the Women’s March on Washington, and discovered it was about much more than gender equality

womens marchLeanna Garfield/Business Insider
Protestors at the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017.

WASHINGTON – On January 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, I attended the Women’s March on Washington, in which hundreds of thousands convened in Washington, DC and cities around the world to stand up for human rights.

Though the protests were dubbed the Women’s March, they were about more than just gender equality. People told me they were marching for a range of issues, including police brutality, equal pay, healthcare access, indigenous land rights, LGBT discrimination, climate action, and disability rights.

These are all issues that President Trump and his cabinet nominees have either opposed or downplayed. Among the laundry list of examples: Trump intends to “build a wall” and repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Vice President Mike Pence has opposed laws that fight LGBT discrimination in the workplace. In December, Trump nominated climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. In mid-January, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos said she may support federal funding cuts for students with disabilities. It’s also hard to forget the now-infamous leaked Access Hollywood audio from 2005, in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by their genitals.

That said, according to its official organizers, the Women’s March was not primarily an anti-Trump effort rooting for him to fail as president. Its mission was to stand up for equality during the next four years. To me, especially as a journalist, the march was also about preserving democracy and the First Amendment.

womens marchLeanna Garfield/Business Insider
Protestors at the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017.

Even before Inauguration Day, January 21 was set to be a record-breaking day. Big names like Madonna, Janelle Monae, Gloria Steinem, and Angela Davis were in the speaker line-up. Organizers predicted that 200,000 people would march in DC, while hundreds thousands more would march in over 60 countries on all seven continents. The swell of marchers that actually showed up shattered expectations. While Washington prepared for 400,000 people max, half a million came out, according to The Washington Post.

As a journalist, joining them put me in a sticky spot. On the same day that over a million people in sister marches around the world protested, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lambasted the media for supposedly under-counting Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd number. As many other reporters have pointed out, Spicer’s statement was false.

Incorrect statements like Spicer’s can be dangerous when they come from behind a White House podium. It could set a precedent that reporters should feel hesitant to do their jobs, for fear that Trump and his staff will call it “fake news.” Before I decided to go to the march, I talked with other journalists who had reservations for documenting the march, even if their companies allowed it.

Though I didn’t carry a sign or wear a “Nasty Woman” shirt, I opted to attend and report on the march – not only as a journalist, but also as a woman and an American, because after all, I am all three. This idea was also echoed in a recent Columbia Journalism piece by Shaya Tayefe Mohajer.

“Demanding equality is a core tenet of journalism, a fundamental belief of many of its practitioners, and should no longer be sidelined,” she wrote.

In 2017, it’s becoming increasingly hard to separate workers from their personal identities. We saw this on Inauguration Day, when a number of Rockettes declined to perform, a decision that was reportedly in response to Trump’s rhetoric and policy wishes. At the march, protesters instead called for policies that protect workers, regardless of their sexual orientation, religion, or disability.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue – this is a women’s rights issue,” one Rockette who didn’t perform at the inauguration told Marie Claire. “This is an issue of racism and sexism, something that’s much bigger than politics.”

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Gizelle Begler and Mira Veikley pose for a photograph at the Women’s March in Washington.

Trump’s statements and leadership appointments will likely have concrete consequences for millions of Americans – something that was echoed throughout the march.

“I didn’t vote for you. But I want to be able to support you. But first I ask that you support me,” Scarlett Johansson said at the march, addressing Trump. She added that she hopes her daughter can grow up with the same access to healthcare that Ivanka Trump had growing up.

According to a recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, an estimated 18 million Americans would lose healthcare if the new administration repeals the Affordable Care Act, including those with life-threatening illnesses. De-funding Planned Parenthood would nix routine breast cancer screenings and pap smears, STI treatment, and sex education for many. Stricter immigration laws could mean deportation for millions more, many of whom have lived and worked in the US for decades.

Leanna Garfield/Business Insider
A protester wears a rainbow cape at the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017.

At the march, speakers and demonstrators raised issues that do not directly affect everyone. For example, on the stage, Janelle Monae chanted the names of recent Black Americans who were killed by the police, like Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland. And on the ground, marchers chanted, “native lives matter.” Even if a particular issue didn’t affect marchers personally, they still got behind it, because as reflected in their chants, “this is what democracy looks like.”

Though the Women’s March could rank as one of the largest one-day protests in American history, what the protesters were fighting for is nothing new. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom voiced similar grievances against civil rights violations while John F. Kennedy was in office. It was the same for the anti-Vietnam War protests that spanned five presidencies, and the anti-Iraq War protests during the George W. Bush administration. Saturday’s Women’s March felt just as historic.

“We are here together making a chain of love, to protect our families,” said Sophie Cruz, the 6-year-old girl who, in 2015, gave Pope Francis a letter that expressed worries her parents would be deported.

There were also many small acts of kindness. Marchers talked about their female role models, and complimented each other on their outfits and signs. Random strangers offered me their extra toilet paper in the porta-potties line. I saw one elderly man in a wheelchair offer his (also elderly) wife a seat on his lap when she felt tired. Wheeling along and wearing matching neon orange beanies, the couple wore a sign that read, “justice and love for all.”

Leanna Garfield/Business Insider
Protestors at the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017.

The event was notably non-violent: there was not a single arrest in DC. The crowds squeezed into the streets and overloaded the phone towers, but there was no pushing or shoving. When I and those around me weren’t at a standstill for two hours, we were re-routed, because we didn’t have enough space to go anywhere.

That morning, I woke up at 3 a.m. to make a charter bus for 55 people attending the march. Traveling southbound, I saw other buses with passengers wearing pink cat-eared hats (which became the day’s uniform). One such bus had a sign in the window with an illustration of the Statue of Liberty.

It read, “Stand beside her and guide her.”

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