On Jan. 21, 2017—one day after the inauguration of Donald Trump—millions of people worldwide participated in the Women’s March on Washington.
The title is no misnomer. Though the majority of participants were women, they were joined by men, teens of all genders, young children in strollers and dogs on leashes. And though an estimated 500,000 people were marching in Washington, D.C., demonstrators in over 60 countries joined them. Participating countries included Lebanon, Australia, Germany and Greece. In the U.S., over 3 million stood strong, and until that number is surpassed, it will be remembered as the biggest protest in American history.
To some, what they were protesting remains unclear, the audience unconvinced. In the face of all its supporters, a movement this massive inevitably draws criticism from an even greater crowd.
There was no shortage of condemnation for the march, its participants and its message. Alluding to first-wave feminism, the suffragist sisterhood angle seemed remarkably self-serving. Women of color wondered why they were suddenly summoned when it was convenient to involve them, when historically white feminists made every attempt to exclude colored women from their plight. It did not help that 41% of white women voted for Trump, arguably against their own gender demographic.
A small group of anti-abortionists advocating for “pre-born women” said they felt threatened at the march, though their participation seems counterintuitive. Their stance stood in complete contrast with their participation in the Women’s March, which was partially centered on reproductive health, including pro-choice sentiments.
Trump supporters cried that women were rejecting Trump so vehemently when he had only been in office for 24 hours, too short for any real damage to their cause, campaign trail and foul remarks aside.
Still other marginalized groups lamented that those attending the march were oblivious to other social crises; they only felt the need to organize an event when their own rights were threatened under Trump’s tweeting thumbs. It trivialized the social injustices experienced by communities for centuries, discrimination that infiltrated every aspect of their lives. Before plane tickets to D.C. could be booked through an app and well before a pink ‘pussyhat’ ever coagulated beneath a pair of knitting needles, the rights of minorities and women of color were never granted, never guaranteed. One protester’s sign implored, “We’ll see all you nice white ladies at the next #BlackLivesMatter march, right?”
The unfortunate fact is that white feminism is still alive today; thankfully, it is evolving and it is more self-aware than its predecessor. Anti-abortionists will not be welcomed with open arms at a demonstration for women’s rights, which includes the rights to their bodies and reproductive health. If Trump supporters have not already grasped how his narrow win was a loss for women everywhere, no march will convince them otherwise. Facts won’t either: this week, right after the Women’s March, Trump was quick to ban American foreign aid to international health groups that support women’s health across the globe. And the plight of marginalized groups will likely continue as static in the background of mainstream media, an inconvenience that plagues America in bouts like an infection, appearing in uproars before quieting down again.
These criticisms are real, but they do not depreciate the Women’s March for me. Children marched alongside their mothers. Men marched for gender equality. Maybe the impromptu atmosphere of support and sisterhood was simulated, a mob mentality. But it was felt nonetheless, and it was empowering, even exhilarating to know that all these people showed up to send women a message of support: You deserve human rights. We don’t support a regime that treats you as second class citizens, as property, as objects to shame, punish, or belittle.
It did not address or repair other injustices, but for now, so soon after the inauguration of a misogynist, it was alleviating. It was enough.
Those of us who can accept the imperfections of the Women’s March while simultaneously recognizing and applauding the protest’s significance know that standing together is the first step. I supported the Women’s March because of its profound statement, made so clear to its deaf receiver in the White House and a world that’s listening: we are not going back. This can only mean that we are moving forward. With hope, and in the spirit of the march, we’ll keep moving together with the same solidarity that motivated a near-empty Antarctica to protest and packed D.C.’s subways to capacity.
Sarah Jawhari is a graduate student at the Case School of Dental Medicine.