When I was home in Wisconsin over the holidays, I was surprised to find how many of my relatives didn’t know about the Women’s March on Washington. Some had vague ideas of what it was, but others had completely blank faces when I brought it up. And when I offered words of encouragement that they should consider coming to DC to join the national Women’s March or make plans to join in the local “sister” Women’s Marches planned across the United States, I got polite laughs and demurrals, along with utterances of surprise when I shared that my mother would be traveling to DC for the event.
I was taken aback. My family members are highly educated and active women and men — doctors, mathematicians, and professors. And, the people I was encouraging to March have been open with me about their dismay over the misogyny and racism that played such a prominent role in the election and about their fears for what the future holds for our country and for women in this country in particular. Participating in the Women’s March should have been an easy sell — if it needed to be a sell at all.
All of which got me to thinking that perhaps there are lots of others for whom the Women’s March is either not on the radar or has not yet inspired real plan-making. With the March only 16 days away, I figured I would make a pitch for why anyone and everyone reading this should figure out a way to make it to DC for January 21 (or participate in one of their local marches). I also figured I would include information on what those planning to come to DC need to do to help organizers be ready.
Recently, a friend commented dejectedly to me that she is unsure whether the Women’s March can actually mean anything, whether it can lead to any real good. She is still planning to attend a local “sister” march, but it was clear she was not feeling any real hope or purpose. This calls to mind a favorite quote of mine that, when I still had a formal office, hung prominently on the wall.* Frederick Douglass, in an 1857 speech, once said:
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
I know that many of us are like my friend: dejected, frustrated, scared and depressed. So, please, read it again. And again. And again. Read it until it has soaked deep in and has emboldened your spirit.
Protest, marching, and civil disobedience have played a major role in progress and social change in this country. Look no further than the Boston Tea Party to see just how foundational it is to both our national identity and to real political change. But what Douglass is calling out both in the quote above and in the full speech, which you can read here, is the responsibility each of us has to take it upon ourselves to be active in making our voices and concerns heard.** He was drawing a distinction between those who stood by and waited for others to fix a problem and those who are brave enough to take their own stand.
Douglass, in the original speech, was calling on black people — enslaved and free — to rise up against the tyranny of slavery and those who supported or tolerated it. The Women’s March, which will take place on the Trump administration’s first day of governing, calls on all of us to rise up in support of the simple idea that women’s rights are human rights. It calls on us to reject and refute those who use, support or tolerate
the rhetoric of the past election cycle [which] has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault…
The Women’s March, and the hundreds of thousands expected to participate, will have different people marching for different things. Some may be there out of a general opposition to Republican policies that they see threatening them or their families, but others may be there who are lifelong Republicans who oppose the rhetoric and example of Trump (in fact, I know some who fall into that camp who will be marching). Some will be there for environmental causes, others for labor and fair employment, and others for the Dreamers and sensible immigration policies. I’ve written previously about #WhyIMarch.
Obviously, you should march! March in DC or march in a sister march. But march! You read this blog, so you at least care, a bit, about women and the opportunities and rights we have. So march!
Next, pin down your logistics. Are you going to ride in one of the bus caravans? Do you want to buy a metro card in advance?
Donate, to help make sure that they can afford enough porta-potties and the like.
Get other people to come! If you are a student, think about organizing your campus. If you aren’t a student, organize a group from your church, or bookclub, or mom’s group!
And remember, pack warm clothes and comfortable shoes.
* Of course the whole thing didn’t fit on my wall — only the bolded part did.
**In a political climate where it seems transparency and accountability may be at particular risk, the check of the people becomes more important. And mobilization of the people can be effective — look what mobilization of voices did to the attempt to roll back ethics oversight in Congress earlier this week.