Stories from the Women's March

Stories from the Women's March

We recently invited a group of 13 women from all over the world to share their stories, experiences, and thoughts about the Women's March.  No one person's experience is the same, and so it is important that we reflect on the Women's March not just as a universal unifier of all women, but also in the nuanced ways that collective activism influences and speaks to different lives.  

This March is a significant step in the long-term revolution for equality.  The loftiness of this goal is only matched by a combined strength and drive, one that is very much found in the women in this article. We hope you find inspiration and motivation in their stories. 

“Siyahamba”, a folk song from South Africa, has this lyric in English: “We are marching in the light of God”. This song was in my heart as we gathered to march. I am a Latina clergywoman in The United Methodist Church in the Bay Area of California. I don’t often wear a clerical collar, but recently it’s become clear to me that my congregation needs to see me in a pastoral role in moments like these, so I wore it. Until now, my social justice action has been with the majority of my congregation watching from their comfort zone. There is more discomfort now, even for the affluent, mostly Caucasian parishioners. Yes, we’ve all read about the white women’s reaction to the election and how “now they’re woke”. I overheard a young man of color say “I’ve never seen this many white people at a rally, ever!” Yes, I marched with my congregation. We found our common desire for human rights at the intersection of race, class, and gender. We marched in protest to the darkness of hate as we marched in the light of God* (or humanity, whatever you understand that power to be).

-Debbie Weatherspoon

Pastor of Community Engagement at Los Altos United Methodist Church.  Follow Debbie on Twitter: @weatherspoon

Marched in San Jose, California, USA

I needed to march for the purpose of connection.

As a history student in college, I took many classes on the Civil Rights Movement and other 20th century social movements. The stories of those people - their values and their bravery - have always stuck with me. I wanted to connect with that history on a personal level and experience the power of nonviolent direct action for myself. (One side of my sign had a quote from one of personal heroes John Lewis, who happens to be a Civil Rights legend AND a recent victim of Trump’s complete ignorance.)

I also wanted to connect with other people who felt the same way I did about the next four years. It’s easy to feel sad and hopeless in the face of such overwhelming adversity, so I needed to physically see and be with those people. I needed to see their faces and smile at them and laugh with them and walk with them.

And, hey, the patriarchy isn’t going to smash itself! Or, to put it slightly more academically, structures of power don’t tend to disintegrate of their own accord. In fact, structures of power are built to hoard and cling to every bit of influence they can.

Activism does a few things to slowly break down these systems: 1) it creates public awareness about underlying social problems (that may not be visible to the those with privilege) and 2) it empowers, energizes, and connects people with similar goals. Specifically, nonviolent direct action can often reinforce the moral position of activists and expose the violence of their oppressors (think Bull Connor in Birmingham).

There were so many moments during the March that stand out in my memory; like when two bald eagles flew over us and everyone cheered (ACTUAL PATRIOTIC MAGIC?!), or the first moment we topped the hill and finally understood the amount of people we were marching alongside. In Seattle, they estimate over 130,000 people took to the streets!

Policy and political activism will have to follow of course - the slow, hard work of change. But the Women’s March wasn’t about politics, it was about affirming the validity of each and every expression of the human experience. We needed to stand up and say that women, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ, and differently-abled folks are all people who deserve respect and protection under the law. And that’s exactly why the March was so beautiful.

-Julia Miller

Youth and family education programmer for an art museum, who can also be found reading, wine tasting, playing pub trivia, and trying to make everyone laugh. Follow Julia on Twitter: @juliae_miller

Marched in Seattle, Washington, USA

The Women’s March on Washington was by far the largest march I’ve attended. While it seemed at first a bit daunting to stand amid hundreds of thousands of people, I soon found myself surrounded with nothing but kindness and respect. The crowd was not unruly; in fact, it was quite the opposite. These people had assembled for the sole purpose of urging respect for women after a highly polarizing election. The event drew people from all walks of life; people of diverse races, religions, genders, ages, and from around the country were united in asserting that women’s rights are human rights. They highlighted that feminism intersects with a variety of other issues and that we all have a vested interest in defending one another. Being with such a diverse group committed to protecting women’s rights was an empowering and uplifting experience. The warm acceptance was unlike anything I had experienced, especially from such an immense crowd.

-Lucy Leban

Recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Master’s in International Relations.  Follow Lucy on Twitter: @LucyLeban

Marched in Washington D.C., USA

When I first heard of the gathering taking place at Boston Common on January 21, 2017, as a sister movement to the DC Women’s March, I didn’t think it would be big. No one did. But come the day of the March, I found myself in the middle of 125,000+ people. People made up of every single skin color and all different religions or none at all and from all the different communities. I was surrounded on all sides by people who were passionate about their rights and others’ rights. They were open-minded and loving, welcoming and warm, kind and generous — exactly the way the world should be. I marched for them. I marched for my best friend, who is Muslim like myself, and the other hundreds of thousands of millions of Muslims around the world. I marched for my other best friend, who is gay. I marched for the communities who felt alienated and under attack, and I marched for the communities who weren’t. I marched for progress, for freedom, for democracy. I marched toward a world where we will fight for each other no matter what side. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.” 

There were moments throughout the March when I just couldn’t believe there were so many people who cared so much. I grew up in Florida, where you keep your opinions to yourself and mind your own business. Here, wherever my friends and I walked, people stopped us to compliment our posters and our group, take pictures and give hugs. I laughed with people I’d never met, and I cried at the speeches given by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey. The Women’s March for America was a protest that will go down as the single largest protest in American history and a day that will stay with me until I draw my last breath. From a small-town-turned-big-city girl, thank you to all of you who participated in the March and stood in solidarity with and for those without a voice. You give me hope, the most powerful emotion of all. 

-Azanta Thakur

18-year-old Muslim-American, Bengali, environmentalist, progressive, humanitarian, and hug-enthusiast. Follow Azanta on Twitter: @athakur98

Marched in Boston, Massachusetts, USA

As the Women’s March went global with representation around the world, groups in Doha, Qatar looked at how they could join the movement as well.  Unlike our counterparts in the US where the freedom to peaceably assemble is guaranteed in the Constitution, Qatar’s Constitution allows for the right to assemble in Article 44 but it applies to citizens only.  Given less than 15% of Qatar’s population are citizens, this leaves the remaining 85% of the population unsure of the repercussions should they peaceably assemble.

With this framework in mind, two different events were held at two different facilities with American roots.  The first was a Women’s Solidarity Lunch on the 21st January at the Qatar campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.  The gathering drew about 40 women, men, and children for a lunch of quesadillas, tortilla chips, and salsa while listening to poetry readings and creating messages of solidarity through art. 

The next morning, the American School of Doha (ASD) and Girl Up Qatar, part of a United Nations Foundation campaign, held a March circling the track at ASD.  Close to three hundred students, parents and teachers representing many races, nationalities, and religions marched around the track for a half an hour before school started.  A plethora of signs were held high during the March with many reiterating the call that Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

These two gatherings illustrate that where there is a will, there is a way and that while not all women share all the same ideologies, there are women everywhere who wish to gather and stand up and speak out.

-Susie Billings

Doha & London based multinational, politics junkie, tech geek, feminist mother, fact based searcher for greater equity for all.  Follow Susie on Twitter: @susiebillings

Marched in Doha, Qatar

The crowd chanted “Love, not hate, that’s what makes America great!” as we marched past the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Love not hate. The Women’s March on Washington was a day full of love. After a divisive election that felt like a repudiation of my values, I marched for the equal rights of all women. I marched with the weight of the responsibility to stand beside my sisters of color, my lesbian, queer, and trans sisters, my native and immigrant sisters, and my sisters of all religions and creeds against the hateful rhetoric that inundates and threatens to divide us.

I am overwhelmed by the love shown at the March; I am not alone in my belief that all men and women are created equal. There is nothing more affirming than being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of kind strangers marching in solidarity, than receiving photos and messages from my mom and girlfriends across the country with updates on their local Marches. As I waited at the rally for the March to begin, a stranger handed me a small heart cut out of construction paper with a handwritten note stating, “you are loved.” Love brought us together on Saturday and love will unite us moving forward. 

-Amanda Lawrence

Currently pursuing a graduate degree in International Economics and Finance, with public sector work experience focusing on research and data evaluation related to bank regulation and international trade.  Follow Amanda on Twitter: @alaw430

Marched in Washington D.C., USA

The ethos of the Women’s March motivated me to march in London. It centered the human, and the importance of women’s experiences in global political discourse while acknowledging the impact of multiple oppressions; it was unashamedly intersectional. Moreover, it was aimed at fostering a space for participation, not just for women, but for all those who love them too. This was important to me.

As a black woman and immigrant in the UK, the majority of my time here has often been spent away from arenas that might be deemed confrontational or where I did not ‘fit’. With very few exceptions in the last 10 years, my activism has been largely confined to the Internet. That was until 2016, the year of Brexit and the Trump election, situated bigotry, racism, and misogyny not as social deviance but rather mainstreamed its manifestations.

I marched on Saturday because I am saying white supremacy and patriarchy has no place in a good and ethical society. I see it is my job as a human being to say: THIS IS NOT OK! That is what activism is to me. It is essential. Activism in all its forms is a necessary form of emancipatory participation for justice, for equality. It is hope and it says to the oppressed: We’ve got your back.

This is what I saw and felt at the Women’s March - an emphasis on solidarity and respect for human rights. It was fun and it was funny. My favourite moment was at the end when someone who had clearly planned ahead started playing Madcon’s Beggin on their loud stereo – everyone around me broke out in dance – it was pretty awesome! 

It was sad sometimes. My friend Ania, a fellow feminist scholar and I matched together and spend most of it talking about the daily constraints to being a woman, immigrant, or person of colour in society. We didn’t resolve much, but the atmosphere of the March inspired me – my immediate worries were kept in abeyance by hope.

At the end of it all, freezing cold and hungry, I felt that I did something on 21 March 2017: Loud and clear for and with my sisters (and brothers) everywhere, I SAY Justice & Equality NOW.

-Dr. Toni Haastrup

Feminist academic interested in regional security institutions and their practices.  Follow Toni on Twitter: @ToniHaastrup

Marched in London, UK

I marched in solidarity with millions of women around the world, to find the common core of our varied intersectional historical struggles and funnel our collective compassion, strength, and anger to resist the upcoming carnage of President Trump's administration. I will partner with those who support our cause to fight the insidious forces of sexism and misogyny from damaging women’s rights and bodies.

-Karen Zgoda

Working Class Academic, #MacroSW #socialwork, Feminist, Rebel Scum.  Follow Karen on Twitter: @karenzgoda

Marched in Washington D.C., USA

When I chose to march in Philadelphia, I felt it was my responsibility to place my body in front of an issue that could soon affect the way that body moves about the world—an issue that could spell disaster for low-income women, women of color, women with disabilities who couldn’t march, and trans women in the United States. 

I marched because as a white woman, I need to do better. Women of color, and particularly black women, have always done the work.  Activism under an anti-truth administration is vital to protecting everyone who identifies as a woman. It’s hard to ignore the truth when millions shout it in unison. I marched against “alternative facts” about women’s health and women’s rights at a time when we cannot afford to backslide. 

And in that vein, occupying space with 50,000 people in a shared fight showed me that the physicality of marching can be an equalizer. The place in me that’s been filled with hopelessness gave way to optimism in a sea of parents, children, trans women, and women of color—so many people refusing let an admitted sexual predator fence us in with lies and legislation. We promised them 30,000 and gave them 20,000 more. I’d follow those women anywhere.

-Madeline Distasio

Editor, politics writer, and aspiring international development lawyer from Philadelphia. Follow Madeline on Twitter: @maddiedistasio

Marched in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

I marched not only for the issues that affect me but also for those that don't have the same privileges. I marched for what I and others like me stand to lose and for those who have nothing left to lose. In my view, activism reflects the physical manifestation of one's beliefs and values; it's taking an active approach to what I believe our country can achieve through positive social change and collective action. I believe strongly in equality and justice and engaging in activism reflects that. Walking among and being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of women - of all backgrounds, of all identities - was emotionally overwhelming and surreal. Everywhere I turned, as far as I could see and beyond, there were women in solidarity. Not only was the March an opportunity to contribute to the rally and push for a movement, it also provided a chance for connection, community, dialogue, and learning. There were posters that challenged white women to show up for Black Lives Matter and immigrant populations, signs that emphasized LGBTI voices and disabled communities, discussions about intersectionality, and reminders to commit to action beyond Saturday. As I left in the early evening, I felt a profound sense of calm and renewed responsibility to resist and fight every day for movements that don't affect me. 

-Sarah Tralins

Program Assistant at the Global Fairness Initiative in Washington, D.C. & recently obtained her master’s degree at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service, where she focused on Political Economy in Latin America.  Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahlt__

Marched in Washington D.C., USA

The patriarchal society has predefined each individual’s role in every sphere, the public and the private, based on their genitals and in doing so, has placed obstacles for individuals in fulfilling their desired potential. Feminism for me is about us as individuals defining our own roles in society. In choosing this March, I chose to stand up to all societies and states which promote values and ideas that threaten the notion of equality.  I chose to protest against those laws and systems around the world which make it acceptable for society to discriminate against any individual - be it women, be it the LGBTQI, be it people of colour.

In most democracies today, State policies and laws are greatly reflective of and largely shaped by society's’ prevailing attitudes. In such a context, activism by the civil society is indispensable in taking the lead to mobilise and raise voices against injustices. It works to sensitise the population and inspire people to work together in making society more inclusive and equal. This in turn, helps in holding the state accountable to put in place laws which actively work to fight discrimination.

It was heartening to see that the Women’s March saw the participation of so many men as well. It is clear to me that feminism need not be defined by the social construct that is gender, but is a movement that transcends such ideas. Feminism is about individuals and is a fight against inequality. 

-Mallika Singhal

A Sciences Po student studying Economic Policy.  Follow Mallika on Twitter: @mallikasin

Marched in Paris, France

Like most people, I am not one identity but several layers of identity. I participated in the Women's March in London as a woman, as a citizen of the United States, as a Christian believer in religious pluralism, as the wife of a journalist who is concerned about press freedom, and so many other reasons. All my identities were present that day. 

I am a media analyst and used to avoid the identity of "activist" as I was afraid it would prevent me from telling stories about activism. But I've realized that telling the story is its own form of activism. Chanting "No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA" was not crossing that imaginary "objectivity" line. In the "post-fact" world which Trump et al are building, simply acknowledging that there was value in the story of the Women's March is a radical action.

-Christa Blackmon

American and Media Anthropologist Living in London.  Follow Christa on Twitter: @theodalisque

Marched in London, UK.

In the days after the announcement of the Women’s March on Washington, members of my peace organization encouraged me to organize a bus to D.C. Most vocal of these members was my mother, a woman who has always motivated me to be an independent and educated woman, and who is also usually right. So yesterday I led approximately 55 men and women to D.C. to march for peace and in solidarity with women worldwide. 

The creativity and sense of community of the March has inspired my own personal activism and organization. Clever signs, pussy hats, and sashes created continuity among marchers, and a “sea of pink” was visible throughout the city. Non-violent principles, positivity, and good manners prevented any clashes or arrests.  

While I was energized by the rally speakers, most lacked focus or synchronization. As a fellow organizer, I would encourage the March coordinators to unite on key issues. We need concrete asks to bring to our elected officials and need to focus on specific legislation in order to gain any ground in Washington or at the state-level. Yesterday showed that the numbers, energy, and creativity are there to be organized into people power. A plan and permanent leadership will be important moving forward.

-Erica DeKranes

Assistant Director of the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, NJ.  Follow Erica on Twitter: @ericadekranes

Marched in Washington D.C., USA