Last week I left my safe space, my small town in Mississippi, to make a solo pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to check out the Trump inauguration. I had a few “small town girl visiting the busy city” moments while I was there but the most overwhelming experience was when I went to the Women’s March on Washington.
I had no expectations of the march, other than wondering if it would be mostly a bunch of Pantsuit Nation, safety-pin wearing liberal women. I had heard about the celebrity speakers ahead of time and about the exclusion of the pro-life group, New Wave Feminists. Unfortunately, after the mass turnout and breathtaking show of opposition to the incoming administration, all I am hearing about still are the celebrities and the abortion issue.
But that’s not why I marched, nor why most others marched either.
I wasn’t shocked by the contempt and disapproval of the event voiced by my peers and many community friends. In South Mississippi, conservative ideas are part of the landscape, like sunny days and shrimp po-boys. What does bother me is that the criticism is mostly over celebrity participants and the issue of abortion.
It’s true that in typical elite liberal fashion, event organizers presented celebrities as the voice of the march, as if they had learned nothing from Hillary’s campaign failed effort to win over voters with endorsements from clueless Hollywood A-listers. We don’t need Ashley Judd reciting a dimwitted spoken word poem with forced conviction. We don’t need Madonna talking about wanting to “blow up the White House” while she lounges about her Manhattan apartment, Los Angeles estate and London mansion.
We could also have done without denying pro-life groups the status of feminism. I’m a feminist but I didn’t take a pledge to support identity politics and personal choices and don’t think the title of feminist should be defined by one’s opinion of Roe vs. Wade.
I know many progressives who are pro-life. However, through the concerted efforts of the organizers, the event came across as a mass gathering of abortion advocates and reality-detached celebrities. Meanwhile, there was shockingly little said about any sort of economic program or policies that could attract the working class and poor voters who sat out the election or voted for Trump.
Still, I’m glad I marched, which I decided to do after walking with the crowd that morning. It was already thick by the time I got there so I wasn’t near the stages nor could I hear the televised speeches. I saw pro-choice feminists who donned pink pussy hats and held signs advocating their right to choose.
But I also saw and spoke to many women who were there primarily to oppose the Trump administration and who marched for different reasons: the environment, Black Lives Matter, immigrants, Muslims. They had signs supporting unions and public education. They called for better healthcare and livable wages. They were there to oppose cabinet picks like Betsy Devos and Michael Flynn or to protest white supremacy and misogyny.
The one overall theme that was evident on every packed corner was opposition to the Trump administration and to remind the newly elected president that he did not win the popular vote. He may have won the election and have taken control of the government but democracy doesn’t end with voting.
Perhaps the most moving moment for me that day was I marched down Pennsylvania Avenue as the crowd chanted, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” I glanced up and noticed a banner on the Wilson Building, where the D.C. mayor’s office and city council are located. On the banner was a popular quote from Washington’s own Frederick Douglas, who once proclaimed, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.”
That’s why I marched and that, I suspect, is why many others did too.