By Jill Zorn
I was fortunate enough to attend the Women’s March on Washington, where 500,000 people gathered peacefully to, “create change from the grassroots level up.”
The mission statement of the March included this phrase, highlighting the importance of both diversity and numbers:
‘In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore.’
The goal of numbers “too great to ignore” was certainly met. Women’s Marches occurred in over 500 cities in the U.S. and in total may have been the largest demonstration in U.S. history.
A University of Connecticut professor, Jeremy Pressman, is compiling a spreadsheet with a political science colleague from the University of Denver, Erica Chenoweth, showing the number of locations and their size. Their data show that between 3.2 million and 4.7 million people participated, which means as many as one in 100 of all Americans attended a March.
Here in Connecticut, an estimated 10,000 people attended in Hartford and 5,000 in Stamford. Dozens of marches also occurred in other places all over the world.
Why We Marched
At its core, the March was about “the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.” It was about protest and about speaking up, about sending a “bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world, that women’s rights are human rights.”
Beyond a focus on women’s rights, it was a “big tent” event, with many concerns on the minds of marchers including civil rights, immigration rights and LGBTQ rights. People also were there because of concerns about specific issues like health care, women’s reproductive rights and climate change.
But the March was about more than numbers and more than issues. It was about who was there, and what it felt like to be there. Among the extremely diverse crowd, there was a palpable feeling of solidarity and purpose that we all shared.
My two daughters and my best friend from college found ourselves packed together in very close quarters between the Air and Space Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum with thousands of strangers of different ages, genders, races, ethnicities and abilities. No matter who you were standing next to you could turn to your neighbor, talk with them and feel a unique level of understanding, support and common ground.
As one marcher wrote on the Women’s March on Washington Facebook page,
“The most impressive aspect was the calm, positive, grass roots nature with so many generations and backgrounds coming together to elevate the discussion on our values.”
We marveled at the multiplicity of signs and more signs and the wide range of spontaneous chants. Here’s one of my favorite chants: “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” After standing on my feet for hours as the speaking/rally portion of the event (which we couldn’t hear and could barely see on a distant jumbotron) ran almost an hour longer than planned, this was perhaps my second favorite chant: “Time to stop talking, let’s start walking!”
The March was an expression of grassroots power, but now that power has to be channeled and organized. The web site of the Women’s March on Washington web site is now highlighting next steps, “10 Actions for the first 100 days.”
Many other resources are out there, too. “Resistance” organizing guides are popping up, such as Indivisible. With regard specifically to protecting access to health care, national groups like Families USA are leading the charge. Locally, our foundation and organizations like Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Planned Parenthood are also working hard to keep people informed and point out ways they can become involved.
The March was a great energizing event, but now we must follow through and dig in for a long, tough fight.
In closing, here’s another of my favorite chants from the March, “This is what democracy looks like!” If that is true, it’s now time to prove it.