By Polly Mikula
“Tell me what democracy looks like?” chanted protesters at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. “This is what democracy looks like!” the crowd yelled back.
It was one of many chants repeated Saturday, Jan. 21, as over 500,000 people descended on the streets of the nation’s capital the day after Trump’s inauguration to protest the president’s pledged policies and disrespectful language toward women, minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQI community and those with disabilities.
I was there with a few of my past roommates from Middlebury College. What we joined was a diverse cross-section of citizens who feel their rights are threatened under a Trump presidency. We came together at the march recognizing each person’s commonality in the struggle for equality and basic rights, and knowing that if anyone’s rights are allowed to be compromised, all are in jeopardy.
“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” another chant rang out, followed by “Black lives matter!” and “My body, my choice!”
Of the hundreds of thousands of signs, many reflected common themes: “Respect existence or expect resistance,” “Tweet others the way you want to be Tweeted” and “Keep your filthy laws off my silky drawers,” among many others.
The crowd was a sea of pink pussycat hats—exactly what the founders of the Pussyhat Project had hoped for. Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, the women behind the Pussyhat Project, sparked a grassroots movement to flood the National Mall with women wearing handmade, cat-eared knit hats. The two began the effort to show solidarity and support for women’s rights. The hats took off and not only was D.C. flooded with the iconic pink hat, but many also wore them at sister marches across the country and globally.
Women made up the majority of the crowd in D.C., but there was a surprising number of men among us. And why shouldn’t there be? A president that doesn’t recognize the equality of citizens—due to gender, skin color, sexual orientation, country of origin, or ability—threatens core tenets of America’s democracy itself. In addition to inequality, the half-million strong also protested attacks on the freedom of speech and an independent press, upheld by the Constitution: “We are watching!” “Bring back facts,” “Our rights are not up for grabs,” read many such signs.
The women’s marches in D.C., across the country and globally demonstrated democracy in action — people rising up against hate, fear, disrespect and lies, and in support of love, equality, respect and truth. It was an exercise of our First Amendment constitutional right “of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
And it was a mass assembly. Worldwide there were 673 different marches with an estimated 4,876,000 people participating, according to womensmarch.com, (The New York Times and The Washington Post were able to verify the number of marches, but not the estimated participation.)
But will it make a difference? Will grievances be redressed?
It’s hard to imagine Trump will set right his attitude and language toward gender, skin color, sexual orientation, country of origin, or ability (all of whom he insulted with some regularity during his campaign). And it cannot be ignored that he is our president because nearly half of the voters in this country rose up in support of him despite, and in some cases because of, such hateful language.
However, thewomen’s marches illustrate the power of people to come together and fight for the values and rights they hold self-evident as American citizens. Working from the ground up, these demonstrators and many more supporters across the country demand that basic rights be upheld and that equality not be undermined. The marches demonstrate that many people understand the difference between propaganda and reporting. That objective truth is not a belief, and belief does not make something true. That facts require evidence.
Being at the Women’s March on Washington felt important. It felt empowering. And it re-inspired hope for hundreds of thousands of people. It felt like a antidote to the despair many felt after the inauguration the day before. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, and former President Barack Obama reminded us frequently, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
If a Trump presidency is a step back for equality, hopefully it will be a step forward for participatory democracy, mobilizing a new generation to understand the importance of involvement; to understand that just because we inherited a strong democracy based on constitutional principals, it doesn’t mean we get to keep it without working to uphold its foundation.