From the January-February 2017 issue of News & Letters
Chicago—The Women’s March here was so huge that the entire route would have been taken up by demonstrators so the march was cancelled for what was supposed to be a rally instead. Even then all 250,000 of us couldn’t rally either. Instead we walked towards the rally site. When it was impossible for all to get there, we rallied in place or we marched anyway, taking over busy Chicago streets, some making their way to Trump Tower, stopping traffic with our signs, our numbers, our chants, for hours.
It meant something that the women’s marches caught fire. It wasn’t explicit that it was a humanism that brought people out, but it was implicit in all the signs calling out Trump for hate, in the insistence that we were there because we welcome immigrants and refugees, that we know in our bones that Black Lives Matter and police killings must stop and that we want justice for LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and others.
It was a beautiful day and not only because of the weather, but because of the comradeship. The march projected the kind of America Trump aims to destroy—multi-racial; multi-ethnic; tens of thousands of spirited feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ people being who they are and proud. We were united because we oppose Trump’s inhuman plans for the U.S., but also in what we were fighting for—and the “for” was also what the demonstration itself embodied: the desire for a country that is committed to the well-being of its citizens, the world’s citizens and the planet.
Detroit—In spring-like weather the Detroit Sister March circled the Wayne State University campus. Spearheaded by “GO Girls”—an association of women in science, technology, engineering and math and their families—the march was poorly publicized, yet up to 5,000 turned out. Men and Black people were well-represented, as were older marchers, college students, LGBTQ people and young families with strollers.
The only prepared signs were posters by artist Shepard Fairey. Handmade signs covered the spectrum of “women’s issues” including: immigrant and refugee support, environmental justice, Black Lives Matter, defense of healthcare and public education. Unions and Left vanguard parties were notably absent.
Despite the festive and empowering atmosphere, some marchers told how they had already experienced the realities of Trumpism. One who works for the Environmental Protection Agency said they have been told to take the words “climate change” out of their vocabulary. They have a new emphasis on “law enforcement” (which probably doesn’t mean enforcing anti-pollution laws against big corporations). A Latina activist said that at recent demonstrations protesting Trump and defending Detroiters against eviction, the intensity of the police response had noticeably escalated.
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—Susan Van Gelder
Oakland, Calif.—The Women’s March was the largest demonstration in Oakland in living memory—one of several large marches in the San Francisco Bay
Area. Experienced demonstrators put the number close to 100,000 and perhaps much more. It was an outpouring of women and men with a range of feminist perspectives, immigrants’ rights groups, Black Lives Matter activists, a special Third World contingent which included Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Gabriela, Alliance of South Asians Taking Actions, Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women & Transgender Community and others.
People put a lot of thought into their handmade signs: “Make America think again”; a quote from Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”; from Thomas Jefferson: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty”; “Respect existence or expect resistance”; “Dissent is patriotic”; and “Trump, the best president rubles can buy.”
People wanted to discuss ideas. We talked about the movement for freedom in Syria. People shared their own efforts to help, such as Syria Charity, a French group formed to support the “Cat man of Aleppo” who used his car as an ambulance since official ambulances were targeted for bombing.
The Women’s March followed demonstrations on inauguration day. The ILWU (Longshoremen) closed the docks for a day.
There was a general belief that this is only a beginning and a palpable desire to build a movement that would make a difference, beginning with respect for all human beings.
In Los Angeles
Los Angeles—President Trump and his elite cabinet picks personify the advancing stages of capitalism into which we are headed, where the expropriators will themselves be expropriated. Even before over half a million marched in L.A. on Jan. 21, protests on Jan. 20 gave the lie to any claims of popular support for Trump.
In the morning, close to 100 people gathered to block the street in front of LA County Jail, to chants of “Stop the Cops, Fund Black Futures!” Later in the day, three busloads of activists alighted in front of Steve Mnuchin’s Bel Air mansion—a man worth $40 million and soon to be Secretary of the Treasury. They commenced 20 minutes of street theater on his front driveway/gateway before local police wielding billy clubs came to push the activists back to the street.
Nashville, Tenn.—The march here was powerful. Some say over 15,000. Standing on Broadway, you could look across the river at a full pedestrian bridge and people waiting on the bank to get in line. Then looking back across and all the way up Second Ave, there were protesters, activists, engaged citizens as far as the eye could see.
Memphis, Tenn.—On Jan. 21 we joined Women’s March participants across the country and the world to speak out against the misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia stoked during Donald Trump’s campaign. About 10,000 people gathered downtown in front of the Shelby County courthouse, named for the late local civil rights activist, lawyer, judge and author D’Army Bailey.
Bailey’s widow Adrienne addressed the crowd, urging solidarity and action in the face of the Trump administration’s threats to women’s rights and civil liberties. Rep. Steve Cohen pointed out the need for vigilance in the face of the political threats expected from the Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress. He compared Trump’s rhetoric to fascist rhetoric of the 1930s and asked us to continue to speak out against Trump’s assaults on commonly shared understandings and values.
The march concluded at the National Civil Rights Museum, which encompasses the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The museum’s director, Terri Freeman, spoke to the crowd about the march as a continuation of the civil rights and women’s rights struggles and as a new beginning. She asked us to resist encroachments on hard-won gains and to continue to work for the equality of all.
In New York City
New York City—Over 400,000 gathered in midtown Manhattan and flooded the streets of the city in a massive repudiation of Donald Trump in his own hometown.
One of the most striking things about the demonstration was the spontaneity of the crowd. The vast majority of protest signs were handmade. Chanting broke out during the march as well. It was a living testimony to the power that women have if we organize and mobilize in our own interests.
The march was overwhelmingly women—of all ages—and included a number of men. There were cultural acts and speakers from the entertainment and political world. When one speaker asked the crowd a series of questions about whether we would accept the new laws of the Trump regime, over and over we yelled, NO!
Throughout midtown thousands of women were carrying signs, wearing pink hats and protest T-shirts, blocking traffic at major avenues. Although there was no formal permission to shut down the streets, the New York Police Department avoided confrontations with the crowd. However, undoubtedly under orders from Trump, we were not allowed to go all the way to Trump Tower. But enterprising marchers found a way, and surrounded his official NY residence.
Many women were upset by the fact that such a misogynist sexist pig is now in the White House. Others were focused on specific issues, especially the threatened defunding of Planned Parenthood.
A day earlier, the day of Trump’s inauguration, another huge crowd of passionate New Yorkers filled the area close to Trump International Hotel, to protest all that he stands for. They showed that, though Trump is a New Yorker, he in no way represents the values of the people who live here.
More than 25,000 marched. When it concluded, several thousand went to Trump Tower. The sentiments of the crowd were best captured by Cynthia Nixon, a Lesbian and star of Sex and the City, who said, “Yes we’ve had a setback. But we can see it as a setback or we can see it as a challenge. And where there is a challenge there is an opportunity to show that love, equality and unity can beat hatred and discrimination.”
Hopefully both days will herald the first of many that will confront the Trump regime where it really matters: in the streets.