The Largest – and Possibly Most Confused – March in US History

Women suffragists protest in front of the White House in 1917
Women suffragists protest in front of the White House in 1917

By Frances L. Garcia and Daniel L. Davis

Last Friday and Saturday in Washington, DC and scores of cities across the nation, more than a million Americans marched, picketed, caused civil unrest, and otherwise protested. Against what injustice were they rallying? There were almost as many issues cited as there were marchers, but the one thing that seemed to unify the otherwise highly diverse crowds was their hatred of the new President, Donald J. Trump.

The most frequently-seen placards among the supporters of the largest group of protesters on Saturday – Women’s March on Washington – supported pro-abortion stances, protecting women’s rights, LGBTQIA issues, and numerous allusions to female genitalia. It was clear that emotions were running high, as enthusiastic crowds listened to speeches given in all 50 states by many influential and famous speakers. What is less clear, however, is what issue or injustice these million-plus protesters feared.

Perhaps capturing the spirit of the march, pop-icon Madonna roused the crowd in Washington when she summed up the purpose of the march. “The revolution starts here,” she explained, “The fight for the right to be free, to be who we are, to be equal. Let's march together through this darkness and with each step. Know that we are not afraid. That we are not alone, that we will not back down.” What Madonna didn’t address in her speech was just what policies or conditions represented these wrongs.

For example, in what way are women not free in today’s America? What darkness shrouds them from which they need rescue? And what actions are targeted against women from which they will not back down? These are not academic questions.

Both of us have traveled to some of the poorest nations in the world and have seen the massive gulf between the quality of life women enjoy in the United States as opposed to other places. I (Garcia) have been to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on mission trips and seen first hand the genuine darkness that shrouds women, the absence of even basic rights, and how they are in perpetual danger of abuse. Many of these ladies have no champion, laws without teeth to protect them, and have little – and sometimes no – opportunity for upward mobility.

I (Davis) have seen the male-dominated societies of Iraq and Afghanistan. There, women’s rights are only now becoming reality after decades of near-complete domination by men. I’ve met with some of the women’s pioneers in the Afghan Parliament – such as Shinkai karokhail and Fawzia Koofi – and watched with admiration as they fight hard for equality of opportunity and basic freedoms. They fight against legitimate and entrenched inequality. We applaud the courage, tenacity, and toughness many women demonstrate in the face of genuine and substantive opposition and inequality.

Previous generations of American women have marched on Washington and elsewhere in America, and faced genuine hostility and discrimination. Rosa Parks made possibly the most iconic and effective protests ever when she courageously stood alone against the worst of bigotry by sitting in that bus. Women like Alice Paul in the early 20th century fought against legitimate inequality, and led efforts and protests that resulted eventually in passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that gave women the right to vote. The scenes of the protests last weekend and those of Alice Paul from 1917 is stark.

By contrast, there are no rights today in the United States that women are denied. The trend for the elevation of women into positions of increasing power is clear and substantive: Hillary Clinton just became the first woman of a major party to win the nomination for President; women are increasingly being hired to run companies; women are now allowed to compete for all jobs in all branches of the US military.

The one theme that did seem to unite those marching last weekend, however, was a disgust – and for some an outright hatred – for President Trump. What actions has the new President taken that has spurred so many women to action?

He said some insulting and derogatory things about women and minorities during the campaign to be sure. But he proposed no policies that would strip women of one right. He did not signal any intent to reduce or roll back gay rights. At the third debate he did firmly state his personal opposition to abortion, but the President doesn’t have the power to change the law on abortion whether he wants to or not (and there have been plenty of Republican Presidents and conservative courts since 1973 and despite their clear dislike of abortion none of them have changed the law).

Actively protesting and organizing based almost entirely on hating a President – before he has yet to govern a week – is not going to advance women’s interests. It is almost impossible to maintain the momentum because the intensity of the emotion will wane with time, but of greater significance is that by demonizing Trump any ability to work with him, to make him an ally, to influence him to support issues important to women and minorities are forfeited. It also wastes the potential to make an impact on issues that are still legitimately unequal and unjust in America such as sex trafficking, domestic violence, and abuses in the foster care system.

One of the most observed signs from last weekend’s protests were variations of “Love Trumps Hate”. If that be true, then love must apply to all, not merely those who believe like we do. Basing a movement on hatred for an individual is not going to help women and leaves other important issues unaddressed. Freedom and equality for all is a worthy and noble cause. Having genuine tolerance for those with whom we disagree will give us all the best chance to achieve positive change.

Frances L. Garcia has a BS in Government and International Politics from George Mason and is pursuing a Master’s of Public Administration and Public Policy from American University. Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities. The views in this article are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the opinions of Defense Priorities.  Davis can be followed @DanielLDavis1.

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