On the Ground at the 2018 Women’s March

Published On January 22, 2018 | By Keely Mullen | Women's Rights

Last year, Donald Trump’s inauguration was met by massive demonstrations of millions worldwide marching against his sexism and bigotry. One year later, the 2018 Women’s Marches saw hundreds of thousands turn out around the world to say that the fight is far from over!  The demonstration in Los Angeles attracted over half a million people, in Chicago there were 300,000, and New York saw 200,000 in the streets.  There were also marches in Osaka, Rome, London, Sydney, and other cities worldwide. The size of these demonstrations show that there is still tremendous anger at the Trump administration and a real desire to see him out of office. Not only were there protest signs taking aim at Trump’s sexism and predatory sexual history, there were signs about his vicious attacks on immigrants, and his blatant racism and bigotry.

The recent #MeToo uprising has signaled new phase in the women’s movement, and in city after city the major question being asked is: how can we carry the movement forward? In Columbus, Ohio, Socialist Alternative lead the 3,000 person march behind a banner that read “Unite Against Sexism! Build a New Women’s Movement!”  In her rally speech, a member of Socialist Alternative, Columbus was met with roaring applause when she pointed toward the need for rent control and free college education in moving the fight against sexism forward. At the end of the march in New York, our members chanted “The march may be over, but the fight isn’t!” drawing in crowds to discuss next steps for the movement. We organized vibrant #MeToo contingents in a number of marches across the country, drawing in people who want to end harassment in their workplaces, and who want to see the Predator-in-Chief Donald Trump driven out of office.

Most of those marching are focused on the midterm elections in November as the key opportunity to strike back against Trump. However, many others agreed with us that the Democrats have not been reliable fighters for working people and what is key in challenging sexism, sexual harassment and Trump is the building of an organized, mass movement. A Socialist Alternative member in New York stood in the middle of the NYC Women’s March holding a sign that read “Ask Me How I’m Getting Organized!” She was approached by dozens of excited people who wanted to learn how to get organized, how to build a movement, and how to fight back.

Members of Socialist Alternative from across the country report from on the ground at their local Women’s March! More to come…

New York City, NY

Michaela Ciovacco and Alice Breda Ryan

More than 200,000 people gathered for a parade-like Women’s March starting on Central Park West near the Trump International Hotel and snaking through Midtown Manhattan. The pink and white river of pussy hats and homemade signs commingled with a heavy NYPD presence. Socialist Alternative had a strong turnout of almost 40 members. There was an especially strong turnout of female members, who played a leading role at the three tables set up before the march began.

Compared to last year, the march was not congested with “I’m with Her” signs. Some of the few signs with the phrase “I’m with her” had two arrows pointing to either side, directed at fellow marchers. Instead of looking to leadership from one person, this illustrates a shift towards solidarity amongst ourselves. This year’s march was generally more overtly feminist. Regrettably, some transphobic signage was present, a reminder of the challenge remaining to create an inclusive women’s movement. Surprisingly, there were fewer #MeToo signs than expected. Many marchers focused on “Women’s rights are human rights” and women’s health. Outrage towards Trump was conveyed through signs of him with an “s” hole mouth and “Impeach Trump” showing a fruit with a toupee. Socialist Alternative’s paper slogan reading “One Year is Enough” and anti-Trump chants like “Sexist, racist, anti-gay, Donald Trump Go Away!” caught the crowd’s enthusiasm. Marchers also energetically shouted “Stand Up Fight Back!” when Socialist Alternative members asked “When women’s rights (black lives, immigrants, Mother Earth, trans lives, etc.) are under attack, what do we do?” Many marchers also admired our signs stating that affordable housing is a feminist issue.

There was a clear emphasis on the 2018 midterm elections and voting as a next step. Organizations like Viceland and Power to the Polls (Women’s March Organizers) were prominent throughout the march, encouraging women to register to vote, without pushing a particular candidate or platform. However many marchers, particularly young women, were hugely supportive of Socialist Alternative’s call for collective action, organizing, having strength in unity and bringing Trump down. They also seemed to enjoy our chants about a mass movement while marching (e.g. “Get Up, Get Down, There’s a revolution in this town”, or “ONE! We are the Women, TWO! We are United, THREE! Our movement will not be defeated”).

At the end of the march, members set up several tables near the discharge areas to further push the importance of organizing: “The march is over but the fight continues, ask me how I’m getting organized!” One unionized city employee shared that she is facing sexual harassment in her workplace and agreed that we need a strong, mass women’s coalition to fight back. We are now planning four public meetings in New York to discuss the differences between liberal and socialist feminism and how to build the #MeToo movement.

Columbus, Ohio

Greyson Arbeider

An estimated 3,000 energized people marched through downtown Columbus at the second annual Women’s March on January 20th, a crowd size that has not been seen in the city since the inauguration of Trump last year. After being offered an excellent opportunity to co-host the March, Socialist Alternative Columbus led with a large banner reading “Unite Against Sexism! Build a New Women’s Movement!”

Many attendees wore shirts supporting Hillary Clinton but many others brought signs or wore shirts supporting showing support for Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, or the gay and trans communities. The marchers overall had a progressive character, cheering the loudest for strong demands like universal healthcare and free college education. This is a significant change to a year ago, when many people refused to talk policy or thought such radical demands only amounted to wishful thinking.

Two Socialist Alternative members gave speeches as well as two other activists who also spoke about the need to pressure Democrats as well as Republicans in addition to broadening the movement even beyond marching. While spectators were wildly supportive of the speakers in general, the most crowd support came when speakers connected a working class issue to a feminist issue. People agreed that it was time for the movement to begin fighting for concrete issues.

This was reflected in tabling at the event as well. Those familiar with women’s issues became more invested when they were connected to working-class issues as well, like the need for a $15 minimum wage and affordable housing. However, even people who were new to the fight for women’s issues had “epiphany moments” when the perspective of class was brought into the discussion.

Overall, the #MeToo movement played a gargantuan role in the Women’s March in Columbus. While being featured on the leading banner in the march, the most popular signs were ones that featured #MeToo or addressed sexual harassment in some way. In addition to this, #MeToo offered the biggest political opening – while many attendees sympathized with and supported the #MeToo hashtag and recent events, many were also wondering what would come of it and what direction it should take. Our response was that #MeToo must begin a movement for concrete action against workplace sexual harassment, with direct aims like a $15 minimum wage, rent control, and free college education – and that response was well-received by the thousands in attendance.

To sum up, the situation in Columbus is one of surprising success. While the 2018 Women’s March had slightly fewer numbers than last year, the difference was not huge. People are still ready and willing to show up for women’s rights, and there’s significant evidence that the situation from the previous year has improved – Columbus is more organized, more conscious of the need for a broad fighting movement, and more ready to take on concrete demands in the future.

Houston, TX

Thomas Murphy

The Houston Woman’s March was larger than most demonstrations in the city with an estimated 12 thousand people in attendance.  The march featured speakers from the labor movement and independent citizens who have struggled with sexual harassment and police brutality.  The political message was mixed, though, with speakers from the political establishment also speaking such as the Mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, and the Chief of Houston Police Department, Art Acevedo.

The march itself used chants that hit on a diversity of topics from “When women’s lives are under attack, what do we do?  Stand up fight back!” and “Our bodies, our choice!” to “Black Lives Matter!” and “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”

Signs at the rally were much more specific to the original focus of the march, many saying things like “this pussy grabs back”  “Support Planned Parenthood” and “Nasty Woman” but also things like “Trans Women Are Women”  “End the Feminization of Poverty” and “We demand access to healthcare, birth control, and abortion.”

Despite the politically mixed feel of the march and rally there was an obvious interest in many for an alternative to the status quo. Members of Socialist Alternative spoke with people about organizing against sexual harassment and assault, for equal pay, and also for affordable housing in Houston coming off our recent campaign with the 2100 Memorial building.  With a steady stream of people visiting the table and bringing back friends to speak with us, we created a significant interest in our upcoming public meeting.

The crowd seemed to agree on two things completely, a distaste for the President and his policies and a need to empower women and fix the culture of sexual assault and harassment in our society.  Many felt that voting in the midterm elections is a way to remedy the situation, others see a need for a larger change in society and real protections for women, including healthcare, higher wages, and protection from sexual assault that are not being given by either of the corporate parties.

The march itself was organized in a coalition between Houston Women’s March and the Harris County Democratic Party.  There will also be an upcoming March for Black Women on March 3rd.

Providence, RI

Jai Chavis

The majority of the signs focused on fighting Trump, Black Lives Matter, fighting sexual assault/harassment, and defending reproductive rights. And there were of course, a number of “Love Trumps Hate” signs as well.

There were numerous organizations tabling at the rally such as: Planned Parenthood, Indivisible, Providence DSA, Women’s March on Washington, as well as a litany of local liberal organizations related to women’s issues.

We found that the best talking points were discussing the concrete demands presented in our most recent #MeToo article (especially the establishment of an independent federal agency to fight against sexual assault in the workplace), the necessity of turning #MeToo in a new mass women’s movement (and likening this to the development of BLM), and talking about building an independent workers’ party that can fight for systemic change.

Los Angeles, CA

Catherine E.

One year after President Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles calling for equal rights for women and shunning the president and the GOP for their shameful sexist politics. According to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Twitter feed, the 2018 Los Angeles Women’s March had 600,000 people in attendance, but some suspect this to be an overestimate. Overall, the messaging of the march focused on the voting booth. The official slogan was, “First we march, then we vote.” While getting Trump out of office and flipping the House and the Senate are clear goals, we have seen that once in office, they will continue to act in the corporate interests of their donors. And even if they break the glass ceiling for women, people of color, or members of the LGBTQ+ community, they’ll continue to leave behind a mess of broken glass for working class people to clean up.

What brought out these numbers, supposedly only a couple hundred thousand people less than last year? Female strength and solidarity were certainly present. There was distinct #MeToo messaging coming from the official programming, with Viola Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and other famous actresses giving fiery speeches about holding men accountable in Hollywood and elsewhere. They also spoke about the need to stand up for women who don’t have a voice because they lack the money and the platform. Mayor Garcetti also spoke and we pointed out to others at the march the irony of him speaking, given he’s the same mayor whose policies are doing nothing to help the 34,000 people who experienced homelessness in the City of Los Angeles in 2017, many of whom are women. We spoke to many people at the march about the need for affordable housing.

Bellingham, WA

EJ Lawrence

On Saturday January 20, 2018, four members of Socialist Alternative Bellingham Branch tabled and participated in the Women’s March starting at Bellingham City Hall. There were around 4,000 participants in all, many carrying signs in protest of Trump and sexual harassment as well as calling for women’s and LGBTQ rights. The crowd represented a broad spectrum of center to left political ideologies united primarily in opposition to Trump and defending the rights of women. The march was a follow up to the Women’s March last year that had over 10,000 participants and had noticeably more excitement and optimism.

Pittsburgh, PA

Jim J.

The Women’s March in Pittsburgh took place on Sunday, part of a second round in some cities across the country after most of the largest cities held their marches on Saturday. Around 3,000 people showed up, a much larger amount than a typical Pittsburgh rally.

The movement is by no means homogeneous. On the ground you can easily encounter all types of people looking to fight back against Trump and the racism, sexism, and greed he so perfectly embodies. The march in our city was organized almost exclusively by activist groups with a core focus on elections. This messaging is what dominated on the stage and in the speeches. Although many speakers also covered wide-ranging topics that included LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, poverty, etc. While these topics were almost all linked to the coming midterm elections as the key source of change, the mood was significantly different among the wider crowd. I was struck by the large number of young people present, young women especially, who are open to the kind of politics Socialist Alternative represents. We made the call to build a movement to bring down Trump and fight back against sexual harassment and violence, and linked these movements to a broader struggle on other fronts. Signs and buttons about #MeToo were a common sight, a measure of just how deep it’s impact has been.

Over the course of the nearly four hours we were there we handed out hundreds of flyers for our upcoming public meetings on socialist feminism and the #MeToo movement. We talked to hundreds more about their thoughts on the movement and what they thought about how we best take it forward. 

With total attendance of the marches around the country in the hundreds of thousands and even millions, these are some of the largest political events in American history. With our society in a state of crisis and despair in so many ways, it is incredibly inspiring and a source of real hope that so many are looking to get active and organized. We look forward to continuing to help build the movement here in Pittsburgh!

Cincinnati, OH

Defying all expectations, local media estimated 10,000 or more at the Women’s March in Cincinnati nearly matching the size of last year’s historic crowd of 12,000. For a second year, the rally and march was coordinated by United We Stand (UWS) an ad-hoc activist committee based in Cincinnati that assembled on Facebook in early January of 2017 following Trump’s election. Involving a handful of newly engaged activists, UWS led the inaugural Women’s March and participated in the wave of national actions that followed.

The majority of signs throughout the crowd reflected the broad anti-Trump sentiment that has registered since the election. Many included messaging related to LGBTQ rights, anti-sexism, abortion access, the pay gap and other feminist issues. A minority of the signs were related to voting.

We were well received in the crowd with our call for #MeToo to be transformed into mass action. People were very receptive to the idea of a “new women’s movement that extends beyond the ballot box to confront sexism in our workplaces and our communities” and accepted the leaflet for our upcoming public event without hesitation!

Hundreds participated in our chants and our contingent was the most lively contingent of the march. A few times our contingent was approached by younger participants asking for us to lead with specific chants. Our chant of “Sexist bosses that’s not right, women workers lead the fight!” was received enthusiastically as well as “My body, my choice”, “When women’s (and immigrants) rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” and “Black Lives Matter.”

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