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What Does It Take to Turn a March into a Movement?

DENVER/LONDON VIA EMAIL: After millions of people gathered around the world last weekend in marches supporting women’s rights, a big looming question remains—What now? Understandably, there has been a lot of speculation about whether the Women’s March on Washington and all the sister marches around the globe are the beginning of a movement or simply a powerful moment in time. They constitute the largest simultaneous global marches to have ever taken place.

We are in uncharted territory after the marches and a lot of experts are giving their two-cents about what needs to happen next. U.S. magazine The Atlantic tackled the tricky question of whether the marches will turn into a movement in an article about the laborious but exciting process of tallying the number of protestors (estimated at 3.3 million to 4.6 million globally as of press time for the January 23 article). “The Women’s March has some of the hallmarks of the beginning of a successful movement,” Erica Chenoweth, an expert on nonviolent protest and University of Denver professor, was quoted as saying in the article.  She went on to add that some of the hallmarks of the successful movement from the march were the large numbers, inclusivity, the level of organization and involvement of people who didn’t usually engage in political protests.

So, what’s involved in making a moment into a movement? A lot of work, and people around the globe are seemingly snapping to it. The day after the marches, Kristin was invited to join a closed Facebook group whose goal is 100 days of action following the marches. She was also invited to participate in a Women’s Day of Service in Denver through Facebook. Social media, for all its good and bad is a unique tool of the 21st century and we can unite with millions of other likeminded individuals using no more than a cell phone and wifi. How the sister suffragettes would have liked that. The official Women’s March website, calling for 10 actions in 100 days, wrote: “We did it! On January 21, over 5 million of us worldwide and over 1 million in Washington, D.C., came to march, speak and make our voices heard. But it doesn’t end here—now is not the time to hang up our marching shoes—it’s time to get our friends, family and community together and make history.”

Kristin McDonald, a Colorado native who recently attended the Women’s March on Washington, thinks that to make a moment into a movement, people need to do something small every day to support creating that movement. When she-files asked her what the sentiment was among marchers about next steps, she told me that they are nervous about becoming complacent again. And that makes sense because complacency is easy and attractive while activism requires work and dedication. “What we all need to do is hold ourselves accountable, remind each other to keep the fight up doing small things every day and encourage other women to do the same,” she said

Ginanne attended the march in London, which started outside the U.S. Embassy in Grovesnor Square and ended at a rally in Trafalgar Square. The mood was jovial—and inclusive, as there were also marchers who wanted to express their concern over issues like LGBT rights, racism and human rights abuses across the globe. There were some great signs—one read “I am really quite cross about this”, which was tongue-in-cheek sentiment that both played up the British stereotype of downplaying things but also with undercurrents that expressed deeper emotions—and conversations were heard in languages including Serbo-Croat, Hindi and Chinese. An estimated 100,000 attended the march and it was reportedly the largest outside of North America. Hundreds of other global marches took from Accra to Antarctica, with the New York Times publishing a number of photographs from worldwide events.

Public emotions surrounding the marches continue to run high. A Facebook post from someone named Christy, who claimed not to see the point in a Women’s March, spurred a rebuttal by writer Susan Speer that went viral on Monday. Ms. Speer wrote: “I didn’t march because I personally feel marginalized, I marched because I can. I marched because a lot of women can’t, even if you don’t see them.” In the Independent Remi Joseph Salisbury, a senior lecturer at Britain’s Leeds Beckett University, wrote, “To abhor one man may be comforting, but, unless it is supplemented by a critique of structural white supremacy, it will always miss the mark.” Mr. Salisbury argued that the river of inequality runs deep and protests must address this if any real change is to happen. While it remains to be seen whether the Women’s Marches will carry enough momentum to start a lasting movement, if the dialogue spurred by the marches and the sheer numbers involved are an indication of anything, it’s looking good. This could be the beginning of something bigger than the marches’ organizers dared dream.

she-files editorial


First photo of London marcher, courtesy Ginanne Brownell Mitic; second photo, Shutterstock

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