On the afternoon of Jan. 20, I dredged through Jeanne Mance Park, making an effort to step in the footprints of those before me, grasping large pieces of cardboard. I was running late to class, but that wasn’t my main priority. I was focused on getting to campus to meet four other friends, so we could quickly depart Montreal in a rental car and make our way to Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington.
For the duration of that evening, my friends and I made our way down the East Coast, a drive that takes around 12 hours. We arrived at the house at which we were staying at 2:30 a.m. Several hours later we awoke to head to the march, along with over a half a million other people.
And that was the march on Washington alone. Activists gathered for Women’s Marches around the world, including New York, Montreal, Paris, Sydney, and even Antarctica. The sheer quantity of marchers turning out to support equal rights across the globe was a feat in and of itself, and served as a beacon of hope for those feeling crestfallen after the inauguration of Donald Trump. The turnout at the march, and the energy among the masses, served as a reminder that, while some may suffer in more tangible ways than others, none of us are alone in handling the repercussions of what threatens to be a painful four years for many marginalized individuals. I am white, cisgender, and come from an upper-middle class background, meaning that I am protected from many of these repurcussions. But at the march, I wanted to stand in solidarity with those for whom the future is less safe. This was the most vital takeaway from the Women’s March on Washington—not just resistance to Trump, but the voices and values that this resistance fights for.
The quantity of marchers that attended the March on Washington was enough to slow down the march itself; groups of impassioned protesters were occasionally brought to a halt. Though comforting to know that these lulls in energy resulted from the sheer size of the event, they also stemmed from the lack of communication and clear leadership of our ranks. This collective uncertainty served as a powerful metaphor for the apprehension that many marchers feel about their lacking political representation in the months to follow Trump’s election.
As a technically non-partisan event, the march garnered a large number of signs and cheers for issues larger than the recent election. Supporters donned signs that carried messages like “Love is love is love,” and “The future is female.” But for each of these signs voicing positive messages—calls to hope, affirmations, and positively-phrased statements of value—there was another sign held referring to Donald Trump in degrading terms, calling out his fake tan or his comb-over.
Cheers that spread through the crowds over the course of the march followed the same themes. For every minute-long chant of ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ or ‘We are the popular vote!’ there was one insulting Trump for characteristics that had little to do with his ideology, such as ‘Can’t build wall, hands too small,’ or ‘We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter.’
The latter calls are cathartic for many protesters, and they are certainly amusing; however, I found myself more impassioned when chanting the more hopeful and more productive messages. Anti-Trump chants place him at the centre of protesters’ attention, and sideline the ideals that motivated them to take a stand. Whether it praises or condemns, exposure is empowering. During his campaign trail, Trump garnered the most media attention among his competitors, which—despite a vast portion of this coverage being negative—ultimately contributed to his success. The same remains today: Chanting our oppositions to Trump himself, rather than his harmful ideas, only diverts attention from the issues we stand for and gives him more power—at least symbolically.
It’s important that the March serves as a catalyst for future protests and activist work in the coming four years and beyond. By framing our ideas in terms of the values we stand for, rather than the people we oppose, the popular voters have the chance to make their voices heard.