They poured out of planes, subway trains and buses from all over the United States, some four million women, men and children, to join a protest march in Washington a day after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.
The protesters—wearing pussyhats in varying shades of pink to reference Trump’s earlier gloat about grabbing women’s crotches and getting away with it—made it known that they were not taking his sexist and racist remarks sitting down.
And while the protests were dubbed the Women’s March, the people marched not solely for gender equality but a whole range of issues—healthcare access, land rights, discrimination against gays, blacks and migrants, climate action, and equal pay: hot-button issues that Trump either opposed or downplayed during his campaign to court conservative voters and the religious Right.
The protesters had cause for alarm as Trump’s early choices for his Cabinet showed: a climate change skeptic to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an education secretary who said she might support federal funding cuts for special education, and other nominees whose close ties to big business could easily lead to conflict of interest.
Trump also pledged to nominate a Supreme Court justice opposed to reproductive health rights, and to dismantle a healthcare act that covers contraception. Some of his other appointees are known to vote for fund cuts for antidomestic violence programs, and to oppose increases in the minimum wage law.
People caught in the maw of complicated and ever-changing US immigration laws, including Philippine-born Americans, now quake at Trump’s promise to deport millions who, he had claimed, were stealing jobs from native-born Americans. Filipino workers in America are getting paranoid about their personal safety and their job security with the prospect of a spike in racism, said a local women’s group that held a similar protest rally in front of the US Embassy in Manila.
Particularly egregious is Trump’s recent executive order that would bar America from giving funds to international NGOs that offer family planning and RH services, on the false premise that such services include abortion. Such a prohibition would endanger the lives of women and girls in developing countries who often resort to dangerous methods of ending unwanted pregnancies that result from lack of access to contraceptive supplies and services.
Naysayers may dismiss the protest marches as a case of sore losers who should “get over it” and accept that “sour grapes” cannot change the reality of a Trump presidency. But they are missing the point. The protests are not so much a call to oust the man as it is a warning: The world is watching, the protesters declared by their action. “And so are we, and we are not buckling down,” they vowed.
As feminist icon Gloria Steinem said during the protest march: “Pressing ‘send’ is not enough… Sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.”
The marchers were similarly united in purpose in other cities in America and other parts of the world. In Boston, where the crowd swelled to 175,000, Sen. Elizabeth Warren felt heartened by the show of force: “The sight is now burned into my eyes forever. We will use that vision to fight harder.”
Yes, the Women’s March was a vision, but also a continuation of a proud tradition of protest and willingness to fight for one’s rights—starting with the women’s Suffrage Parade in 1913 that resulted in hundreds of marchers being taken to hospital after being assaulted by an angry mob, but which culminated in women’s right to vote seven years later. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led a similar march for civil rights that today are protected by US law.
The messages written on the placards waved during the Women’s March could apply as well to other elected leaders who see themselves as infallible saviors whose position gives them a bully pulpit from which to issue pronouncements they consider as law.
Indeed, populist leaders like Trump are in power—but then there won’t be a lack of protesters thronging the streets in defiance. Uneasy will lie the head that wears the crown.
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