Hundreds of thousands of women are expected to gather in the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington the day after Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
The goal of the protest is to “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights,” the organizers’ mission statement reads. “We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”
Sister marches are planned throughout the country, including one set to pass in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan, as well as other demonstrations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Marchers will also take to the streets in Port Jefferson Station on Long Island.
Organizers say that they see the Women’s March on Washington as not being solely anti-Trump but in support of a range of issues affecting women, including abortion rights, health, equal pay and gun violence. They intend to show the country’s incoming administration that women refuse to be taken for granted, despite some disparaging comments made by President-elect Trump that came to light during the presidential campaign.
Jean Bucaria, vice president of (NOW) New York, told the Press that a lot is at stake.
“From our access to healthcare to protection from discrimination and violence, to the self-worth of our girls—everything we have fought for will be challenged,” said Bucaria. “The power of our collective voices is the just the start of our movement to hold the line.”
Julia Fenster, co-president of Nassau County NOW, believes that fundamental rights of women are under threat, but others are at risk as well. Immigrants, the elderly and those whose health insurance is about to be repealed are also vulnerable, she said.
“We stand strong in unity with the diverse community of Nassau County and are marching to remind them that Nassau NOW will stand with them and support them under this new administration and in this difficult climate,” said Fenster in an email to the Press. She added that people will be marching to support women’s reproductive freedom, which she says is being targeted by the conservative new administration and its Congressional allies. She said they will also be protesting “the normalization of assault and violence against women that has been mainstreamed since the election.”
Stopping gun violence is another reason marchers will be taking it to the streets, as advocacy groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action are organizing around that issue. Long Island-native turned actor and comedienne Amy Schumer took to Instagram to announce that it is a “big” reason why she will be marching this weekend. She cited these statistics compiled by Everytown:
- American women are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than in other high-income countries
- In an average month, 50 women in the US are shot to death by a current or former partner
- Guns are the weapon of choice in domestic violence murders
- Approximately 4.5 million American women have been threatened with guns
Schumer became a vocal advocate against gun violence after a man shot people in a movie theater in Lafayette, La., during the opening night of her film Trainwreck, on July 23, 2015, killing two women.
This issue resonates deeply with Donna Dees, a New Yorker who had organized the historic Million Mom March in Washington, D.C., on Mother’s Day in 2000. The year before there’d been a mass shooting at a community center in Granada Hills, Calif. That protest drew more than 750,000 people to the National Mall in D.C., while others demonstrated in all 50 states. This weekend Dees says she plans to join the Women’s March on Washington.
But as Dees knows all too well, the most important work happens after the march is over, when the advocates must build on the momentum and continue the work with clipboards in hand to make contacts that can change elections.
“As I have discovered in the gun violence prevention movement,” Dees told the Press, “after 2000 and the Million Mom March, many women went straight from the march to block some really bad gun laws and get some good ones passed. We got two ballot initiatives in Colorado and Oregon to close gun show loopholes. We got a lot done in the first six months after the march. We got a lot of good people elected, and we threw a lot of bad people out of office. But you can lose that momentum pretty quickly.”
Dees said she plans to march in honor of women who’ve given their lives for the cause.
“I have known women who have died for the gun violence prevention movement,” says Dees. “No, they were not beaten up in jail or shot and killed, but they neglected their health.”
She gave credit to women of color who were the “real leaders” in the movement and wound up dying of broken hearts because they’d lost sons and daughters to gun violence. Dees said the stress of going up against the powerful gun lobby takes its toll. She wants their sacrifice to be remembered.
“I am personally marching for them,” Dees said, “and I think that speaks to other issues I care about: healthcare for women.”
Many men have said they’ll lend their voice to this weekend’s cause, too.
Finding solidarity with Dees on preventing gun violence is Ladd Everitt, a Merrick native and director of One Pulse for America, an advocacy group founded by actor and LGBTQ activist George Takei after the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., last June at a LGBTQ club. Everitt is also taking aim at Trump, whose presidency he regards as illegitimate amid accusations of Russian interference during the presidential campaign.
Everitt told the Press that Trump “might very well have colluded with a foreign power to obtain the office of president of the United States.” He said that Trump “rejects democratic norms and actively seeks to intimidate and silence his critics.” It is crucial, the activist added, “that patriots stand together in this moment of constitutional crisis and demonstrate that we are unwilling to surrender our democratic rights.”
He praised the organizers of the Women’s March for “showing true leadership and giving so many of us a venue to powerfully and peacefully express our dissent,” adding that the right of peaceful protest is protected by our constitutional freedom. Raising a voice that refuses to be silenced defines the American spirit.
Dees believes that the Jan. 21 protests will start to change “hearts and minds” around the country because the movement is being led by women.
“I know how much can be done if you harness that energy,” Dees said. “The Million Mom March really fueled the movement for many years after because it was a women-led, woman-organized march.”
She continued that they relied on something she called “lateral leadership,” which meant women taking on a range of roles across the board rather than setting up a traditional hierarchy. As a result, many women rose to the challenge. Dees cited the bus organizers as the “unsung heroes” of the protest movement.
“Some of these women have no clues they’re leaders yet,” she observed. “They said they have 1,200 parking permit requests. I’m sure they’re going to have more buses than that. To organize a bus of 52 people…really develops your leadership skills. When those people return to wherever they come from, they’re ready to work.”
But first they will come together to march on Washington and around the country this Saturday. Then it will be time to roll up their sleeves, pick up their clipboards and begin the hard struggle to hold the line on rights their foremothers fought for.