Opinion: Why do we attend the Women’s March?
Women’s Marches intend to enact change but they unexpectedly help us discover community
Protesting is a popular activity for American University students. Whether it be climate change, unfair pay or immigration policies, AU students are quick to craft a handmade poster with a witty pun and stand outside for hours. Perhaps that’s why we are ranked the most politically active student body by The Princeton Review.
In October, I decided to volunteer at the Women’s March’s Rally for Abortion Justice. I was assigned to the Accessibility Team. My job entailed guiding attendees with disabilities towards the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) seating, keeping wheelchair-accessible paths clear and monitoring the ADA shuttles that followed the march.
At the beginning of my mandatory training session, I was asked a simple question by my team leader: “Why are you protesting?” Like most of the other volunteers, I answered with something along the lines of “because I believe in a woman’s right to choose.” Looking back, I’m not sure if my answer was complete.
Yes, I am in complete support of the cause, but why does that motivate me to protest? I don’t believe that the rally will directly enact policy change. I didn’t attend the Women’s March in 2017 because I thought marching would force Trump out of office. I doubt the other people participating believed that either. If Women’s Marches do not create real change, what is the point? Why do we attend them?
The answer to this did not become clear to me until the very end of the march. I was riding one of the ADA shuttles that followed the march. The bus’ purpose was to let people who couldn’t walk the length of the march still follow closely behind. Across from my seat was an elderly couple. After I helped the wife carry her walker onboard, she thanked me and let me know she has been participating in protests for abortion rights since 1986. With a smile, she told me this will likely be her last one.
As the march neared the Supreme Court, the end destination of the march, the wife called out to the driver asking for her and her husband to be let off. She explained that she wanted to “feel a part of it” once more. Her entire body shook as she climbed down the steps of the bus, clutching onto my arm for balance. Once we got to the bottom, she asked for my consent to hug me, and then slowly made her way to the giant crowd. I watched as her husband gently grabbed her waist for balance and she held on tighter to her walker.
“Feel[ing] a part of it” is the reason I go to these marches. Protests form community amongst people dreaming of the same future. They allow me to visualize just how many people share my views. The Women’s March unites thousands of people under a common goal.
The March offers different things for different people, though. About two hours before the general crowd started arriving, only the Women’s March’s volunteers filled Freedom Plaza. While we were eating breakfast and discussing our roles, a single woman appeared on the sidelines of the plaza: a counter-protester. Legally, security wasn’t allowed to move her as she was not technically on the property of the rally. The woman stood in the same spot for hours, absolutely silent, with a simple sign explaining that abortion is murder and vaccines are a violation of her rights.
The woman was completely alone, devoid of any community to have her back. She didn’t heckle us or shout at us, she just stood silently with her sign. Her reason for being there was to express disapproval, but wasn’t that the same reason I was there? She had no community, but she protested nonetheless. Just like me, she likely had no hope that her protesting would create actual change, so why was she protesting?
Perhaps her reason was simply to express anger.
As the day went on, more counter-protesters arrived, forming a large crowd across the street. She eventually joined them and found her community. Their crowd was enraged. They shouted at us from across the street and called us murderers. Eventually, a pro-choice group formed to yell at them even louder. Both groups spent hours locked in unmovable positions, fueled by their frustrations with the other. Both had found their communities.
While the Women’s March is a valid way to express your feelings towards an issue, it does not directly create change. Instead, we must vote for representatives who have the power to make that change; contact our representatives in support of the issue; and donate to organizations that aid our cause. Attend the March to “feel a part of it,” but make sure you take the steps to make “it” happen.
Alexis Bernstein is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and a staff columnist for The Eagle.