Women’s March: These Boots Were Made For Walking

All photos courtesy of Getty Images

It started on Facebook. And the Women’s March on Washington was the protest heard around the world, as five million took to the street.

The first thing I noticed about the Women’s March on Washington was its size: organized hastily in the days after Donald Trump’s election win, it was expected that 200,000 people would turn out. Nearly 700,000 showed up, clogging the wide streets of the U.S. capital, singing and chanting and generally offering a howl of protest. Millions more marched at protests around the world.

The second was how inclusive the Washington March was: young and old, gay and straight, people of colour, the disabled and the able-bodied who assist them. During the course of an afternoon, I spoke to an African-American transgender Army veteran who wanted to move to Canada with her wife, and a hijab-wearing mother and daughter, attending their very first protest together. Everyone I spoke to came to the protest from a slightly different angle, with a variety of concerns, but they were united in their anger and fear about Trump’s divisiveness, bigotry and misogyny.

“I don’t know where his heart is,” says a woman named Dottie, who had boarded a bus in North Carolina at 4 a.m. “But I’m asking God to put it in the right place.”

Though this was a protest organized by and for women, men showed up in thousands: They carried their kids on their shoulders, and their kids carried signs that said Girl Power and This Is What a Feminist Looks Like. In a profoundly refreshing change, the men listened instead of speaking. Over the course of the day, dozens of women addressed the crowd—some celebrities but most not—but only a handful of men.

“This is the upside of the downside,” Gloria Steinem said from the stage. “This is an outpouring of energy and true democracy like I have never seen in my very long life. It is wide in age. It is deep in diversity.”

There was a roar from the crowd. Gloria Steinem is 82 (and gorgeous, by the way.) She was there at the ground zero of feminism’s struggles in the 20th century, she knows a thing or two about demonstrations and she thinks this is a new dawn for the age of protest. Looking around at that vast, resolute, peaceful crowd, it seemed as if she might be right.

As the day went on, social media feeds overflowed with pictures of sister protests around the world, from a tiny one in Jos, Nigeria, to a wintry Haines, Alaska, where marchers are bent double against the wind and snow.

There were marches all across Canada, and when cynics say, “What’s the point, anyway?” the protestors’ response is in their sheer numbers and their solidarity. The world has become a menacing and xenophobic place, but its darkness is offset by a collective message of resistance and compassion.

A week after the Women’s March, a new tide of protest swelled when U.S. President Trump announced a ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, stranding refugees and immigrants around the world. Furious American citizens and fee-waiving lawyers flocked to airports. North Americans suddenly remembered what generations of civil rights and peace activists learned long ago: peaceful protest is a key element of social change.

And it’s much more fun than staying home and yelling at your computer. At the Women’s March in Washington, the streets were filled with a sea of pink knitted “pussy hats” and hand-drawn signs. My favourite showed the Statue of Liberty being grabbed in the crotch by the new U.S. president, which is not something you could have imagined a year ago. But then who would have imagined that the world’s most powerful country would elect a misogynist-in-chief over an eminently qualified female opponent?

From the stage, Alicia Keys began to recite Maya Angelou’s magnificent poem “Still I Rise”: Just like hopes springing high/still I’ll rise.

Keys has a message for the crowd: “We will not allow our bodies to be owned and controlled by men in government—or men anywhere, for that matter. We will not allow our compassionate souls to get stepped on. We want the best for all Americans—no hate, no bigotry, no Muslim registry.”

Next: The real star of the day…

Women and their allies marched in support of the Women’s March in Washington. Toronto city saw one of the largest events on its history as thousands of people protested the Donald Trump stances.

The real star of the day, outshining the actresses and pop stars, is a tiny firebrand in a red coat. Sophie Cruz is the six-year-old daughter of udocumentedimmigrants who famously hand-delivered the Pope a letter during his visit to Washington last year—and she read her speech with the aplomb of a veteran activist who’s been doing this for decades. “We are here together making a chain of love to protect our families. Let us fight with love, faith and courage, so that our families will not be destroyed.”

The young women around me shouted their approval. I wondered if they knew the history of struggle these streets have seen. Just before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson 104 years before, American suffragettes were beaten and spat on as they marched for the right to vote (women won that right in 1920). In 1939, Marian Anderson stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and sang to a crowd of 75,000 after she’d been turned away from performing in a concert hall because of her race.

Beside me was a group of friends, all freshmen from the University of Virginia. They’re called freshmen, although they’re all women. They’re the kind of fiery young women who should keep the rattling old bones in the White House up at night because they’re the future. “We were pretty upset on the night of the election,” said Adrian, and her friend Sara chimed in: “It felt like half the world was against us. So to come here and see that there are so many more people than at Trump’s inauguration feels really powerful.”

This was a message I heard over and over again from people: the streets of Washington were filled to bursting with defiant protesters, where the day before they’d been almost bare of supporters celebrating the inauguration. This, too, is hope. Around the world, the message was repeated: We will not stay home and we will not be silent. Get used to the noise because it will just get louder.

A version of this article appeared in the April 2017 issue with the headline, “These Boots Were Made For Walking,” p. 42-44.