Fear, Hope and Resistance: The Women's March on Washington's Continuing Reverberations

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Fear, Hope and Resistance: The Women's March on Washington's Continuing Reverberations

Donald Trump’s inauguration weekend had a chance to be among the most strife-ridden in American history. Between the fear and anger surrounding Trump’s impending reign, the hundreds of protests planned around the country and the timebomb-esque division in our national populace, the stage seemed set for catastrophe—and as riot cops engaged protesters in clouds of tear gas across America Friday night following the ceremony, the worst seemed inevitable. That is, until an ovary-bearing angel in the form of the 1/21 Women’s March on Washington proved to the country, the world and the White House that America is more united than She appears.

As soon as I arrived at the inauguration protest here in Portland, the vibe felt wrong. Despite the efforts of the vast, vast majority to maintain a positive overall vibe (there was a marching funk band and copious clouds of weed smoke appeared randomly throughout the protest), the air was thick with apprehension and loathing even before the black-clad anarchist contingent showed up. Once they did, the already charged atmosphere in the square took on an even darker shade. It seemed to me that many of the gathered were vacillating between respecting the way others protest (this is Portland after all) and wanting to tell the new arrivals to take a hike or behave—especially when the flag burning started. There was a brief disagreement with heated words exchanged between protesters before all seemed to agree there were other more pertinent issues at hand. Although I won’t be burning any American flags—and cringe whenever I see it happening—I damn sure will defend others’ right to do so, and I certainly have more in common with confused and angry-as-all-hell protesters than I do with the likes of Donald Trump. Still, the effect of the contemptuous demonstration that began the evening was chilling.

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Once the march got moving things began peacefully enough, but when the protesters got close to the cops, a fog of pepper spray enveloped both them and journalists alike, and it was clear the city of Portland was not going to allow a repeat of the initial election protests’ chaos and destruction. While it’s hard to fault the city and its new mayor for wanting to reign in the mayhem, the force with which the cops reacted to a peaceful protest added another Trumpian pall to an evening already cloaked in them. As people hurriedly fled in every direction, I felt my heart sink like an anchor disappearing into the blackest of oceans—if this ugly scene was playing out in Portland, then the rest of the country aiming to build a resistance was in deep, orange-colored shit.

Disgusted and disappointed with everything I’d seen—Trump, the anarchists, the cops’ seemingly overzealous response, the despair painted on everyone’s faces—I debated skipping the Courtney Marie Andrews show I was supposed to cover later in the evening out of sheer despondency, but my adamant belief in the power of music and the knowledge this exceedingly talented singer/songwriter had been working on new material in response to Trump’s election pushed me forward. Also, I wanted to drink approximately 317 beers, or maybe just fill up a bathtub with Jameson and float in it for the next four years.

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There was a definite cloud hanging over the vibe at Mississippi Studios when I arrived, utterly dejected, but the sea change in mood once Andrews took the stage was palpable, and with the first note she sang, she had her audience locked in. Suddenly transfixed, I stopped googling “how long can a human survive in a bathtub of Irish whiskey?” and let Andrews’ uniquely captivating voice wash over me as she opened the show with “Heart & Mind”, a song she told me she’d written the morning after the election and which she was performing live for the first time. “After the election, I was pretty heartbroken like a lot of us—and even more so being a woman—so I sat down and wrote the song… this is what we create for, moments like that.”

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The beguiling singer/songwriter had enthralled us from the jump, and my friend and photographer Caitlin spoke for everyone in the room with her simple declaration, “Wow… we needed this.” I hate to sound all hippy-dippy about a concert, but this sort of shared, cathartic experience a roomful of strangers can experience is exactly why music is such a powerful and beloved art form, and for the hour or so Andrews commanded the stage, the hateful calamities engulfing the outside world melted away, however briefly. As we drove home in the Portland rain, silent and a little dazed, I hoped beyond hope that somehow the show’s uplifting energy and cautious optimism would carry over to the women’s march the next day and wouldn’t be extinguished by some fresh new hell.

As it turned out, if Courtney Marie Andrews’ awoke a ripple of hope for those in attendance—the next day’s march was a goddamn tidal wave the entire world took note of.

The women’s march was a resounding success all over the world. Far exceeding even the most hopeful estimates, seemingly every city or town that held a march saw the amount of protesters swell to gargantuan numbers. The Portland march was a shining example of that, as the estimated crowd of around 50,000 was doubled—and the difference in overall energy from the night before couldn’t have been more pronounced. Nuns and punks, old and young, Muslim and Jew, every creed and color: all were represented in a march so packed that the beginning of it snaked all the way around to the end, where people were still waiting to join. To say the view from atop the Burnside Bridge—where marchers stretched as far into the distance as I could see—was inspiring would be like saying Betsy Devos is ill-equipped to be the Secretary of Education or Jeff Sessions doesn’t think fondly of brown and black folks.

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As a straight white dude, I will be among the last directly affected by Donald Trump’s misguided policies (as a journalist I might get “disappeared” by spring, but I digress…), so in an attempt to provide some lady perspective to this piece, I asked a few friends and march participants some questions about the protest, the current social climate in America and what it’s like being an American woman in 2017. Their responses often shocked and saddened me, but they also provided illumination into the daily trials and tribulations I think most males have no idea women endure—which was among the main points of the march: education about the issues facing women in the modern world, many of which women have been dealing with forever.

This was the first protest or march that most of the ladies I spoke with had been involved in, and they all echoed similar sentiments: whereas before they might not have felt as comfortable headed to a protest or well-versed enough on the subject to participate, Donald Trump’s rise to power despite his reprehensible treatment of woman has moved them to act, and all of them loudly proclaimed this wouldn’t be their last action. All of the ladies also mentioned feeling incredibly safe at the march, and when I was surprised at their adamancy as to how unique this was, each told me that feeling as though you can let your guard down in public is a rarity for women and something most men are totally unaware of.

To that end, my friend Jennifer made us all laugh when she let us know that right after she emerged from her ride to the march in Denver and began striding determinedly towards to the starting point, her head held proudly aloft in Athena-like poise—when out of nowhere she received a gentlemanly “HEY, NICE ASS!” shout from some awful jackass in her periphery. Oh the irony… the shitty, shitty irony.

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Once we stopped laughing I listened to the ladies tell me that at large gatherings like a protest, sporting event or music festival, you’re often wondering about the motivations of the men around you. Will the clearly inebriated man who keeps leering at you from behind bloodshot eyes and who looks drunker than Steve Bannon at a St. Patrick’s Day KKK rally decide to come over and become aggressive? If he does, will the strangers around you help? Did the guys that just walked by mean to touch your ass or was that a mistake? As my friend Anastasia said, a woman who finds herself alone in any large public setting often simply has to be on the alert in a way males never do.

Upon hearing this I paused for a second and considered I have literally never had to make such a distinction in my life and marinated for a moment on the sad absurdity of the fact that if you’re female, the simple, the basic human right of being able to move about freely is often massively restricted. This was made all the more chilling by the fact that two-thirds of the women I spoke to for this piece told me they have been sexually assaulted.

There have been discussions about whether the march was inclusive enough, and some eye rolls from people of color wondering where all these “nice white ladies” were during previous protests. I asked Cristina, who is Latina, about that sentiment, and she said she understood, but that she’s felt a real shift in awareness and people’s willingness to act since Trump was elected, but that time will tell if this change is permanent.

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To that end, Jenn, who is white, had this to say about a realization she had at the march, “You don’t have to be a member of a marginalized group to fight with them. WITH, not FOR, I think is a good distinction that I didn’t realize there. Previously I think I thought I wasn’t welcome because it would look like I was trying to speak for others. But that’s not what it would be—it would be showing that I value, respect and appreciate their struggle, and acknowledge that I know it’s worse than mine.”

The women’s march was not only restorative for many people’s battered spirits, the march also seems to have lit a fire amongst those in the American populace who have a serious problem with Trump—many of whom perhaps sat out November’s election. Take for instance the fact that the protests at 80+ airports around the country after Trump’s travel ban were often populated by people who were galvanized by the success of the women’s march. Folks that had never protested or marched just two months ago have now taken part in five or six acts of peaceful civil disobedience and by and large seem to understand that for these actions to matter this has to be merely the beginning.

And the sea change hasn’t just been with people putting boots on the ground at protests; the ACLU received a jaw-dropping $24,164,691 the weekend Trump announced his immigration ban alone. The organization said the donations came from 356,306 people, many of whom had never supported the group before. In many ways, the ACLU has shown itself in recent weeks to be far more instrumental in the resistance movement than the Democratic Party, a group that, much like their rivals in the GOP, seem more archaic and out of touch with each passing day.

The offices of public officials of every stripe have reported being utterly inundated with emails, calls and letters from constituents adamantly stating their disdain for Trump’s proposed policies, as well as their intention to vote for someone else if the desires of the public aren’t followed. In our digital age this may seem a quaint move to some, but I cannot stress enough how essential this sort of thing is. Contact. Your. Local. Representatives.

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Artists of every stripe are doing what they can to pitch in: donating the profits from shows and record sales, speaking out at shows and writing protest songs. My aforementioned auditory savior Courtney Marie Andrews is joining the likes of Angel Olsen, Toro y Moi, Whitney, Ty Segall, Strand of Oaks and countless other top notch musicians on the Our First Hundred Days compilation, for which a new song by a new artist will be released each of Trump’s first 100 in office (I’m holding out hope he gets kicked out before then and the last few are just party anthems). The compilation aims to “raise funds and awareness for organizations supporting causes that are under threat by the proposed policies of a Trump administration” by selling subscriptions to the utterly stacked compilation for a minimum donation of $30.

The injustices facing women are too innumerable to go into here, but books like Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit do an amazing job of delving into the topic and are a breeze to read. Even a cursory internet search turns up horrifying nuggets of knowledge such as the fact that the biggest threat of being murdered or assaulted for pregnant women comes from their current or former partners (in male/female relationships). Consider how this threat will be exacerbated if/when women’s reproductive rights continue to be stripped away. If the amount of unplanned and unprepared for pregnancies grows under President Cheeto Dick’s reign, then it stands to reason that frustration and hopelessness will grow as well, and if those trapped, no-way-out feelings are allowed to gestate and grow, it seems clear that violence and murder against pregnant women will grow as well.

Hell, consider the fact that even here in the People’s Republic of Portland I recently walked out of a library and was greeted by the words “FUCK FEMINISM” scrawled in huge letters on the side of a building across the street.

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If the women’s march inspired millions of Americans of every creed and color, it’s on us guys to make marked changes in the culture around the way we interact with females. We—myself absolutely included—can all do and be much better. The way we were raised, the fact terribleness towards women is ingrained in basically every culture, the fact the only thing religions agree on is that women are second to men—all of it needs to be examined and stopped. If that seems an absurdly large task, there is an absurdly simple way to start: ask a woman you’re close to about the issues facing her. Ask her how you can change. Ask her how you can help. If even half of us dropped our male egos down a peg or three (a tall order, I know—and I’m again absolutely including myself in this) and actually listened while the truths facing the females we care about were illuminated for us, imagine the difference it could begin to make.

The most liberal and progressive amongst us are not above reproach on this issue—no male is. And regardless of political belief, why not attempt to be a beacon of light and change for the women in our lives? To borrow a phrase from Cool Hand Luke, some men you just can’t reach— but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If the women’s march proved one thing, it’s that the present is female, let’s start acting like it.

Donovan Farley writes about social issues, politics and culture for Paste and many other outlets. He is based in Portland, Oregon, where he hopes to one day see Audrey Horne waltzing towards him out of the Pacific Northwest mist. Follow him on Twitter

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