By Mary Grace Richardson, Co-editor
The magic of the Women’s March that took place last Saturday went beyond the bold messages, creative signs, and enthusiastic chants. Inspired by the sheer numbers, genuine compassion, and noteworthy diversity, there was a larger feeling that this important moment was not just for the marchers, but for everyone they were marching for. The power and appeal of this event drew in an estimated 20,000 people to Phoenix, including three Thunderbirds, Rachel Smith (MAGAM ‘18), Bethany Bennick (MAGAM ‘18), and Chris Barton (MAGAM ‘18).
Before the march, Smith’s initial expectations of it weren’t abnormally high—Arizona isn’t necessarily known for its liberal organizing—so she was surprised by the variety of people who joined the march.
“People were there for so many different reasons,” Smith said. “I was really glad that rather than it being an anti-Trump protest, it brought a lot of people together based on issues that mattered to them, and it became unifying. I also wasn’t there for just one reason—it was for so many collective issues. Everyone there mattered, and there wasn’t anything there that wasn’t important.”
The march, which took place on Donald Trump’s first full day as President of the United States, brought people together from all over the world as a call for freedom, safety, health, and more. As of late, many have questioned the Trump administration’s preparedness to represent inclusivity and honor equal rights.
Bennick pinpointed her choice to be in the march as a stand against the hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric of this past election cycle—both from public figures and private citizens. “I am an advocate of our democratic rights and practices,” she explained. “I felt compelled to march alongside those who believed in ‘Equality for All.’” Bennick was also grateful the organizers chose a message of unity and progress rather than hate. “It was the classy move,” she added.
Barton was drawn to the march with the underlying belief that dissent is important for every society. “For any position of power there needs to be an opposing exertion of power to keep it in check, especially for the new administration,” he explained. “They’re going to be wielding power in ways that are unprecedented and so require an unprecedented balancing force.”
For Barton, it made sense to have different issues represented at the march: Black Lives Matter, women’s health, LGBTQIA, labor rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, religious freedom, environmental justice, or anything else. To be one more body and one more voice to the opposition was motivational to allies and a symbol to others.
While the march focused mainly on unity, there were confident marchers who had some choice words for the new administration. Bennick recounted that one of her favorite moments was marching within earshot of a vocal group of middle schoolers and hearing the avid cheerleaders’ fun chants. “It was beautiful to see people so young care so much about their futures,” she described. “It reminded us all that we have a duty to protect, preserve, and progress women’s rights not only for us, but for them.”
Naturally, some marchers experienced backlash or questioning in regards to their participation, and Bennick advocated for caring passionately, gathering peacefully, and protesting with purpose and intention. “Many of us were not marching for legal rights—we were marching for them to be implemented and preserved as they were intended,” she said. “Until we are truly equal, both on paper and in practice, then we will continue to march to turn awareness into action.”
In Barton’s experience, many argued against the march based on assumptions rather than facts. While he acknowledged that people have the tendency to cherry-pick what aligns with their views, it’s astonishingly explicit now. When asked how he would respond to someone who didn’t agree with the march, he said, “There’s a difference between not participating in it because you don’t understand it and openly deriding that it’s happening. For people who don’t understand, those are the people who are capable of getting it and being possible allies. They’re the people who are susceptible to facts, such as the wage gap or the glass ceiling. People who want to actively oppose something like this are not going to get it. Period. Because they’re invested in the logic of the other side. Unfortunately, people aren’t fighting based on what’s true—they’re fighting based on what they believe. It’s turning into a post-fact world.” If some don’t have the same frameworks in place to understand why the Women’s March is important, there we find the value of dissent.
The consensus amongst the three who attended was that the Women’s March proved that peaceful protesting is a necessary pillar of democracy and that the march achieved its goal to spark important conversations. But are these efforts going to be an effective opposition against oppression and discrimination? All agreed that consistent action is the only way to maintain the energy and drive the marches created.
“I was disappointed that there weren’t more Thunderbirds who wanted to take part in something like this,” Smith said. “While the momentum will be hard to sustain, I’m hoping people will be able to talk about these issues and take action in the future.”
Bennick’s advice to those seeking to engage in a discussion about the march and its impact: become educated. “We didn’t all march for the same reasons,” she explained. “Many marched for those who couldn’t, or in memory of the women who came before us. Many marched for their friends who suffer socially and economically at the hands of gender and race discrimination. Others marched out of fear for their futures. And still others marched in protest of the current administration’s intended policies. Ask. Never assume. Remain calm and collected. And respect opposing views.”
To support the march’s goals, Griffin Gosnell (MAGAM ’18) is organizing events on campus for the new campaign “10 Actions for the first 100 days.” The first action for people all over the country is to write a postcard to their senators about what matters most to them and how they’re going to continue to fight for it in the days, weeks, and months ahead. People will be gathering at the Tower tonight, Jan. 26 at 7:30pm to fill out their postcards. This is open to people with all different viewpoints and perspectives. Gosnell will also be hosting the new actions as they’re announced each week.