Following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, members of the Brown community protested at the Women’s March on Washington and at sister rallies in cities around the world Jan. 21 and 22. The Women’s March began as a grassroots movement and grew to over 460 marches in the United States and over 200 marches internationally on all seven continents, with about five million participants total, according to the march’s website.
The Women’s March rallied for women’s rights, which included an intersectional array of causes, such as supporting reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, environmental justice and the end of police brutality and racial profiling.
“A lot of people have the misconception that the Women’s March organization is anti-Trump, and they are not anti-Trump. They are not anti-anything. They are pro-human rights,” said Nancy Rafi, Rhode Island chapter coordinator of the Women’s March.
Brown community members travelled far and wide to show their support for the march’s platform, in addition to advocating for other causes they feel are under threat from the new presidency. For example, Milisa Galazzi ’88 drove eight hours to and from Washington D.C. within 28 hours to show her support for social justice and climate change. Many other community members chose to show their support locally in Providence.
Washington D.C. hosted the largest march with about 485,000 people, according to estimates by FiveThirtyEight, while over 7,000 people attended the sister march in Providence, said Shanna Wells, who organized the local rally.
“I and others fear that it’s going to be long, scary road ahead, and so we needed to fortify ourselves to resist white supremacy, heterosexism, misogyny, plutocracy, neoliberalism, colonialism and further environmental degradation,” wrote Naoko Shibusawa, an associate professor of history and associate professor of American studies who marched in Providence, in an email to The Herald.
Elizabeth Hoover MA’03 PhD’10, assistant professor of American studies, joined a delegation led by Indigenous Women Rise at the march on Washington, where she stood in support of missing indigenous women and the protestors at Standing Rock fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“As a trans person, knowing that a Trump presidency essentially means that I might not be able to transition for another 4 to 8 years if I ever wanted to — that’s very difficult for me and kind of terrifying,” said Sam, a student who uses the pronouns they, them and theirs and whose name has been changed because they have not come out to their parents as trans-femme. “I think of Trump as an embodiment of the current world in which we live. I think of Trump as a manifestation of white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism.”
“The tipping point for so many women has been this new administration that has come into power,” Rafi said. “I don’t know many women who do not feel threatened.”
A majority of signs at the march in Washington D.C. affirmed women’s rights and reproductive rights, wrote Ella Kotner ’19 in an email to The Herald. Protesters also chanted slogans such as “my body, my choice,” she added.
Many Brown community members who attended both marches advocated for abortion rights. Professor of History Joan Richards wrote in an email to The Herald, “I stood up for women’s reproductive rights, including rights to abortion. I am (a) very strong supporter of Planned Parenthood.”
Despite the march’s attempts to be inclusive and intersectional, this emphasis on reproductive rights alienated some. But “women who believe in the pro-life mission statement still have other issues that fall under the Women’s March movement,” such as reproductive health education, Rafi said.
Additionally, the march’s focus on female genitalia excluded trans women, Sam said. “I think the march sent the message that woman equals having a vagina and that all people with vaginas are women,” they said of the Providence march. “I don’t think the vast majority who attended the march brought in any sort of nuance to their reclamation of the vagina. To be fair, reclaiming the vagina is incredibly important, but there are thoughtful, interesting ways of doing it that the march didn’t do,” they said.
Many protesters attended the march on Washington with members of their family as well as close friends and colleagues from Brown. Evelyn Lincoln, professor of history of art and architecture and Italian studies, attended the march with over 10 Brown faculty and community members.
Community members said that the march was peaceful and succeeded in fostering a sense of community. “There were so many people that the march couldn’t even proceed as planned because the route was so crowded,” Kotner wrote. “That being said, everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming.”
“Every group was represented, whether it was race, religion, orientation (or) gender identity,” said John Sheehy ’07, of the march in Washington D.C.. “In the end, I just thought it was great that all of these movements were kind of coming together.”
The march even transcended some political divides and brought supporters for Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) together, Shibusawa said in a follow-up interview with The Herald.
Despite the march’s title, the attendees were not limited to just women. “It was definitely mostly female but there were a lot of guys,” Sheehy said. “There was one dude who was probably 6 feet 10 inches or something that had a sign that said, ‘I’m a giant feminist,’ and it was just perfect.”
The Women’s March plans to take its next steps through its campaign, “10 actions in the first 100 days.” The first action is writing postcards to senators.
Community members are also thinking about ways to build on the momentum of the Women’s March. Shibusawa plans to continue the discussion at Brown this semester through a historical perspective in her seminar AMST 1940V: “Decolonizing Minds: A People’s History of the World.” She also plans on becoming more active in local Rhode Island politics. She regularly calls and writes to her representatives and is exploring ways to work with local leaders to protect the health and welfare of Rhode Islanders.
“I am trying to partner students with local organizations in the community such as Jobs With Justice. Day-to-day conditions of what’s on the ground in Providence is really important,” she said. “Especially if you send younger students out there, (they) will think about getting off the hill and think wider than about just here at Brown.”
For many young people, the Women’s March was the first time they participated in a national protest, Shibusawa added. “It’s kind of a big tent. So it’s great if we can get people who got motivated or scared about what’s happening to go out and do more.”
For Lauren Karpinski ’18, the march on Washington was her first national protest. She plans to stay involved through her board position on the Brown Progressive Action Committee, a local activism group formed in the wake of Trump’s election.
Sam plans to continue their trans and social justice activism at Brown and in Providence by working with the LGBTQ Center, as a sexual assault peer educator and acting in a play about trans issues, among other means of advocacy.