By Camille Shen
In response to last year’s first-ever Women’s March, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote?” This year, marchers have answered the President’s inquiry with a brand-new rallying cry: “Grab ‘em by the Midterms”. The Women’s March has transformed from an angry and impassioned mobilization protesting Trump to a movement urging women to vote Democrats into office as a means to manifest change. This new objective has made it clear that women across America are ready to make political and social advancements happen.
This year’s march, with a total of between 1.6 and 2.5 million participants, was far from the previous year’s attendance of over 4 million. However, what the march lacked in numbers it made up for in spirit. In the midst of the #MeToo movement and government shutdown, the tumultuous political climate gave many a reason to march– spurring a special ferocity in the protests for sexual violence and immigrant rights. The pink cat-ear hat worn by thousands of marchers, a reference to Trump’s comment claiming he could grab any woman’s genitals without her consent, has become an emblem of both the movement and the persistent battle against sexual harassment. With the recent exposures of powerful men for their sexual abuse of women, #MeToo has generated additional momentum to the march as celebrities and ordinary citizens alike come together to express their solidarity with victims. In Las Vegas, the “Power to the Polls” rally made the fight for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program into a point of unity; activists proclaimed that the government shutdown should not end until dreamers, or immigrants brought to the United States as children, earned legal status.
Yet, immigration and sexual violence have also become areas of contention. As the movement becomes synonymous with progressive issues, it has created a division between the far left and those who dislike Trump, but do not agree along the lines of abortion, healthcare, and other policies. Furthermore, the overall pivot to voter registration and participation has caused the march to lose support. Organizers of this year’s march had put particular emphasis on “Power to the Polls” in an effort to dismantle Republican control of Congress through mass voter participation in the upcoming midterm elections. However, this shift in focus prompted many to sit out on this year’s march, as they felt it had become too fixated on electing Democrats at the expense of other issues, especially those concerning people of color. Many believe the march caters mostly toward middle class, straight, white women, creating an exclusive basis on which to fight oppression, much of which affects and requires the support of the very minorities it has alienated.
Despite disagreements on agenda and inclusivity, a once-rare popular mobilization against a sitting President looks to be a regular occurrence for the next two years of Trump’s term. After the shock of Trump’s election in 2016, the winning battle for women’s rights had suddenly been threatened with the new administration, inciting fury and passion that characterized the first march– and impacts of the second have already manifested. A record number of Democratic women have announced their intent to run for office, indicating growing momentum for the Democrats in the status quo. This growth could impact not only midterms, but the 2020 election as well, if supporters of the march continue to advocate for voter awareness and succeed in electing progressives into office.
While the Women’s March has a ways to go in terms of truly uniting liberal females– in all its diversity– the support for DACA and #MeToo have been a step in the right direction for inclusivity and solidarity, even at the expense of some moderate voters. Simply protesting these issues, however, is meaningless without action. By recognizing the first step to change as targeting national voter registration to elect progressive women into office, the Women’s March has established that a new era of female politics is on the horizon. Thus, it looks like 2018 will give Donald Trump the voter engagement he asked for, though perhaps not how he pictured it when the wrote the tweet. The call to voter action indicates that even as women’s rights still have a long way to go, the fight for gender equality persists, with November midterms as just the beginning.