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Moment that mattered: Millions attend Women’s Marches

Protesters at Trafalgar Square during the Women’s March on London

Protesters at Trafalgar Square during the Women’s March on London

The turnout for the Women’s March on London was enormous and the co-organisers spent most of the day making sure things went smoothly. It was only at the very end that we had a chance to reflect, look out upon the crowds, and experience how good it felt. We felt this tremendous swell of energy, optimism and commitment; an invigorated sense of hope. It was especially amazing to see so many young people out and talking
about politics.

What we found particularly exciting about the marches was how they developed as a global network, with so many groups and organisations getting involved. While the initial Washington, DC march was planned for Donald Trump’s first full day in office, it’s not all about Trump. This was an opportunity for people to address the injustices that they see in their communities every day.

It has been estimated that the Women’s March was the largest single-day demonstration in the history of the United States. Globally, millions of people attended almost 700 marches, taking place on every continent. Trump has been awful in his first few months in power, a disgrace and a nightmare in every possible way. But his success did help create an opportunity for people to focus on social injustice. Usually oppressive systems don’t have a face. Trump, however, has given these systems a face – and so it’s easier to target and focus.

My fellow co-organisers and I met online. None of us were experienced activists. We were just women who were deeply distressed by what we saw going on in the world. All the co-organisers had their own reasons for getting involved. For some people Donald Trump’s apparent confession of sexual assault was a big motivation, but it’s different for everybody.

The Women’s March in Washington DC saw the city’s Metro register its second-busiest day in history with over a million journeys, nearly twice as many as on the day of President Trump’s inauguration

One big reason for me was waking up every day and seeing images of refugee children drowning, thinking about the dark, interconnected global forces creating these horrors and feeling an awful sense of impotence. So getting involved in the Women’s March was about starting to fight back.

Over the last few years social activism has been met by tremendous establishment resistance. Our goal was to be facilitators and help create a space in which people can get involved and where social activism can bubble up again. It was important to us to make the march as inclusive as possible. From day one we made it clear that we’re not only focusing on women’s rights. It’s about systemic injustices, which of course extend to men – who were very welcome and who turned out in large numbers. And since people from across the political spectrum are concerned with social justice, our intention was to not be partisan. It’s also important to get people offline and talking in person. It’s a way of breaking through the echo chambers on the internet and making progress. We want to facilitate the building of networks of people who care about these issues.

We absolutely do believe that it’s possible for public protest to generate change. The march helped get many women politically engaged and got lots of individuals and groups starting conversations about social injustice. Sometimes people think that their single vote isn’t going to change anything. We’re trying to make it clear that when everybody gets involved it’s possible to make a difference, and the impact of the increased youth vote in the UK general election in June showed this to be the case.

The march was just the beginning. There is plenty of work to be done. These are turbulent times and there are important issues we need to respond to around race, social housing, poverty, gender and education, and now we’ve got the DUP [Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, criticised by many women’s groups for its strict anti-abortion stance] involvement in government to address.

It’s been an exhausting few months and we’re all trying to work out how to balance our work in the movement with our day jobs and families and so on. My life and my work as an artist has kind of been hijacked by the movement, but it’s been fantastic and we’re all very hopeful about what’s being achieved.

Hope is a space that needs to be created. You’ve got to work to create the conditions needed for hope. We had all been feeling tremendously disempowered and sick at what we were seeing on the news every day, but the Women’s March was a reminder that by coming together our voices are amplified and we can be heard.

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