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The united women of America

The Women's March on Washington is a clarion call for solidarity in divisive times

A rally against US President Donald Trump near Trump Tower in New York, on 9 November. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
A rally against US President Donald Trump near Trump Tower in New York, on 9 November. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Last year, 57-year-old Philadelphia resident Sheila Cohig had made plans to go to Washington, DC to watch the first female president of the US being sworn in. On 8 November, when Donald Trump was elected instead of his Democrat counterpart Hillary Clinton, the agenda changed but her plan did not. “I was heartsick over the result. But when I heard that a march was being organized on the first day of his presidency, I knew I had to participate."

At 10am on Saturday, Cohig, along with her 82-year-old mother, four sisters, two daughters, two nieces and husband, will march down the US capital along with an estimated 200,000 people as part of the Women’s March on Washington.

The streets of Washington, DC have been witness to historic movements such as the women’s suffrage of 1913, and the black civil rights movement, enshrined by Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream" speech in 1963.

The national co-chairs for the event are civil and social rights activist Tamika Mallory, criminal justice advocate Carmen Perez, community rights activist Linda Sarsour and social entrepreneur Bob Bland. “The work of this march is not only to stand together in sisterhood and solidarity for the protection of our rights, our safety, our families and our environment—but it is also to build relationships and mend the divide between our communities," the organizers said in a statement.

The march is a response to many things. President Trump’s past behaviour towards women has especially been a call to action. The march also seeks to fight the election rhetoric which threatened the rights of minority groups such as the queer community, Muslims, Hispanic people and the black community.

Another principal objective is to connect people with participating organizations. For instance, there are more than 6,000 petitions filed against Trump on, a platform that promotes civic action. These include action against dismantling the Environment Protection Agency, retaining ObamaCare, and forming better laws to protect women’s rights regarding sexual violence and reproductive freedom. Many of these petitions will be represented through partner organizations such as NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Planned Parenthood, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Coalition, Black Women’s Roundtable, Muslim Community Network, and the Arab American Association of New York.

Mallory recently said in an interview with award-winning journalist Carol Jenkins for the Black America show: “We’re not just going to Washington to say, ‘Hey, pay attention to us, women are upset. But rather, here’s the agenda.’ Folks at organizations such as the NAACP, ERA Coalition will be there and will say, ‘Join us. Because we have legislations that we’ve been pushing.’"

The march will bring together people who are involved in different fights. Cohig’s mother was part of the historic, feminist Equal Rights Amendment movement in the 1970s. “She worked in the circulation team forming petitions. Even though I was 9, I knew where she stood and she instilled in us the value of being actively involved in women’s politics." As a nurse, Cohig believes that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (generally referred to as ObamaCare) would prevent affordable and quality healthcare for all.

Bridgette Jackson, 28, from Philadelphia emphasizes the importance of solidarity. “As a white woman, I realize I am at more of an advantage than millions of other women of colour. I want to march to show my solidarity for all of my LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) friends and family, for my Muslim friends, for anyone who feels threatened by what Mr Trump represents."

So Saturday will see more than 300 sister marches simultaneously in all 50 states. In addition, global marches are being planned in more than 50 countries, including Japan, Australia, Kenya and Mexico. The Women’s March on Washington was initially going to be called the Million Woman March; it was rechristened since women from the black community had taken part in a historic march by the same name, led by Phile Chionesu, in 1997.

“These sister marches show a powerful and inclusive movement, which is just as crucial as the thousands who will travel to DC," says national co-chair Bland. The march has also received support from Hollywood celebrities. Actors America Ferrera, Scarlett Johansson and Olivia Wilde, and musician Katy Perry, among others, have promised to participate. Funds for the event have been crowd-sourced—it had already met 89% of its expected target of $2 million with more than $1.7 million (around Rs11.6 crore) being raised at the time of going to press.

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