21 January 2017 was a significant day in the history of global protest: it witnessed nothing less than the largest one day Women’s March that the world has seen, and possibly the largest demonstration in US History. One day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, an estimated 3.3 million people around the world took to the streets to defend women’s civil, human and reproductive rights, and to protest against the new President’s objectionable behaviour towards and language used to describe women and women’s bodies. Protestors marched peacefully in cities and towns on every continent.
Thank you to all who submitted their thoughts, impressions, stories and images of the Women’s March as they experienced it. We are trying to preserve the history of the march by sharing submissions from participants around the world. If you marched, read more about how to share your story with us.
The responses that filled our inbox reflected the diversity of the march itself. Below you will read submissions from female, male and trans writers, from people of different ethnicities, from people marching for the first time, and from seasoned protestors amazed by the energy and enthusiasm of a new generation of feminists. There are thoughtful reflections on why it felt important to march, accounts of the overwhelming optimism and hopefulness of the day, and a clear determination to continue to stand up for human rights and the dignity of women. Here are eye-witness accounts of experiences on the ground from Washington DC, London, Copenhagen, Montreal, California, Wisconsin, Philadelphia, Boston and Alabama.
Dewi Rees from Brighton marched in London:
Best thing for me about the day, the positive energy in the march, despite the amount of people and the subject matter I saw no violence or negativity. Made me believe in the goodness of people! I’ve never done this sort of thing before and I wanted to be part of such historical and important event. I wanted to show my support to everyone that is going to be affected by the appointment of someone like Donald Trump.
To see so many different people together with different beliefs and political viewpoints marching in solidarity was amazing and I hope I get to be part of something like this again.
Erin Dix marched in Washington DC:
I went by myself to the Women’s March in Washington D.C. I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I had people tell me I was a “badass” for going alone and that I was brave, when I really didn’t think much of it. Everyone I met and came across showed me that random people you meet can show you kindness and make you feel part of their family. There was never a time I was there that I ever felt alone, I was surrounded by 500,000 beautiful children, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, all smiles, and filled with hope again. By going alone it gave me a different perspective, because it’s not always easy being alone in a crowd of 500,000, but it is when the march was for a good cause, and all the people around are just as loving.
Jo Taylor marched in London:
I am a 40 year old mother of two daughters and a primary school teacher. I marched for the first time ever yesterday. I marched because I have witnessed the slow but steady erosion of morals, values, respect and tolerance in our society. I marched because I cannot bear to think that my daughter or my pupils will have to be part of a world where intolerance is the norm. I cannot perceive of a future where women still are not equal to men. My mum was a single parent and brought me and my sister up to believe that if you are angry, annoyed, upset then speak out don’t stay silent. I am not political. I am an ordinary mum who’s had enough.
Neil from Montréal:
I was at the Montréal Women’s March on Washington. It’s scary; we had already heard that the language was being changed and that certain official US websites promoting equality had been taken down. I fear that human rights and women’s rights abuses will only persist, not to mention economic stability. We must dissent.
It’s true what they say about going for a walk. When you’re in desperate need of some perspective — when everything feels like it’s coming at you too fast — a brisk stroll to get the blood moving can do wonders. Sometimes it’s most helpful to walk alone. Sometimes it’s good to have a friend. Sometimes it’s good to have 2.9 million friends.
Yesterday, America went for a walk, and while of course I can only speak for myself, I think we all feel a little better. […]
The Women’s March was not just a message to the new administration; everything about the new president suggests that he is incapable of listening to it anyway. Perhaps more importantly, the Women’s March was a message to ourselves. We had to remind ourselves that we are many, that no matter how much those in power may shake their fists and attempt to intimidate and silence us, their ability to govern is contingent upon our willingness to be governed. Coverage of the march overshadowed much of the blatant malarkey trickling out of the White House during Trump’s first full day in office, but the few pieces of news that did manage to slip into my news feed between march photos failed to produce the same hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had felt only a day earlier watching the inaugural parade. If the women of this movement can organize an event like this in the same amount of time Trump and his cronies had to create a floundering, flailing presidential transition, then we have much to be hopeful for. They can’t take on this many of us all at once.
Of course, this feeling will not last without work. Raising awareness and demanding media attention will only get us so far (think of the Occupy movement under a much more favorable administration). As Micah White reported in The Guardian, even before January 21, the Women’s March organizers already had concerns about how to sustain the momentum and energy of the day.
Today, the Women’s March took the first step by launching their 10 Actions / 100 Days campaign.
Read more of Connor’s reflections on his blog.
Nicole Pacino from Huntsville, Alabama:
I marched in Birmingham, AL with several friends, colleagues, and students. It was a riotous, uplifting, and positive event attended by people representing the diverse spectrum of our society. Roughly 5,000 people in attendance championing women’s rights, environmental issues, freedom of speech, racial equality, social justice, freedom of religion, and solidarity for all.
My family’s roots are working class. On one side 2nd generation college educated, my children are 1st generation college educated on one side of their family. I marched in Madison Wisconsin because Wisconsin voted for Trump. My sister marched in Chicago-using the El it took her much longer than normal to get to downtown due to the crowds. My children marched in Minneapolis/St Paul Minnesota.
When in Madison, I was surrounded by families, old warriors like me (we even sang Viet Nam era songs, but most chants in our area were lead by a 20 something on her boyfriend’s shoulders) We chanted “say it loud, say it clear everyone is welcome here” “Whose streets, our streets” “Tell me what democracy looks like”, and we’d answer “This is what democracy looks like” There were many men, holding signs, determined to show up for equality.
Why did I march? I have vowed to do anything and everything I can to fight for equality. I volunteer daily at a Boys and Girls Club with mainly Hispanic kids. I have organized friends in Peter Roskam’s 4th district, printing labels, creating letter templates to write him letters to encourage him to maintain health care and Planned Parenthood funding, and whatever else comes out. I am listening to people to hear where I may intersect with them to find areas of commonality-but I am not going away, and my efforts will not fade away.
After flip-flopping for months about whether to go to D.C. for the Women’s March, I committed and bought a bus ticket a few weeks ago. Despite my initial pull to stay and organize in New York, I settled on an even greater pull to travel the five hours to participate in the march — mainly to observe the current state of the national womxn’s movement in-person.
Mainstream media’s been over-covering world breaking attendances and warm feelings about starting positive change so I thought I’d change it up and add a Filipinx American womxn of color’s perspective to the mix with a list of realities I experienced and observed:
The Pink Pussy Hat Movement turned into a predominantly White feminist oriented trend. Don’t get me wrong; I spent this past week knitting myself one because I thought the homemade pink cat ears were cute. But when I saw that the majority of pink pussy hat wearers were carrying cis-White feminist centered or only Trump bashing signs, I started to feel ashamed to wear my pink hat. I felt a growing desire to separate myself from this movement that claimed a desire to reclaim our bodies. Unfortunately, it started to feel like those bodies were really only white bodies.[…]And at the end of the rally / march, I went home asking myself “What are we fighting for and what are building in its place?” I’ve confronted this question multiple times over the past few years and especially the last few weeks in my New York circle of friends and colleagues.
I have no definitive answers. I am still learning and unlearning from generations of womxn before me and around me. All I know to be true is what Indigenous Australian activist, Lilla Watson said best: ““If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Theresa Bristow from Nottingham marched in London:
I’m a 50 year old mother of a 9 year old girl from Nottingham. I decided last minute, Thursday to attend the march. I could think of many reasons why I needed to attend, but none that were good enough for me not to. I wanted to be able to look my daughter in the eye and say I marched that day. I marched with my American colleague who I think was overwhelmed by the turn out in London. I was blown away too.We started to realise how big the march was going to be when we tried to exit Bond Street underground just around the corner from Grosvenor Square when we could no longer see the floor due to the number of people trying to exit. People seemed to realise how overcrowded the underground was and walked slowly out and sensibly out. Incredible. Arriving at Grosvenor Square at about 11.30 we got to the bottom corner of the square but could get no nearer to the embassy due to the number of people. By 12, the square and surrounding roads were rammed. A mini bus and taxi tried to get through and ended up getting stuck and staying put probably until mid afternoon.
As men, women and children of all ages joined the march so did the banners. I’ve attended marches before (Against the Iraq war, M3 Cutting, Student Loans), but what was different about this march was the mass of home made banners compared to the “Socialist Worker-type” of other marches. Whilst waiting for the march to start I’m sure everyone played “have you seen that banner over there?” game. My favourites include: “We shall overcomb”, “Girls just want to have fun-damental rights”, “Icebergs can’t negotiate”, “There is no Plan-et B”, “I’m with her”, “Nasty woman”. My banner said “Don’t Trumple on our rights.”It wasn’t a quiet march, but in our patch the chants depended on the imagination of the crowd and how easy they were to chant. A lady I met on the train home said she had missed the chanting of marches like against the Iraq war, for me I enjoyed the spontaneity of this march and the wealth of issues that people were marching for. […] It was a march to remember, something that my daughter can be proud that her mother attended. We marched for equality, for humanity, we marched because we were able to when others couldn’t. I don’t know what good it will do, but staying at home moaning at the TV achieves nothing.
I participated in the women’s march in Copenhagen, getting the train from Sweden along with a couple of friends. The first thing that happened when we got to the march was that some nice Danish people came up to us and asked if we wanted sticks for our signs. They were obviously seasoned protesters, and were helping out rookies like us! I found this helpfulness symptomatic of the Copenhagen march – everyone was really friendly and inclusive.
I’m an American/German citizen living in the UK. My first protest march was an anti-war march in Los Angeles in 1968. As soon as I heard about the Women’s March on London, I knew I was going. […] There were a thousand memorable moments – the poodle dog wearing a sign reading, “I will never be Trump’s poodle;” the drummers and percussionists, and the drum major jumping up and down and telling her drummers, “You guys rock;” the American flags in the crowd and on top of the US Embassy fluttering softly in the breeze. My favorite sign was one that read “I Am Really Rather Cross” (possibly the most British protest sign ever), but the signs and the drummers weren’t really the point. What mattered most was the sheer size of the crowd, and the joy on participants’ faces as we stepped off. This may have been a march to protest numerous injustices and threats to humanity, but seeing that we weren’t alone – that a hundred thousand women and men believed as we did, that those threats and injustices could not be allowed to stand unchallenged – gave us hope.As a child growing up in Philadelphia where the US Declaration of Independence was written, I learned to memorize Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” about “the rude bridge that arched the flood…/[where] once the embattled farmers stood,/And fired the shot heard round the world.” Over the course of March day, I followed social media posts from friends who were marching in Washington DC, New York City, Portland, Oregon, and several cities in California. I went to bed in the knowledge that millions of us around the world had fired a shot that was just as loud, and just as real.
I’ve never felt more honoured and inspired as a young woman than I did when taking part in London’s Women’s March on Saturday. The sun glittered down on the some of the strongest, great minded men and women in London all day as we peacefully marched the streets. I’m 21 years old, and feel as though I gained another 21 years of wisdom just by being in the vicinity of such morally fortified individuals. Yesterday gifted me with the indispensable knowledge that whatever the world may throw, human beings are good through-and-through, and won’t stand for racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic injustice.
I feel more determined now than ever to stand and fight for what I believe is right, and won’t back down to loud mouth bigots. I stand, as I ever have, in solidarity with any woman or man who fears the upcoming administration, or has ever felt victimised or belittled by Donald Trump.
Suki from London:
I still can’t believe I actually went. I had heard about the march on the news the day before, but presumed it was just in America.When I woke up on Saturday morning, I read a few news stories that jumped out at me. I don’t know what I read, but I had a strong urge to go and support these women to make a stand. To highlight equality.Being from a South Asian background, as a child, boys were always held in high esteem. Girls went to university, not to get a successful career but to be more desirable for a potential husband. I used to hear, “when you are married you can go out till whatever time you like with your husband.” Yes, things are changing for second and third generation women, but these old ‘traditions’ and inequalities are still present in many many communities, in the world and the UK.Usually I’m really wary of going to events, especially when there are large crowds of people and especially around London. My boyfriend was away for the weekend, so he couldn’t come with me and although I put out a message on Facebook, it was late in the day and no one responded. As the march had started already, I got my coat and bag and headed to Leicester Square.Although alone among groups of people. I felt like I was part of something big, surrounded by beautiful people and couldn’t have felt safer. I wondered if me turning up alone was going to add anything. But something drove me to make a stand, by joining in and I am so so glad I did, I just wish I could have gathered more women and joined the march earlier.I love that people came for their own personal reasons, but had a united reason: women.
The crowds grew denser as I made my way down 19th Street from Fairmount into Center City. I smiled at the men and women carrying signs, high-fiving a few and taking pictures of others. The energy was palpable and built as I approached the base of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 16th Street. Many of the women were like me: middle-aged and survivors of the AIDS crisis and Women’s Movement. Some had cut their teeth at ACT-UP rallies and protecting Planned Parenthood against Operation Rescue. Others—many others—were a lot younger: kids the age of my kids, preteens and elementary-school kids, some of whom had attended rallies for Hillary Clinton at the Mann Music Center or Independence Hall just a couple of months ago. They and now were gathering in a very different context, newly realizing that lots of us don’t really have equal rights or equal protection under the US Constitution. Lots of the people I saw were in their twenties and thirties, learning the power of direct political action for the first time.What a contrast today’s mood was to yesterday’s. Yesterday, I dusted off my “I am With Her” button and wore it proudly, but the atmosphere was one of mourning. Today there was joy: women and men, young and old, white and black and brown and all of the above, queer and straight, pussy hatted or not, we celebrated our coming together. There were certainly lots of signs that called out Trump for his misogyny, racism, vanity, and the like. But most championed equality and unity. There’s a strength in numbers, and I think that all of us, experiencing the Philadelphia March for Women and watching and hearing about the gatherings of women and those who support them across the globe, recognized that today. And, as many of the signs suggested, there is a power in the pussy and those who respect it. And that is what is going to get us through this thing. If it doesn’t kill us, it will make us stronger. And as today’s march suggested, we are not going to let it kill us.
Stop asking if the #WomensMarch ‘will achieve anything in the long run.’ It already has. Millions of women feel less beaten today.
— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) January 21, 2017
Yes, call me a snowflake. Snowflakes are beautiful & unique. And when we rage, we shutdown cities. Winter is coming. #Resistance
— Ellen Oh (@ElloEllenOh) January 21, 2017
— Bubbley Me (@bubbley_beez) January 21, 2017
I marched in Columbia, South Carolina, a blue enclave in a very red state. Since they were predicting severe rain and thunder, some marchers went to one venue, but others, the majority, went to the traditional march site in South Carolina: the steps of the state house. It was so inspiring standing on the state house steps as more and more people kept coming out of the fog, as the steps gradually grew packed, and as the crowd ended up stretching to Main St. Since the election I’ve been politically shell-shocked, and the march made me realize that I was far from alone and further motivated me to keep protesting the unconstitutional and unethical policies of our new administration, particularly the threats to health care and general attack on the social safety net (which isn’t particularly good in the US anyway!). Turning to Facebook and seeing all the matching marches world-wide, along with my experience in Columbia, brought me to tears—and I’m not a cryer normally.
About mid-week last week, I made an abrupt decision that I needed to be at the Women’s March in D.C., as an Americanist historian, as an American myself, as someone who would like to think of himself as a feminist ally, as a queer person, as a survivor of sexual assault, and as a trans person who knows that every one of us as a stake in gender equity. It did strike a little bit of a funny bone within me as a female-to-male transgender man to be jammed in the middle of crowds as far as the eye could see displaying pussy hats, but I knew the pussy hats were on my side. I interpreted the march as women taking the initiative to organize all of us for all of our connected oppressions. As a trans person, I marched for myself, but even more so for the trans women toting signs such as “All Women Are Real Women” and “Support Your Sisters, Not Just Your Cis-ters.” As a historian, I knew I would regret not seeing with my own eyes what would be a singularly historic moment. Only one day in American history could I march by Trump Hotel and chant, “We won’t go away. Welcome to your first day.” That chant can never be chanted at Donald Trump again.
Instead of bringing a sign, I simply brought the prop I’ve brought to every Pride event for the past five years: my trusty pink, white, and blue transgender flag. The trans flag and my (scraggly) bearded face make a very simple statement: I’m here as a trans man. Other trans people did the same thing. It brought me a great deal of joy to see other trans people displaying the flag and say, “What’s up, fam?” with either a fist raise or a high five.
I’ve never been to a march or a rally with so much positive energy, even when the porto potties ran out of toilet paper, even when it started to creep to an hour past the scheduled start time of the march and folks began to get fatigued and impatient, even when we were still crowded too far back from the stage to hear much, even when confusion sent all half million of us marching in different directions. You wouldn’t know we’d lost the election from the vibe: it was jubilant. I, and I’m sure many others as well, came away energized and inspired. We won’t go away. Welcome to your second day.
Jana Monji from Torrance, California:
I marched in a small more local women’s event in Redondo Beach, CA where about 1,800 people gathered–families and people with dogs. We had three dogs along the walk, one which I have been fostering for almost a year and wasn’t sure if she’d make it through a longer more crowded march.
As a second-generation Californian, my vote counts for much less than someone from a more sparsely populated state. California has the largest economy of all 50 states and if we were a country we’d be sixth in the global rankings, before France and Brazil. Yet I constantly hear and read derogatory remarks about California and Californians.
I now tell people if they don’t like California, then boycott all of our products, from produce from our farms to Google to Yahoo to eBay, Craigslist, Paypal, Disney, Star Trek and Star Wars to Hollywood movies and TV programs broadcast or headquartered here. […]
I believe in California. I believe in the power of non-violent protest. I believe that women will be the driving force toward peace if we can recognize our power. I believe women all over the world recognized the grave danger of the current situation in the US and that’s what motivated women to protest in solidarity and love. I believe in women’s power and we took the first step in becoming a global force.
Maggie Humm, author and Emeritus Professor at UEL, marched in London:
On January 21st 2017 a 100,000 marched through London in support of women’s rights and the safeguarding of freedoms and in solidarity with the largest women’s demonstration in Washington D. C’s history.
I found myself alongside Amy who answered my “Isn’t this great!” with a whispered “It’s my first demonstration.” I choked back my “well, I’ve been marching since the anti-US Vietnam Grosvenor Square demos in the 60s” and descriptions of being at Greenham Common, seeing her bright-eyed excitement at being caught up in this huge group of committed women.
Marching along Piccadilly for my hundredth time I was reminded of John Ashbery, the New York poet’s A Last World: “Now all is different without having changed / As though one were to pass through the same street at different times.”
For Amy and for me, we felt everything will be different and be changed for the better in spite of Trump’s Presidency. This January women came together, not only in the streets of London, Washington and elsewhere, but globally, across Facebook and other social media, sharing experiences (as well as knitting patterns for the requisite pink pussy hats), creating social and political aims and reinforcing old aims still unmet.
Judith Butler, in a December 2016 interview on the unphilosophe.com web site, agreed that “forms of assembly and resistance [are] sites for imagining and enacting that alternative imaginary.” Almost fifty years earlier, in an insightful article “The Nature of Mass Demonstrations” written for New Society in 1968, John Berger argued that demonstrations are “rehearsals for revolution”. Although very sadly, John Berger died at the beginning of January 2017 before he could witness the Women’s March, his analysis accurately pinpointed the march’s features. The pink pussy hats exemplified Berger’s view that a demonstration is “artificial,” a “created event” full of symbols.
Amy’s pink hat bounced in the breeze. “I can’t knit,” I confessed, “had to buy one on-line.”
“That’s OK,” Amy said, “I can’t either. My mum knitted mine.”
Demonstrations, Berger claimed, are essentially urban “as near as possible to some symbolic centre”. The final rally was in Trafalgar Square, the destination of London’s revolutionary marches and hopefully, as Berger wished, “prophetic, rehearsing possibilities.”
January 21st is also close to Virginia Woolf’s birthday of January 25th. Woolf rued the day when five grand town houses in Trafalgar Square were demolished in 1910 to build Admiralty Arch, yet another military monument. In 1919 she wrote in her diary “I preferred the songsters of Trafalgar Square…felt thrilled with an absurd visionary excitement.” The songsters in Trafalgar Square this January included Sandi Toksvig, Natasha Walter for refugee women and many more.
Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas are the greatest feminist books of the twentieth century and feminism pervades her work. In Trafalgar Square, I felt like shouting out Clarissa Dalloway’s wonderful paean to London (reworked with apologies to Woolf), “in the bellow and the uproar; the banners, flags, pink hats, badges, feminists…this was what she loved; life; London; this moment of January.”
“When’s the next demo?” Amy asked, a feminist being born.
“Hopefully soon,” I said. “See you there.”
History Workshop Online will continue to collect stories and reflections about the Women’s March on 21 January 2017, and ensure all stories collected are properly archived and accessible for posterity. Please share the word, and submit here.