Women’s March on Washington: Just a beginning

Odile Hugonot Haber and Laura Dewey at the Women’s March in Washington. Credit: Laila Hamdan

BY Laura Dewey and Odile Hugonot Haber

Detroit WILPF joined with the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the Utility Workers of America to organize two buses from metro Detroit to Washington, DC. Bus riders included about 20 riders from the Welfare Rights Organization, union members, and first-time protesters, young and old. What follows are the impressions of Laura Dewey (Detroit Branch) and Odile Hugonot Haber (Ann Arbor Branch), who participated in the march.

Unity Is Key
By Laura Dewey

As momentous as the Women’s March on Washington and in cities all around the world was, it is just a beginning. But what a beginning!

Unity, diversity, and youth were three notable features of the march, although one could argue that more diversity was needed. An example of diversity and youth was the presence of numerous young women of color speaking to the crowd about criminal justice, transgender rights, Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, clean water, and the environment, among other causes. While the level of diversity of the crowd may not have matched that on the stage, one thing was abundantly clear: we were united.

We were united by anti-Trumpism, but by so much more. We were united when the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and other murdered African Americans called out their sons’ and daughters’ names and the crowd responded, “Say his (her) name.” We were united by Kamala Harris, newly elected California senator, who said, “We, the people, have the power. And there is nothing more powerful than a group of determined sisters marching alongside with their partners . . . standing up for what we know is right.” We were united by our sisterhood and by a determination to do more than attend a rally.

Michael Moore urged the crowd to call their elected officials every day, to run for office, and to join organizations. We hope WILPF will be one of the organizations that women will join. To that end, we handed out 300 cards promoting WILPF’s mission. Two women from Michigan joined WILPF; hopefully, our membership nationwide will increase as women join the resistance to the current administration.

At a rest stop on the way home, I talked to an African American woman who was an auto plant worker and UAW member from Ohio. When I asked her how she liked the march, the first thing she remarked on was the feeling of unity. She marveled at all the different people there, and that we weren’t in our own cliques.

This spirit of unity is continuing. It was on display at the recent protests of Trump’s executive order barring immigrants from seven countries. At the Detroit airport protest, numbering about 3,000 people, the Mexican flag was carried in the midst of people of Middle Eastern descent. A young African American man, who works at the airport, joined the protest after the end of his shift, telling a television reporter that we all have to support each other.

Although the marchers were galvanized by Trump’s election, a movement cannot be sustained by being against someone or something. We need to continue to project and work for WILPF’s positive vision of a better world.

Glorious Expressions of an Unforeseen Movement
By Odile Hugonot Haber

I got on the bus in Detroit. Besides having the pleasure of speaking with a few sisters during that night’s bus ride, we were all going to Washington, excited about the next day.

Then, after riding the subway, we moved toward the center stage—or as close beside it as we could get, because even that early in the morning, the area was already entirely crowded: thousands of people, and many women with pink pussy hats, so the crowd looked pink. The marchers were at times joyous and serious, but always peaceful. Not a single arrest was made at the demonstration.

Women, both young and old, were definitely the majority. We were able to get next to the stage, under an area that had a huge TV screen. But as the day progressed and the crowd continued to press in, we got stuck in that spot, as everywhere else was full. So we listened to many speeches—in fact, four hours of them!

The creativity of the sign makers was evident: “If I wanted government in my womb, I would have f—cked a senator” drew raucous laughter when shown on the big screen; “Nasty women unite"; “I stand with her” (the Statue of Liberty); "Keep your hands off my pussy”; “Our body, our minds, our power, we the people”; “Women won’t back down, hear our voices”; “Girls want to have fun(damental rights).”

“Our voices will amplify each other’s,” said one speaker. However, after getting tired of standing in the cold, with heads tilted up to watch the screens, the crowd demanded power back: “We want to march! Let’s march! . . .”

The “trouble” was that many more people came than the organizers had expected, so we were all blocked in. The police did not want us to take over the White House and to occupy it! So the organizers said, “Move back and move away,” and we did. After marching for fifteen minutes, we found a more open space in front of the obelisk, and there we saw the magnificent spectacle of the crowd unfurling into a march, with so many different signs! Glorious expressions of the unforeseen movement.

They came out of the woodwork, from everywhere, old, young, black and white, Latinos, Asian—we were all there. The demands were for the most part feminist, but not very political in the traditional sense. No signs said: End Wars, End Imperialism, End predatory capitalism. It was all homogenous and amorphous in some way.

We came with our banner, which we showed only for an hour, due to the lack of an organized march. I was disappointed not to see a march, with organizations and banners, as labor marches usually go, but it was empowering to see so many young women there.

We do hope all will “call their Congress representatives every day,” as Michael Moore advocated. Laura Dewey, her daughter, Laila Hamdan, and I distributed 300 WILPF postcards. It was a historical event, and I am glad I participated, even as I regretted not marching. We were swamped, and that does not happen this often. Great, great, great!

Inset photo credit: Odile Hugonot Haber

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