Una Mullally: Women’s movement in US is not going away
Protest marches carry torch for rights as deep misogyny persists under Trump
Women’s March in California on January 19th, 2019, in Los Angeles: The Repeal movement and referendum win have acted as a point of inspiration and hope for women in America. Photograph: Sarah Morris/Getty
On Saturday morning in Downtown Los Angeles, the temperature started to climb to 26 degrees. After days of dull weather, the sun was following the crowds as they marched from Pershing Square to City Hall for the third – now annual – Women’s March. The first Women’s March in 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, was the largest protest on a single day in the United States, ever. It’s a movement and a resistance that isn’t going way.
In 2017, about 750,000 people marched at the Women’s March in Los Angeles. Two years later, the crowd is smaller, but the resolve is still there. Since then, women have been further dehumanised and traumatised in America, from the Christine Blasey Ford testimony, which failed to prevent, Brett Kavanaugh, the man she accused of sexually assaulting her, from becoming a supreme court judge, to the repeated attacks on Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights, to the separation of families at the US-Mexico border.
The placards, a part of protest craft that is further fuelled by social media, especially Instagram, were bold and humorous and angry and colourful and plentiful – “Men Of Quality Do Not Fear Equality” one read; “Our Voices Will Not Be Silenced” another placard read, held by a woman standing in front of a man with a megaphone who was shouting about hellfire, and “shame on you, abortionists”.
At one point, three young, white, male Trump supporters wheeling a speaker blaring country music, waving a Trump flag and laughing in the faces of the female protesters – most of whom didn’t react or simply shook their heads – walked at speed against the direction the crowd was walking, looking for a reaction. This kind of odd behaviour has become emblematic of some vocal Trump supporters who still don’t seem content even with their boy in the White House. What’s wrong with these people?
‘Liar in Chief’
At City Hall a woman older than the average age of the crowd was sitting on a bench with a sign referencing the “Liar in Chief”. Behind her, another placard she had been carrying was resting, adorned with pictures of suffragettes. It turned out Martha Wheelock was a documentary filmmaker, and has made a film about the suffragist Inez Milholland.
People don’t know how deep the misogyny goes in this country
Milholland is a captivating figure probably best known for her bold, iconic, attention-grabbing modes of protest. In March 1913, she led the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington DC on top of a white horse. She wore a white cape and a crown. She was then 27. Milholland died in 1916, a month after she collapsed while delivering a speech in Los Angeles. Wheelock’s film is called Forward Into the Light.
“A lot of young American women don’t know their history,” Wheelock said, explaining the reason for her placard. “They don’t know what it took for women to get the right to vote in this country, and how if we stop, we won’t get anywhere.” Wheelock said it took her six months to recover from Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump.
“People don’t know how deep the misogyny goes in this country.” A revolution might be a a long way off, she said, “but we can live the revolution. Just look at what you had to overcome in Ireland,” Wheelock said, discussing the length of time it took for women to get reproductive rights in Ireland, and the landmark referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment,
“You guys know that. It takes a long time. There are years of hope and years of struggle, but you can’t give up.
It’s unsurprising how familiar women’s rights campaigners and protesters in the US are with the gains women in Ireland have made, considering the global impact the recent abortion referendum made. The Repeal movement and referendum win also acted as a point of inspiration and hope for women in America, who see their reproductive rights under huge threat.
‘Systems of domination’
Laverne Cox, the actress, and LGBT-rights campaigner, who is also one of the most famous transgender people in the world, gave a considered speech. Her mood was reflective.
“We must constantly be doing the work of self-interrogation to make sure we are not perpetuating systems of domination,” she said. Out in the crowd, many placards referenced intersectionality, including “If It Ain’t Intersectional It Ain’t Feminism”. Intersectionality, the castor on which contemporary feminism moves, has undergone its own interrogation in the age of Trump, where differences of race, religion, class, and ethnicity have often become frayed lines of division. Privilege is there to be interrogated. “Dismantle White Feminism”, one white woman’s T-shirt read.
The despondency that Trump’s chaotic reign has caused is impossible to ignore. It’s a feeling that, along with vibrancy and anger and hope and togethernes, tinges the crowd. Getting used to a shocking scenario – Trump in the White House – is a strange feeling because something might still be shocking, but shock, by its nature, dissipates.
“If we are collectively traumatised, how do we collectively heal?” Cox asked, almost quietly, into a microphone, on a stage, in front of tens of thousands of people, as the sun beat down on pink hats, placards repurposed as shade, and the now ubiquitous giant inflatable Trump baby balloon. Cox’s question felt very much like a hypothetical. But as her speech concluded, she rallied.
“Social change is a million individual acts of kindness . . . Los Angeles, I feel a change is coming. Can you feel it?” Maybe not so hypothetical after all.