Onward: two years after the inaugural Women’s March on Washington, people are still protesting

On January 21, 2017, we learned what democracy looks like.

As thousands of people assembled at Washington Square Park, the starting point for Cincinnati’s “Sister March,” — one of more than 670 offshoots of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. — the diverse people, signs, and messages were clear: This wasn’t just a march for women, nor was it strictly about our rights or the newly inaugurated President’s use of sexist language.

A rambunctious crowd chanted: “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” through the streets of downtown, waving signs printed with concerns about immigration, affordable healthcare, climate change, reproductive rights, and racial equality.

Leading up to the march, I grabbed a pink hat from my daughter’s closet, crammed it on my head, and joined my neighbor at Target where we hastily bought Sharpies and poster board for our own messages.

In a parking garage downtown, we scribbled, “There will be hell toupee” and “I’m with her” on our signs before joining the growing crowd at the park.

The author and her neighbor, Jamie Carr, at the 2017 Cincinnati Women's March

I choose “I’m with her” because I didn’t really know what my message was. It was everything, but if I thought about it all at once, marching seemed like a small act that wouldn’t fix our bigger problems. Like so many others in the crowd, I was disheartened. I agreed with every sign, every protest, but I didn’t have a clear-cut reason for marching other than the desire to do something.

Essentially, I walked for all of it. I marched because I have daughters. I marched because I don’t have sons, but would like the young men in my periphery to have as many female role models as possible. I marched because I’ve had crappy healthcare, have experienced workplace harassment, and because I wanted to stand beside my friends of different races, cultural origins, and sexual orientations. I marched because I couldn’t sit still.

It’s clear that I wasn’t the only one: An estimated 7 million people took to the streets in large cities and small towns across the world, each standing in solidarity over individual concerns.

Over the next few days, pictures and videos populated Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. Pantsuit Nation — which began with 30 members in October 2016 as a “secret” Facebook group for Hillary Clinton supporters — collected images from around the globe. Within a few weeks, their membership exceeded three million people.

It became obvious that people from all walks of life were unhappy with the election and the revelations leading up to it. And they weren’t going to take it sitting down. Babies in strollers had “stand for me signs” while older women carried “I can’t believe I still have to march for this” messages.

Some wore pink hats, Love Trumps Hate shirts, or clothing that said #nastywomen, an ominous precursor to #metoo and other movements that have gained traction since the November 2016 election.

I saw one man wearing a baby in a wrap and pushing a toddler in a stroller. His sign told the crowd that he was marching because his wife couldn’t. When I rounded the corner, I was face-to-face with my husband’s ex. We smiled and nodded in solidarity. Clearly, we have the same taste in men, whether we love them or hate them.

Personally, I found the diverse crowd energizing. We can’t fight for equality on any level without a varied group.

It’s unfortunate that inequality is still present on a large scale in this country and that the prior eight years allowed us to be complacent. Many of us falsely believed that, while racism, sexism, and homophobia still exist, we were moving forward.

And when we found out we weren’t, we marched instead.

I don’t know what it solved, if anything. I do know that it paved the way for women to be outspoken about sexual assault, for people to be heard when they experience bigotry, and for our anger to collectively create a force for good.

Unfortunately, though, conflicts still exist. Due to some issues with securing a venue and event insurance, this year’s Cincinnati march has been cancelled. There also are claims that the walk has some underlying racist and anti-Semitic leaders on the national level.

Last year’s “Hear Our Vote” theme in Cincinnati made other groups feel marginalized, and some requested a change to “Hear Our Voice” instead as a way to represent people who don’t feel that their vote matters, while also maintaining a focus on racial and economic justice, not just politics.

I didn’t notice this divisiveness in 2017, and it’s a shame that an agreement couldn’t be reached, because I enjoyed the camaraderie of the first march. While there were a few individuals who tried to rain hate down on our parade, I mostly saw people coming together to ignite diverse and positive changes. I missed the 2018 march and was looking forward to attending this year.

The Ohio Chapter’s Facebook page issued a statement about the cancellation: “We understand the frustration and perhaps anger this may cause many, but we hope that deep commitment to the ideals of the Women’s March can fuel an even stronger coalition of progressive women and femmes to make our march in 2020 — election year — bigger and better than ever.”

I hope this is the case as well. Peaceful protest may not be the solution, but in 2017, it paved the way for people to become more comfortable reporting abuse, asking for equal treatment, and standing up for one other. We may have a long way to go, but it’s crucial that we keep moving. If we stop, we’ll never get there.

Due to conflicts over securing both a venue and event insurance, the 2019 Cincinnati Woman’s March has been cancelled. There are, however, other marches in nearby cities, like Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland, Lexington, Louisville, and Indianapolis. To find a march close to you, click here

Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.
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