Most women will attest to the fact that the streets often feel dangerous. We live our lives choosing the safest and most well lit routes for the walk home from work. We keep our heads down when people gawk or shout at us because reacting to provocation might mean escalation and harm to our bodies. Keys poke through our fingers as we walk to our cars, and we’re constantly looking over our shoulders. It often feels like our bodies and our wills are up for grabs.
When there is so much to fear on the streets, it’s a powerful visual to see women owning the street and celebrating one another. We can put our faith in each other in these moments and feel supported. Marches affirm one’s identity when that very identity is smeared and denigrated by those in power.
Saturday’s Women’s March and the many sister marches in almost every small or large city in the US were a counterpoint to a much grimmer inauguration day. The dark tenor of inauguration day was necessary. The day was dark, but many remarkable acts of bravery and resistance took place.
I’d like to make the argument that celebration also can be good and productive. Celebration and resistance go hand in hand. Direct action is productive. Large crowds and numbers are also productive. And the numbers were there in this case. Organisers estimated that more than a million people attended the Saturday march, which might be on record as the largest inaugural protest in history.
Women wore pink “p*ssy” hats and held varied and creative signs affirming women’s entitlement to their own bodies and decisions. The Saturday marches had a celebratory air. There was music and dancing and little girls hoisted on shoulders holding signs. Sometimes a celebration is necessary in the face of overwhelming adversity. The streets and the cities were ours and we could celebrate our womanhood openly and unabashedly.
And it should be reiterated that a march with such wide and diverse reach forces different factions to interact and act in solidarity with one another. Ideas coalesce and larger analyses of oppression and oppressive forces foment in situations where some women are marching for black lives, some for immigrant lives, some for queer lives, some against wage theft and discrimination. The existence of these coalitions in the same democratic public space forces dialogue and ultimately, solidarity. In these moments, we see each other for who we are.
The burden of womanhood becomes much heavier with any other marker of oppression. The oft-quoted figure about women’s salaries as compared to men, 77 cents on the dollar, really only applies to white women. Black women, on average, make 65 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women make 58 cents on the dollar. According to the Justice Department, in cases where indigenous women report a rape, an arrest is made 13 percent of the time, while reports from their white counterparts result in arrest 32 percent of the time.
It is important that solidarity bleeds and extends beyond race, orientation, and class. If reproductive rights are rolled back in conservative states, women in progressive states should be supporting their sisters. Women must stand in solidarity with immigrant women and children who are brutally detained and exploited for profit. All women must continue to #sayhername when black women are killed by the police. And of course, this solidarity must extend abroad.
Marches become public forums to voice dissent as well as solidarity. Chants get picked up and carried. Not only do we hear “Our body, our choice,” but also “black lives matter” and “love is love” and “ningun ser humano es ilegal” and “mni wiconi”. Those chants echo through the crowd. Many first-time protesters joined this tidal wave of humanity as these fundamental human rights were affirmed for so many marginalised groups. Points of contact are positive. Marches celebrate and affirm the humanity of each drop in a vast human sea.
Everyone gets to be together for a day and just exist in a sea of good vibes. This horizontal solidarity is so necessary as the threat of violence against all the previously enumerated groups looms large. There is hope in defiance. It is important to normalize this defiance when human lives are at stake and it is essential to reaffirm our shared humanity. Now it is time to act as if we have a stake in each other. It is time to start pooling resources for mothers who will need healthcare for their children. It is time to stand up if Muslim Americans are forced to register with the state.
People are starting to find each other and find the will to fight by whatever means necessary.
Standing together in the street is a very good start.
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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2017 10:28:29 IST