The Women’s March on Washington is a grassroots movement originally sponsored by independent state-level coordinators and now led by a national committee. According to its website, the March aims to “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world, that women’s rights are human rights.” The Women’s March on Chicago is one of over 600 independently organized sister marches around the world.
First-year Elizabeth Myles is among a group of students who will board a rally bus provided by a private service offering round-trip transportation to the Washington March, leaving at 6 p.m. on Friday. “I’m really excited to be around so many people who share my passion for making sure the administration knows how we feel,” she said. Her group will arrive in Washington at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, an hour before the rally is scheduled to start. They will stay until the post-rally march ends at 5 p.m., returning on another overnight bus to Chicago.
UChicago Democrats (UC Dems) president, third-year Rachel Neuburger, will lead a group downtown on Saturday morning to participate in the Chicago March. They will join a larger group of Chicago students, which she hopes will number in the hundreds, a block away from the rally site at the corner of East Jackson Boulevard and South Lake Shore Drive.
Some students attending the protests say that marching is a way to translate anger at the results of the presidential election into the creation of a long-lasting political coalition of women. “Right after the election, I was left feeling empty,” Neuburger said. “I’m beginning to feel empowerment. [The March] indicates a brighter moment for women in politics, I think.”
She cited the 22,000 people The Tribune estimates will attend the March on Chicago, as well as the more than 205,000 people who say on Facebook they will march in Washington, as evidence of the grassroots movement’s resonance with women across the United States.
First-year Ava Geenen, who is marching in Washington, echoed this sentiment, claiming that what she fears most about the future of women’s rights under the Trump administration is that the feminist movement will regress. “What’s always kind of disturbing to me about women in politics is the erasure of gender politics from the equation,” she said. “In terms of [other] voting blocs—race, ethnicity, orientation—there’s a very clear sense of community and of adherence to the issues, for the most part, much more than there is for women. Womanhood is secondary to our other identifiers.”
Students also indicated their hope that the march will serve both to protest what they view as the legitimation of cavalier attitudes toward sexual assault—“Donald Trump represents rape culture,” Neuburger said—as well as to inspire improved legal treatment of sexual violence. “I’d like to see that the Attorney General is someone who represents all people, not just a few,” said first-year Sanya Khatri, another March on Washington attendee. She noted that although Jeff Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General, voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act as Senator in 2013, “I think that you can push people to do what you want. Your representatives are supposed to represent you.”
Students expressed their desire to see speakers at the marches discuss opposition to various other issues as well, from the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act to the deregulation of charter schools to the normalization of xenophobic and Islamophobic speech.
The marchers also stressed their intention to continue activism against the new administration long after Saturday. UC Dems plans to ally with Democratic groups on other campuses for a series of nationwide phone campaigns to Congress members, and Myles and Khatri said they hope to attend future rallies in Chicago.
For Geenen, who participated in rallies following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 in her native Baltimore, focused organizing is crucial. She says she found the protests at Trump Tower in the Loop, immediately after the election, to be “unappealing, because it wasn’t very obvious what the goal was.”
“I did a lot of thinking about the role of protesting someone who’s won a democratic election,” she said. “It’s to make sure that politicians and the world know that he doesn’t have the mandate of the people, he didn’t win the popular vote—this is not okay.”