Mark January 21 on your calendar as the first global women's march, because it probably won't be the last. Women who once used the PTA phone tree to become city councillors now can use social media to mobilize millions in only two or three months -- with staggering results.
"I expected maybe 200 people," said the guy with the big DSLR camera next to me balanced on the concrete planter beside the stairs to Calgary's City Hall. Our cameras were picking out our favourite signs among the sea of pink-capped people rolling towards us, 10 abreast, wave after wave rising along the pedestrian mall, farther back than the eye could see.
At our backs was their destination, City Hall plaza, already crammed with people. Soon the sidewalk was crammed too, then people lined the curb, and then the police blocked off the end of the street (Macleod Trail!) and gave demonstrators use of the whole four lanes.
Calgary's unexpectedly huge turnout (police estimated 5,000 attended) turned out to be in tune with the times. Not only did all major U.S. and Canadian venues report whopping responses, with crowds numbering in the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands, but solidarity marches also took place around the world.
The Guardian offered jaw-dropping city-by-city police estimates for the U.S., derived from aerial photographs, which indicate
- 1,000,000 women and allies marched in Washington, DC.
- 500,000 in LA
- 250,000 in Chicago
- 200,000 in Manhattan
- 100,000 in Denver
- 20,000 in Phoenix, Arizona, a red state on a rainy day
- 100,000 in Boston
- 60,000 in Oakland CA (20,000 in nearby San Francisco
- 50,000 in Austin TX
- 17,000 in Raleigh NC
- 60,000 marched in Atlanta, Ga, led by civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, who warned, "We cannot afford to be silent."
And that's just the beginning. The New York Times reported demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Mexico City, Berlin and Yellowknife.
"In Juneau, Alaska, one man marveled that the crowd was the biggest he had ever seen on the state Capitol's steps. In Philadelphia, marchers filled city bridges. In Lexington, KY, they shut down streets. In New Orleans, participants played brass instruments."
Tens of thousands marched in London. Sydney, Berlin, London, Paris, Nairobi and Cape Town.
In Canada, crowds swamped the streets and blocked traffic in Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary Vancouver and Victoria. Official numbers for the big cities seem low -- 6,000, or maybe 8,000 -- but by all accounts, the streets were so full that people could barely move, let alone march.
The demonstrators carried the same message and often (thanks to the Internet) the same signs and images. Their message was: "Women's rights are human rights." But the underlying message was a rebuke to incoming U.S. President (or as Jane Fonda called him, "Predator-in-Chief") Donald Trump, whose first acts included ending the Obama administration's climate change plan and water pollution rules.
Most leaders would be stunned to be publicly opposed in such numbers, but not the U.S. Republicans. Remember? The George W. Bush administration worked extra-hard to sell the world on the idea that the U.S. really really needed to attack Iraq. They made up tales about "yellowcake uranium" and "Weapons of Mass Destruction." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told blatant untruths at the United Nation.
Bush did sell his invasion plans to the U.S. Congress, but not to the U.S. or the world public. On February 15, 2003, 15 million people globally marched or rallied in protest. That was the last time Calgary pulled 5,000 marchers for a protest. While the 2003 march didn't manage to block GWB, it did draw attention to the illegality of his actions, which has limited his world travel since he retired.
Populism works both ways. Republican strategists -- and the Koch brothers -- have given us the Tea Party, voter suppression, and gerrymandering on steroids. They may believe they have achieved a lock on political power in the U.S. -- or what's left of it when Trump is through. But Pew Research shows that their base is only about one-third of Americans, and they're aging rapidly. And the internal gender gap is growing. More women than men supported HRC by 12 percentage points (54 per cent to 42 per cent), and more men than women voted for Donald Trump, by 12 percentage points (53 to 41 per cent).
Globally, protests seem to be growing larger, wave after wave, a new kind of renewable energy but also a restless rebellious spirit that we usually associate with places like Tahrir Square. Six years ago, in 2011, Occupy Wall Street inspired tent cities across the U.S. and Canada. In 2012, demonstrators across Canada pounded pots and pans to show sympathy with les casseroles, the Quebec student protests.
Meanwhile, at the end of the Calgary rally, the emcee reminded everyone there to visit the Women's March on Washington Facebook page regularly and to look to local groups like the Calgary Women's Centre and the YWCA for news about upcoming events. Unlike Occupy or the spontaneous anti-war movement of 2003, the women's movement already has a fair bit of infrastructure in place. That bodes well for continued action.
So does the calendar. We are barely a month away from March 8, International Women's Day, which usually becomes Women's Week. I can't begin to imagine how much networking occurred during the marching, rallying and travelling around the Women's March. I feel fairly certain that the new part-time president will offend women between now and then.
Mark January 21 2017 on your calendars as the first global multimillion-feet-on-the-ground Women's March – and maybe mark the week of March 5 as the likely start of the next action.
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