Equality

‘This Many People Can’t Help but Make Change’: 400,000 New Yorkers March For Women and Against Trump

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Barely 24 hours after Donald Trump swore to protect the constitution of our fragile union, after most of the country watched images of protesters smashing windows in the nation’s cloudy capital, New Yorkers took to the streets. For an estimated 400,000 New Yorkers (initially officials estimated the number to be 200,000; later the mayor’s office clarified that) — immigrants and native born, transplants and tri-staters alike, today was not day one of Donald J. Trump’s administration. It was day one of the resistance.

New York City’s women’s march, a sister event to the main march in D.C., began with a rally near the United Nations. Anchored by an enthusiastic Rosie Perez, city officials, local advocates, and celebrities took to the stage one by one to voice their dissent, including Whoopi Goldberg, Orange Is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling, and Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon. Some focused on unity and support for all women, and others spoke more specifically about the most vulnerable communities under Trump: undocumented immigrants, black and brown women, the LGBTQ community, and the disabled. City comptroller Scott Stringer called the new administration “all male, pale, and stale.”

But the message was clear across the board: If New York made Donald Trump, then New York would spend the next four years breaking him.

Thousands inched their way down Second Avenue near East 47th Street, pushing, and then marching, south toward 42nd Street before cutting west to Fifth Avenue. Marchers held a diverse set of signs, ranging from the tame — “Women’s Rights Are Equal Rights,” — to the profane. The predominant issue seemed to be protecting reproductive rights.

A sign held by Dixie Roberts, 33, a digital strategist from Astoria, featured a detailed image of the 45th president with his legs splayed open to reveal female genitalia. She was stopped repeatedly by fellow marchers and passersby for photos and laughs. Roberts said she was at the march to “spread joy,” but that a funny poster shouldn’t distract from her and other women’s very real fears, including Republicans’ mission to defund Planned Parenthood.

“When you’ve got one Planned Parenthood for hundreds of thousands of people and it’s going to go away, that’s terrifying,” she said. In blue New York City and State, she said, women are lucky. Roberts, who was accompanied by her friend Brit Borcher, 35, (who painted the Trump poster), said today’s march was noticeably less angry and frenetic than the protests that erupted the day after Trump was elected.

“It’s a different feeling. [Protesting after Election Day] was cathartic, to just get out into the street and scream,” said Roberts. “This feels more hopeful. Now we’ve come out of the initial shock. This many people can’t help but make change.” Roberts recently set up a recurring monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, and says participants in the march should make a habit of hounding their congressmen and women to turn today’s energy into tangible action. Her mother, who lives in Iowa, once marched in demonstrations protesting the Vietnam War and frequently told her “We did this so you don’t have to.”

“But we still have to,” she said. “Maybe we’re not burning our bras, and people are now taking selfies with their protest signs, but people are noticing. You can’t ignore this. Look how many people are not cool with this.”

While some marchers pounded their fists in the air and chanted about the danger of a loss of civil rights, others had tangible memories of what life was like without those freedoms. Donna Gould, 84, stood watch on the sidewalk quietly. She held a sign that said she’d had an illegal abortion in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1956, seventeen years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. While in graduate school in California, in her mid-twenties, Gould became pregnant.

At the time, “you had to make phone calls [looking for doctors willing to perform an abortion] from pay-phones so nobody would hear you talking about it,” she said. “You couldn’t tell your family.” She and her boyfriend at the time found a willing doctor across the border in Mexico, but she said the experience was extremely difficult. “I didn’t know anything about this guy and it was scary to put myself in the hands of an unvouched-for person,” said Gould. For her, today’s march was about fighting to protect a right that could have been crucial for her decades ago.

The lead-up to the march was rife with internal drama over concerns that a homogeneous brand of feminism was dominating the conversation. But some signs and attendees were tuned in to the importance of an intersectional outlook in the face of an administration that seems hell bent on rolling back the rights of the most vulnerable among us.

Mahdi Sabbagh, 28, an architect from Palestine now living in Bushwick, marched in all black, carrying a sign that said “Decolonize.” He drew parallels between Trump’s anti-immigrant and racist agenda and the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people with Israel, a conflict the United States has a tangled involvement with.

“What worries me is when people remain silent when seeing change happening, and not feeling like it’s about them,” he said. “They talk about possible deportation for only some people, so people don’t think it’s an attack on everybody.” That attitude, he said, is evidence that ours is not a society that truly values equality. And all the more reason why those with agency, such as American citizenship, have to continue to protest changes in immigration policy they don’t agree with — even after today’s fervor dies down.

“I grew up in a part of Pennsylvania that supported Trump, and I’m marching for those people too,” said Jewel Daney, a social worker who traveled into the city from central New Jersey, where she’s lived for thirty years. “They think he’s going to get them jobs. My uncle died in the coal mines. I’m worried for them too.” Daney has marched for women’s rights, gay rights and against the Vietnam War. For her, Trump’s attack on racial and religious minorities and the disabled was a call to action. “It seems like it’s time to take to the streets again,” she said.

If Trump’s campaign thrived on divisive rhetoric that played on the insecure, white supremacist threads that tie this country together, then his swearing in brought together, if only for a moment, a more true picture of not just what America has become, but what she’s always been. And while some expressed worry that the surge of activism washing over parts of the country would begin and end with feel-good marches, others had a plan.

“The next step is to stay on top of our representatives and hope this is fuel for the loyal opposition — the Democrats and Independents,” said Jon Freda, 66, an actor from Morningside Heights. “They have to do all that they can. And if they need help, we protest.”

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