“We only predicted 18,000 people today…”
Sandi Toksvig’s voice echoes through the cardboard placards which fill Trafalgar Square. Faces are turned towards the sun; banners flutter below Nelson’s column, flanked by roaring bronze lions made 150 years ago. If I squint, I can see Big Ben in the distance.
We are in the midst of London’s most famous landmarks on a chilly January day, most of which were built by men. But at the start of 2017 we’re listening to the speakers of a Women’s March, in solidarity with the march on Washington, D.C –
“… and we’ve just been told there’s actually a hundred thousand of us filling up the streets!”
An audible sense of disbelief ricochets amongst us – is that really possible?! – but quickly there is cheering. Applause. Tears. A tighter grip of my friend Jas’s hand, as we look excitedly at each other.
Who knows what we’re managing to achieve by standing here right now?
Why we held a Women’s March in London
In the early hours of November 16th 2016, I sat in my apartment with a few friends, some empty beer cans and my hands over my eyes. With every new swathe of state-led red on the TV screen came a fresh wave of nausea.
The US election felt like Brexit all over again.
The mood across all my online and offline networks was sombre. Seeing the victory of a man who legitimises sexual assault, racism, and discrimination against almost every demographic possible felt like a blow to the chest. How could over 62 million people have voted for him?
Travel is one of my major motivations in life. Why? Because the world is wide and open. It is beautiful and fearsome. It is a place I will never get tired of exploring because there’s always something new to see, new people to meet, new lessons to learn and new perspectives to realise.
The election made me understand with a new, humbling certainty just how much fear and anger is present in the world, and how much power those emotions can have. Yet so many moments of positivity throughout my travels have given me the utmost faith in the goodness of people – and there isn’t a single second where I don’t doubt the equal power of that goodness.
Together, we can be kind. We can be loving. We can respect each other, protect each other, and we can come together for the sake of millions of beautiful people living alongside us. There are worrying times ahead, that’s undoubtable. But love trumps hate, and disaster provokes action.
It’s taken me a long while to evaluate what I feel about the current political climate – and it doesn’t help that I’ve only become politicised in the last few years.
Now, I’m beginning to understand what I’ve always refused to notice before: that the spectrum of political opinion is an absolute grey area. It has to be, despite its accompanying frustration, because every single person is different.
Here’s the hard, sticky, uncomfortable truth of it: to get to grips with what the hell is happening to the world right now, those of us firmly on one end of the spectrum have to actively pay attention to exactly why and how those on the spectrum’s other end feel the way they do.
We need to be compassionate. We need to be understanding. We need to make space for conflicting opinions, and be strong enough to address them.
I’ve never before wanted to engage with people who I think are racist, homophobic, sexist, or any other myriad of things I deem to be unacceptable. Nonetheless, I’m strangely grateful for the double-whammy of Brexit and Trump. Their presence is already galvanising people to act in ways they’ve been too nervous to do before.
Like painting signs, donning coats, and stepping into the winter air to publicise their feelings with their feet.
Meeting 100,000 fellow Women’s Marchers
The energy in London on January 21st was palpable.
The feeling of dozens, hundreds, thousands of bodies with that same fiery feeling radiated out and upwards. I kept thinking of those books we all read as children, where love and happiness became something visceral and visible; something with the power to protect us all and make us stronger.
I know some people were nervous – for many, it was their first ever demonstration – but the positive, all-inclusive attitude prevailed. There were people of every age, every race, representatives of dozens of minority groups and not a single bit of violence.
In fact, once the demo had officially ended, people wheeled huge sets of speakers into the square and we ended up dancing to techno tunes while waving our appropriately British placards.
But outside the positivity and happiness which flooded London throughout Saturday, what really hit me was seeing young girls making their voices heard.
I’ve never been pregnant and I don’t have many friends with young children, so kids aren’t that much on my radar. But when I saw these three girls holding up anti-racism signs it reminded me with a jolt that these issues simply aren’t going away unless we work our hardest to eradicate them. And it truly does take ALL of us.
The marches are over. What do we do now?
With over three million people marching across seven continents, I think I’m safe in the knowledge that this question has been a very popular Google search over the last few days.
Nonetheless, it’s still a fragile place to be. Somehow, the weekend’s energy has to be harnessed so that progressive action continues forward.
Here’s how I reckon we can make a start.
** Get educated **
- Expand your literary knowledge. All those issues you saw cropping up at Women’s Marches? Research their histories; their policies; the memoirs written by their founders; the essays which discuss them. Get into the bones of these causes, and find out what makes them tick.
- Keep up with the news. Current events affect everything, as do the politics of different countries. Understand as much as you can, and ask questions about what doesn’t make sense.
- Engage with culture. Check out your local museums, galleries, art spaces and theatres. Watch plays, listen to lectures and walk through exhibitions. Pay attention to the ways people express themselves through art, and examine what’s triggered them to do so.
** Get uncomfortable **
- Confront your echo chamber. Social media bubbles are a legitimate thing, where the majority of your chosen network agrees with your opinion. It can make us self-indulgent and a bit lazy. Start using social media to challenge your preconceptions – and although engaging in debate with online trolls isn’t always the best idea, follow some of those arguments and investigate how their beliefs have been formed.
- Be humbled by your privilege. I’m a straight, cisgender, white woman, and I simply don’t know enough about the suppression, exclusion and demonisation faced by those who don’t share my background. Whether your own privilege is racial, financial, geographical, sexual or something else, vow to use your platform of relative safety to help those without it.
- Expect to be challenged. More than that: actively search out situations which will do this. Your brain is powerful. Let it work.
** Get inspired **
- Find your female role models. There are plenty of inspirational women around the world who are going to inspire the hell out of you. Research the works of writers, artists, politicians, musicians, teachers and activists – particularly those women of colour – and absorb what they have to say.
- Follow your passions. If you’re anything like me, you’ve joined dozens of interesting-looking Facebook groups and never actually checked out what they do in real life. Whether it’s a choir, a running group, a knitting circle (all about those PussyHats!), the more out of your comfort zone, the better. Re-investigate. Reconnect. Remember how many wonderful experiences you’ve had in the past when you stepped out of your comfort zone for a minute? Yeah. Do that as much as you can.
** Get involved **
- Volunteer within your local community. It’s the best place for your new-found determination to stretch itself. Join the closest library; help out at after-school programmes for kids; volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Put yourself in environments where you can pass on your knowledge to others, and they can teach you things you’d never thought of. Communication is crucial.
- Lend your voice to politics. Sign petitions and help organise campaigns. Pound the streets and hand out fliers. Engage others in passionate dialogue about this fantastically important new information you’ve just learned.
- Be consistent. Every single thing in life needs dedication to make a discernible difference. Promise yourself you’re going to commit to a new way of thinking, living, speaking, seeing, and let that be your New Year’s Resolution for 2017. This is a year for change like no other.
In conclusion? Get ready!!
Too often I have worried about being alone. About being an outsider. About not belonging. But on January 21st I felt part of an intrinsic sisterhood like never before. And I vow to maintain and channel that feeling into something bigger, with more longevity.
There will be more marches, and there will be more action. But most of your determination HAS to come from within you. This is a work-in-progress, and we all need to stand up together if we’re going to incite change.
Today, I wrote this article to express some of the passion still bottled up in me. Tomorrow, I’ll scour the shelves of my local library to find feminist literature I haven’t yet read. The next day, and the days after that, I’ll join local groups and listen to local women speak and march in yet more marches.
I am galvanised. I am determined. I am passionate. I am one of the four million people who stated on Saturday that we believe in change.
I am a woman. HEAR ME ROAR!
This weekend has made me prouder than ever to be a woman: and standing with thousands at #womensmarchlondon to support those with less voice, less privilege, and less chance to express themselves has also made me intensely humble 👭🙌 I’m going to try my absolute hardest to maintain these feelings of passion and determination, and channel them into something much bigger. Who’s with me? ❤️😍 #LoveTrumpsHate
Because information is power…
I’d love to update this article with any positive resources we can collectively find. What inspires you? What drives your passion? TELL ME what you’re doing today which is different from yesterday! Tell others too!! Your inspiration is only going to inspire people around you. But it still starts with YOU. We’ve started marching now. What are we going to do next?
[Updated 5th Feb]
A Reading & Resource List
- The Everywhereist: Creating in Dark Times
- Adventurous Kate: Don’t Sew a Canadian Flag on Your Backpack
- Dina Leygerman: You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry
- Austin Null: The Ironic Power of White Privilege
In the UK:
- Women’s March: 10 Actions / 100 Days
- The Pool: An Open Letter to Teresa May
- How to Email No. 10, Downing Street
In the US:
- Women’s March on Washington: 10 Actions/100 Days
- The Sixty Five: Call your Congress Rep about issues in Trump’s agenda
- Huffington Post: 52 Things You Can Do in the President’s First 52 Weeks
- Resistance Manual, a great place for understanding policy issues & actions
Science, Environment & Climate Change:
- Earth Guardians Facebook page
- No DAPL Environmental Report (petition)
- Twitter list of ‘rogue’ accounts from US federal science agencies
- Scientific American: The National Park Service Won’t be Silenced
Donate to an Organisation:
- Planned Parenthood
- ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union)
- The National Immigration Law Center, who work on behalf of low-income immigrants, handle litigation and do advocacy work
- American Refugee Committee, a nonprofit humanitarian organisation
- The Trevor Project, a crisis, suicide prevention and support resource for LGBTQ youth