Saturday, January 21st 2017 should be marked in history as a day when people came together with the purpose of uniting to support one another’s needs. The Women’s March on Washington, an enormous event that catalyzed in the days and weeks following the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, is being extolled as the largest protest rally and march in history.
Faculty and staff from the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law marched in Washington, DC and New York, NY; Kira Shepherd and Ashe McGovern, Associate Directors for the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project marched in Philadelphia, and student activists from Columbia Law School raised funds to charter a bus so that Columbia Law School students could participate in the March in Washington, DC.
In the days following the Women’s March, there has been a lot of discourse as to what the march accomplished. The march cannot be viewed as a means to an end, or as a single action. What was accomplished in the day of the March itself is that people were rallied to the streets out of fear, pride, anger, and a desire for community and communion with others, who for various reasons, were compelled to do the same. What was accomplished on the day of the March itself is that a diverse group of speakers took to stages in cities across the world to extoll the need for citizens to be civically engaged so as to oppose all forms of oppression and injustice. What was accomplished is that people looked around themselves, listened to the voices around themselves, and felt themselves moving as a part of something much larger than themselves.
What was accomplished was, hopefully, the first page of the next chapter in the movement for justice and equality for women, trans and gender non-conforming persons, persons of all sexualities, racialized persons, ethnic minorities, religious minorities and members of first nations in the United States, persons of all genders and sexualities. When we ask what the march accomplished, we need to ask what we are doing, each day, to embody the spirit of the march as expressed by the founders in their mission statement, “We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us…. We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities…. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up.”
On an individual level, I have faith that the march accomplished a note brought in the final sentence of the excerpt I quoted above – – that the march was the first step. It is up to those who attended the March and its sibling marches in other cities, to those who organized the marches, and to those who witnessed (either in person or via media) the marches and found themselves inspired by them to take the next steps forward, and build momentum towards an inclusive movement for equality and equity.
Isaac Newton’s law of inertia states that a body “will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.” We, the people, were compelled to uniform motion on Saturday, January 21st, 2017, by the external force of an elected official who is aligned with parties and platforms that do not respect or advocate for the rights of all persons. Though external forces may threaten our movement along our trajectory, so long as we stay in motion, we will remain in motion.
On an informal level, while we have a long way to go, I continue to be inspired by and mobilized to my own action by the words, actions, and work of my colleagues and the student leaders at Columbia Law School. To all the movers and shakers that compel me out of inertia – – The Faculty and my colleagues at the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, and the student leaders who chartered a bus so that Law Students could attend the March, I am grateful.