In a twisted, ironic way we should probably thank President Trump. He has unwittingly unleashed one of the most passionate, universally endorsed and most widely participated marches against the attack on the most fundamental values of a humane, progressive, sane world. It may have started as the 'Women's March' with an emphasis on protesting the misogynistic, racist rhetoric of Trump's election campaign. But ultimately the March was widely participated and replicated in other cities because it voiced concerns that resonated with people, especially women, all over the world.
So was it just a lot of hullabaloo of angry women trying to get some attention just so they could have the right to get their 'unborn babies ripped off their bodies' as Trump had described legal abortion during one of his election speeches? True, the possible denial of basic reproductive rights that include the right to have legal abortion was one of the issues the marchers were protesting but it was more than that. Kamala Harris, a Democrat Senator of the state of California, put it all in perspective. She told the audience how, after being elected as District Attorney of San Francisco, then Attorney General of California and finally Senator of that state, 'folks' approached her and asked her to talk about 'women's issues' and her answer was, “I am so glad you want to talk about… the economy.” In the same way every time she was asked that question she had an apt answer – 'national security', 'education', 'criminal justice' and 'climate change'. Her point being, that every pressing issue of the day was a woman's issue because all these areas affect women and their families and because women have a vital role to play in addressing them. “If you are a Black woman trying to raise a son you know that 'Black lives matter' – it's a woman's issue.”
At the same time she reiterated those rights that women in particular, are denied – the right to equal pay, equal access to healthcare and safe, legal abortion. Sadly, only two days later, one of the first things that President Trump did was sign an executive action reinstating the so-called Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-governmental organisations that perform or advocate abortions from receiving US government funding. This may well be extended to domestic policy which will make it illegal for a woman in the US to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The determined women - and men of Saturday's March - will not remain silent about a move that gives the state the right to interfere in one of the most private decisions a woman makes regarding her body.
What was remarkable about the Women's March was the spontaneous participation of people from every possible category including men, members of the LGBT community, children, Asians, Europeans, Africans, musicians, artists, writers, celebrities, non-celebrities – there was hardly any group not represented in this March. The reason why millions of people turned up – not only in US cities but in London, Berlin, Barcelona and others – is because it was a way for people to express their fears and insecurities left by a dangerously polarised, intolerant, xenophobic world symbolised by Trump's victory and Brexit that has instigated a rise in rightist, populist politics especially in the west. It was an expression of outrage against the apparent acceptability of anti-woman rhetoric, racial discrimination, religious intolerance and insularity, diseases that keep thriving across the globe. It was the horror and disbelief expressed by millions of people who attended and many more millions who watched it on TV all over the world, that humankind in this century of technological advance and innovation, should be regressing into the dark ages of ignorance, falsehood and hatred.
Activist and journalist Gloria Steinem described the surge of people in this March as 'the upside of the downside'. “This is an outpouring of energy and true diversity like we have never seen before. It is wide in age; it is deep in diversity.” Alluding to Trump's electoral promise to get all Muslims registered and screened, Steinem declared that if Muslims have to register then “we will all register as Muslims”. She challenged the concept of 'America First', one of the first phrases uttered by the newly elected American President by saying “…we will not be controlled…we will work for a world in which all countries will be connected, looking at each other, linked not ranked.”
The Women's March was actually a People's March not just for Americans but for all the citizens of the world as expressed through the slogans 'we are the people', 'we have the power.' The realities on the ground may seem contradictory to such optimistic rhetoric. The world is more divisive than ever, with more people dying in senseless wars, more people being displaced by armed conflict and climate change, more people persecuted because of their race or religion and more people having a fraction or nothing of the world's wealth. In truth, individually, the ordinary citizen is powerless against states that are hell-bent on curbing fundamental rights in their zeal for political control and aggrandisement. But there is a latent power even in the most helpless, hapless human - the power to protest. The outpouring of January 21 was a show of how that power can be harnessed and unleashed when people, forgetting their differences, come together and unite against injustice and fight for what is undeniably right. So thank you Mr. Trump for helping us remember what we should be standing up against. Thank you for waking us up.
The writer is Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.