Last Friday, Jan. 20, I shuddered when I saw “President Trump” written out on the news banner for the first time. The suffix “-elect” in his former title had been a buffer against the impending transfer of power — now our jarring reality. I went to check out the walkout, but I did not feel particularly heartened to join. Although I highly respected the purpose and shared the sentiment of those who partook, I didn’t feel personally motivated to protest an event that had occurred on the opposite side of the country as I sat in class that morning. I wanted to stand up for, not against, something.
Like hundreds of other Stanford students, I found an outlet for that energy in one of the hundreds of Women’s Marches that took place across the world on Saturday, Jan. 21. My morning train to San Jose might as well have been a charter bus to the march. We cheered at every stop as a new wave of pink-hatted people, spanning every generation, boarded the train. Countless “Nasty Women in Training,” as some T-shirts and even stroller covers proclaimed, were living out Hillary Clinton’s message: “To all the little girls watching … never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.”
As my friend and I colored in a last-minute “Feminism Is For Everyone” poster, we overheard a couple explaining the slogan to two attentive young children. Their conversation avoided demeaning remarks towards the new president, instead focusing on the fact that girls can do anything and that the world is better for both boys and girls when we celebrate equality. Looking back, positivity and solidarity far outweighed hostility towards the new Administration throughout the entire day.
Of course the marches featured their rightful share of anti-Trump sentiment. Some of it was playful and satirical. Plenty of signs poked fun at everything from his hair (“We Shall Overcomb”) to his Cabinet picks (“My Cabinet is the worst. Everyone says so. They’re all saying it. It’s terrible”). My friend and I especially appreciated “Super Callow Fragile Ego Trump You Are Atrocious.” A classmate who attended the San Francisco march described a sign that had no words, just a cluster of Cheetos stuck to a poster board.
We all got a good laugh out of chanting “We Want a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter,” but to me, this cheer was more of a diversion; the shouts of “Yes We Can! Yes We Will!” were the theses of the moment. Although I can’t say that I didn’t appreciate the infant nibbling at the corners of a “This is my first protest sign,” the march didn’t quite strike me as a protest against Trump’s presidency. The Women’s March attendees were not calling for an America without Trump, but an America despite him.
Trump’s idea of America is defined by its antithesis: We strengthen America by barring ourselves off from a foreign other. We will be great when we enclose ourselves within a wall and limit the opportunities of America to those for whom they were already accessible last century. By contrast, the Women’s March participants embraced a positive, inclusive vision for America. We held banners with values to promote and progress to strive toward, not policies to repeal and cultures to exclude. #BlackLivesMatter signs, wake-up calls on climate change and expressions of love for immigrants were intermingled among the feminist slogans. Participants rallied in response to misogyny but ultimately projected the message that all types of injustice are intertwined. Even though clarifying and implementing that message will take much more than an empowering day of rallies, the span and scale of the Women’s Marches expressed a global mandate for a different kind of greatness than the one that Trump has articulated.
To me, the most powerful slogans were those that advocated acceptance without normalization. By virtue of directly addressing the administration, phrases like “Respect existence or expect resistance” acknowledged Trump’s presidency as unstoppable and legitimate but forcefully reminded him that his nation consists of far more than his supporters, and we will not silently tolerate the moral dangers that he poses. I got the chills when a friend who flew to DC for the march described the chant that was audible all the way to the White House: “Welcome to your first day, we won’t go away.” Rather than opposing Trump, the marches sent him an ultimatum: We too are the people, and we cannot go ignored. We will hold him accountable to a higher standard than his campaign rhetoric. We will accept his electoral victory but will not allow him to set a national example in which grabbing women by the pussy is just locker room talk. We are moving forward, and we are grabbing back.
Contact Courtney Cooperman at ccoop20 ‘at’ stanford.edu.