I underestimated the Women’s March.
I knew the flagship march in Washington would be substantial and that hundreds more marches would take place around the world, but with the weather and the RSVP drop off I honestly thought that Charlotte’s turnout would be lukewarm at best.
It wasn’t until seeing streams of sign-wielding people pouring into First Ward Park minutes before start time that I felt the temperature rise. Something special was happening and not just here, but everywhere. This pot was boiling.
In a stunning act of global resistance, millions of people took to the streets in 673 different cities to deliver a unified message to the new president of the United States on his first full day in office: “Women’s rights are human rights.”
CMPD estimates that at least 10,000 people participated in the Charlotte march, more than double the turnout organizers expected.
The crowd surged from First Ward Park to Romare Bearden Park in a steady stream for more than an hour. From the roof of a parking deck on Church Street, I thought the line might never end. It was electric.
There were all kinds of people there — women, men, children, queer, straight, American born, foreign born, Muslim, Christian, black, white, you name it.
On 7th Street, I watched a little girl ask her dad the meaning of a sign that read “Until it rains glass.” Because of this moment at this march, a young girl was introduced to the limiting concept of the proverbial glass ceiling at the same time she was immersed in a sea of people reminding her of her ability to shatter it.
If I’d been able to catch them all, I’m sure I would have found 10,000 more moments like that on the streets of Charlotte on Saturday and millions more around the world.
But the global Women’s March movement wasn’t all rainbows and kittens (uh, pussycats) for everyone.
The marches drew their fair share of criticism and not just from Trump supporters trying to dismiss it as “liberal whining.”
For some women of color, LGBTQ individuals and other underrepresented minorities, the marches lacked inclusivity and diversity. Others questioned if disjointed messaging would really succeed in affecting high-level change. Still others worried that a large, dramatic one-day hurrah would give us a false sense of accomplishment without making any real progress.
Obama’s former White House Communications Director Jen Psaki said it well on Refinery29, “I worry it will give too many people license to congratulate themselves for their activism and move on with their daily lives… The danger we face is allowing the march to make us feel better, to lull us into complacency.”
For my part, I think we missed an incredible opportunity to cross party lines here, to create a movement that transcends our politics or, at the very least, to be heard by the opposition.
But with our marches as anti-Trump as they were pro-women (synonyms for many, I realize), there was never going to be any getting through to the other side. In that way, I think we silenced our own message before it even left our mouths, drowning out the important stuff with unproductive (but hilarious) taunts and jeers.
On our ugly political playing field, we have a way of speaking on both sides that guarantees the other will never hear us. We cannot sustain that.
I don’t apologize for any of my criticism of Donald Trump or his policies. But I question if my delivery of it is an effective way to change minds or just an easy high five from people who already agree with me.
Still, for those involved, the Women’s March was a powerful force for good.
Saturday was a tremendous moment of global unity and, for me, was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a small piece of something so vast but still so close to home. Charlotte’s local organizers and demonstrators sparked something bigger than I ever anticipated would happen here.
It was day of community, sisterhood, humanity and democracy and it was overwhelmingly positive. Marches matter. They make you visible — not only to your critics and detractors but to to those in your movement who felt alone, unseen and unheard as a march of one.
Despite how energized I felt by Charlotte’s march and the photos and videos from sister marches around the world, I still left Romare Bearden Park with a nagging sense of emptiness. And that, I think, is because there is so much work to do that a march alone cannot fulfill.
The fight for women’s rights didn’t start on Saturday and it certainly doesn’t end there either. Hopefully the Women’s March infused new energy and introduced new faces to the movement. Now we have to leverage that momentum and set the bar higher.