Year of the Woman
On the morning of Jan. 18, an excited group of Cabrini students huddled in the snow, signs in hand, watching as the train pulled slowly into Radnor station. Upon boarding the train, they were greeted by the familiar sight of posters and pink knit hats.
As the snow relentlessly fell on the streets of Philadelphia, a small but dedicated crowd of demonstrators confidently shuffled their way towards the great columns of the Art Museum. The distant sounds of chants and drummers made it easy to become immersed in the extensive sea of signs and banners.
For Samar Dahleh, a junior political science and philosophy double major, the 2020 march on Philadelphia was her first time attending a women’s march. She described her experience as “empowering.”
“It was very lively and I cannot wait to do it again,” Dahleh said. “It meant so much to see all kinds of women being represented in such a positive light.”
“Gender equality is a really important issue to me,” Dr. Caroline Nielsen said. Nielsen, an associate professor of biology and environmental science, has attended all four Philadelphia marches with her family. “The march has come to encompass a wider variety of issues in opposition to the current administration in Washington. But for me as a parent, another really important reason that I march is to show my daughters that direct participation in democracy is important. That getting out there and making our voices heard and making our opinions known is our job as citizens in a democracy.”
Nielsen’s daughter was interviewed by FOX29 about her homemade sign that read, “I’m marching for justice, equality, and pockets.” The video interview can be found here around the 1:05 mark.
“One of my favorite things about the march is watching my daughter learn the chants. By the time she was 5, if you said ‘Show me what democracy looks like,’ she knew how to say ‘this is what democracy looks like,'” Nielsen said.
The Philadelphia Women’s March official website gives a brief description of this year’s theme:
“This is our 4th year of the Women’s March on Philadelphia and truly does mark the ‘Year of the Woman!’ After record-breaking elections of women (specifically women of color and LGBTQ candidates), it is time to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and come together again in solidarity to proclaim what we will continue to fight for!”
Many who attended the 2020 march wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage when women in the United States were first given the right to vote. However, this small victory still excluded millions of people of color as the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed racial discrimination in voting, wouldn’t be passed until nearly half a century later in 1965. Many of the speakers who attended this year’s march drew attention to this issue, addressing the heightened need for intersectionality within the feminist movement.
Intersectionality is defined by USA Today as “the understanding of how women’s overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.”
“In my opinion, you can’t talk about feminism without talking about intersectionality. Feminism is nothing without it,” Brittany Romano, junior social work and gender and body studies double major, said. “Without it, trans women, disabled women, women of color, immigrant women, queer women, and so many more types of women and people aren’t recognized. Some people even fall into two or more of those ‘categories’, and I think that within itself shows how important intersectionality is. You can’t simply fight for yourself. As a white woman, I cannot just fight for white women… I know that I can use my privilege to help give these women a voice and to defend these women, just as an example.”
“I think the treatment of Muslim women is something I hold very personally and it was a big reason why I wanted to march, and to give that representation,” Dahleh said. “I don’t know the name of the woman who was speaking at the march but when she used the Islamic greeting “Salaamu Alaikum” it meant the world to feel genuinely included.”
Official Event program advertising the scheduled speakers. Photo from Women’s March Philadelphia Facebook.
The First March
The Inauguration of President Donald Trump sparked a massive outcry among protesters around the country. The day after his inauguration, Jan. 21 2017, more than 4.2 million people nationwide took to the streets to demonstrate. These crowds broke records, with many media outlets claiming it to be the largest recorded single-day demonstration in U.S. history.
“The first march was definitely a standout and different than the past three marches,” Romano said. Romano attended the New York march during the 2017 inauguration and has since annually attended the following three marches in Philadelphia. “I think it was so different because the date of the first march was the first official day of Trump’s presidency, so emotions were high. Since I was in NYC we also were able to end the march at Trump Tower.”
The Women’s March on Philadelphia is not officially affiliated with the national Women’s March that historically takes place in Washington D.C. However, sister marches exist nationwide so that those passionate about the march’s initiatives still have the opportunity to participate.
History.com states on the same day as the original 2017 march on Washington, there were sister marches taking place in all 50 U.S. states as well as 30 foreign countries, including Zimbabwe and Antarctica.
Paving the Way
“I’ve noticed though that each year there’s less and less people,” Romano said. “Whether that’s because people are giving up, or because of the fact that the weather has been kind of bad the past two years, I’m not really sure.”
Depending on the outcome of the upcoming 2020 Presidential election, many activists are divided about what the future holds for the Women’s March. Many believe there’s a possibility the march could die by the same presidency it was inspired by. However, others firmly believe that they should continue to march regardless of the election since the mission of the march is to advocate for Women’s rights and other related issues.
“Next January, if we’re inaugurating a new president, there may be less necessity for this particular march. However, I certainly hope that if all that activist energy isn’t going towards a women’s march in January, that it’s going towards other forms of activism.” Nielsen said. “Even if we get a progressive, or even female, president, there are always intersectional issues that need raising up.”
According to the FAQ section of the official website for the Philadelphia Women’s March, “…the inequality we face goes far beyond [Donald Trump] and his presidency — it is a societal issue that has been brewing for centuries. Our March is focused on the positive messages of inspirational women, and how they have persisted even in the face of adversity!”
“I think marching is important because it’s so inspiring. In a time when the news can be disheartening for those of us who care about things like women’s equality, getting together with thousands of people and marching through the streets of Philadelphia reminds you you’re not alone and you’re part of a movement that’s bigger than yourself,” Nielsen said. “That, I think, is part of what really keeps me going.”