Friday, 20 January 2017

Why I'm Joining the Women's March on London


Saturday 21st January marks the first day of Donald Trump's US Presidency. For many, Trump's rise to power is symptomatic of a growing right-wing movement, fuelled by a fear and hatred of the 'Other,' which has been gaining momentum in the States and across Europe. As the Women's March on Washington's mission proclaims:
'The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us - immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault - and our communities are hurting and scared.'
The Women's March seeks to defend and give voice to those communities who have been targeted and undermined in recent political campaigns, the media, on the street and online. It calls on women and their allies to come together 'in numbers too great to ignore' to demand equity for all.

I mean, why wouldn't I go?

Well...I've never been to a march before. I've never taken part in anything remotely 'organised' or 'political.' I feel strongly about gender equality, feminism and left-wing politics generally, but these are all opinions I've kept to myself, my close friends, and the ballot box. A healthy dose of apathy and a sprinkling of cynicism have prevented me from joining a protest before. I'm all for going out and casting my vote, but when it comes to giving up a Saturday to hold a placard and gather in a crowd to say, 'this is bad and we disagree with it,' I can't help but think, 'what will this actually achieve?'

I was only 13 at the time, but I clearly remember watching the news about the huge protest in London against the Iraq war. I was far from politically engaged at that age, but I was very much against the war (as most kids would be). I desperately wanted that march to make a difference, but Blair's government proceeded to ignore the people and go to war anyway. Approximately 2 million people marched on that day, and it effected zero political change. In 2015, the government put forward a proposal to carry out airstrikes on Syria, causing thousands of people to descend on Downing Street in protest. And what happened next? MPs voted overwhelmingly for the bombing.

Events like this have really left me questioning the point of it all. How much political clout can the ordinary person really wield - even when they come together in their thousands, or even millions? But then my friend asked me to go to the march with her this weekend - and I thought, OK, let's see what this is all about.

Reasons to March

First off, the march is not about protesting against Trump's election, or an attempt to have him removed from office. He was elected democratically (although questions have been raised regarding the efficacy of the Electoral College system) and ain't nothing we can do about it. As stated on the Women's March on London's website, the election 'proved a catalyst for a grassroots movement of women to assert the positive values that the politics of fear denies.' The march is about sending a message and showing solidarity with women and oppressed communities the world over.

Remember the Iraq war protest from earlier, and how it achieved nothing? This Guardian piece from 2013 explores both sides of that argument. Although a number of people who were part of the march believe it was futile, I was struck by Stop the War's Lindsey German's claim that 'the anti-war movement had a lasting impact on what we know about the war (without protest there would have been less of the scrutiny that exposed the sham of WMDs), on British public opinion (more sceptical of other wars) and on politicians.' Protest might not always cause seismic changes, but perhaps it can make some difference.

It's also about 'being part of something.' Not just sitting at home and complaining about the state of the world, but getting out there, meeting like-minded people, contributing to a movement. Following in the footsteps of protesters who truly changed the face of society (the Suffragettes, the American Civil Rights movement). Being able to say 'I was there' - not just for the sake of it, but because it meant something, because you genuinely cared enough to say, 'this isn't right and I want the world to know.'

And really - why the hell not? It'll be interesting, and exciting, and it certainly won't do any harm.