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A Canberran at the Boston Womens March

Nikki Coleman

On 21 January, 4.6 million women and men marched world wide, I was one of them.

Right from the start, this was a VERY different protest rally. No one knew just how many people would turn up, in the end it turned out to be WAAAAY bigger than anyone expected. In fact, it turned out to be the biggest protest in history with 4.6 million people marching world-wide [1].

500,000 people marched in Washington DC (making it the second busiest day on the DC Metro after the 2009 Obama inauguration) [2], 750,000 people marched in Los Angeles, I was one of 175,000 marchers in Boston and we were joined by protestors marching across the USA and around the globe, even in Antarctica where there was a “Penguins for Peace” rally.

Nikki at the Boston March

Nikki at the Boston March

An unexpected mobilisation of demonstrators expanded way beyond the initial protest against the policies of incoming President Trump. It was much bigger than just his policy platform or his misogynistic views on women. The range of issues that were being protested were just as varied as the types of people who came to march.

There were young women protesting sexism in all its forms. There were old women carrying signs which read: ‘Now you’ve pissed off Nana’. There were families with small children who had made their own signs protesting a wide range of issues such as immigration and climate change. Countless fathers were marching with their teenage daughters, joining together to protest against the discrimination that young girls face from a very early age.

There were older men carrying signs that said ‘This is what a feminist looks like’. There is simply no way of categorising those who came to the protest, because they appeared to come from all walks of life, all ages and all geographies.

As I said, this was a different type of protest. It was kind gentle and nurturing. Strangers were excitedly talking with each other about why they were protesting and sharing their stories of harassment, sexism, racism, homophobia and islamophobia. Despite the fact that these issues are difficult and personal there was a great feeling of hope and energy to change with so many diverse people can coming together to demand a better future.

Why did I protest? I marched for my daughters, that they might live in a world without sexism. I marched for my sons, that they might be able to totally be themselves, free of toxic masculinity. I marched for my sister who breaks down stereotypes every day in her work as a mechanic. I marched for my 93-year-old grandmother, because she can’t believe we are still having to fight for equality and respect after all these years, and I marched for myself because, to be honest, I’m sick and tired of doing life on hard mode simply because I’m a woman.

Amazingly with 4.6 million people taking part in marches, in hundreds of cities and towns around the globe, there were no arrests at any of the protests. None – not one arrest. In many of the locations, protestors were taking selfies with the police and military that were there to ensure it didn’t get out of hand.

Police officer at the Boston March

Police officer at the Boston March

By contrast, in the week before in Washington DC there were running skirmishes between anti-Trump protestors and police, with 217 people arrested on the day of the inauguration. Alt-right figure Richard Spencer was punched in the head whilst giving a television interview on his views [3].

I have to admit I was exceedingly nervous going to the Boston March because I was also king hit in the head many years ago by someone protesting against the ordination of women. I chose to make a statement by attending the Boston march in my clerical collar. I did this because I believe it is important for people to know that “the church” does not have one voice when it comes to women’s issues. My right to protest and express my views were met with respect, love and the hugs of fellow protestors. Richard Spencer was exercising the same rights but was attacked physically, without any chance of being able to defend himself. There is something grotesquely ironic about a person being attacked physically because he does not respect people who are different to him. Those who attacked Richard Spencer perpetuated the very cycle of hate, disrespect and the fear of people who are different to ourselves that Spencer is promoting.

Jay Childs and his daughter at the Boston March

Jay Childs and his daughter at the Boston March

Spencer’s experience in contrast to my own left me pondering if non-violent protests actually make any difference in the long run.

Ghandi’s Salt March in 1930 [4] and much of the work of the civil rights movement [5] in the USA are both wonderful examples of non-violent protest, resistance and civil disobedience which has had a profound impact on our world. The Salt March kick-started the independence movement for India, and the civil rights movement ultimately led to desegregation in America. Despite these great successes, there have also been spectacular disappointments in the non-violent protest arena – the most recent that comes to mind is the Occupy movement [6].

It seems that for protests to be effective they need to have dynamic inspiring leadership motivating others who are protesting for a specific issue or goal, as well as having the backing of “the people” in order to gain legitimacy. When these three things come together it galvanises those in power to change the status quo.

With 4.6 protestors the Women’s march has demonstrated that it has the legitimacy of the backing of millions of people worldwide. Now it is up to the leaders to inspire us to action around specific goals. This may be difficult given the diverse reasons people marched on 21 January, however, the Women’s March movement are attempting to gain momentum through their 10 actions in 100 days campaign [7].

History will judge if they are ultimately successful in bringing about change – for the sake of my daughters and grand-daughters, I truly hope they are.

[1] docs.google.com/spreadsheets

[2] washington.cbslocal.com/2017/01/24/womens-march-second-highest-day-ever-for-metro-ridership

[3] www.nytimes.com/2017/01/21/us/politics/richard-spencer-punched-attack

[4]  www.history.com/topics/salt-march

[5]  www.britannica.com/event/American-civil-rights-movement

[6]  www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/what-is-occupy-wall-street-the-history-of-leaderless-movements

[7]  www.womensmarch.com/100

Feature image via bostonwomensmarchforamerica.org

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Nikki Coleman

Nikki Coleman is a Military Space Bioethicist, which makes for the best business card ever. She works at UNSW Canberra Space, the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society, and the Yale Bioethics Centre. Nikki helps to organise TEDxCanberra and is a volunteer for Scouts ACT as the Commissioner for Spiritual Development (as she is also an ordained Uniting Church Minister). Nikki is “Canberra Mum” to a large number of ADFA Officer Cadets and Midshipmen and also has six wonderful adult children of her own. In her spare time she is a hot air balloon pilot, flying her balloon ChiChi, which means boobs in Japanese. More about the Author

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