Will the Women’s March on Washington become the next women’s movement?


15,000 men and women march downtown in the Tucson Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Meredith Morrissey

The day after his inauguration, women across the globe had a message for President Donald Trump: we will not be silent.

The Women’s March on Washington moved millions of women into the streets, dominated the news cycles and elicited an angry tweet from the president. But will it have the power to create lasting social movement?

Women’s marches on every continent drew 2.5 million worldwide, and the impressive turnout has many optimistic about the march’s ability to evolve into an enduring opposition movement. Yet others predict it will fizzle out like the Equal Rights Amendment and Occupy Wall Street movements.

Elizabeth Sanders, a Cornell University professor whose research focuses on American politics and social movements, said she sees early indications the passion generated by the march will flicker out rather than spark an effective resistance.

Sanders campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and said she sees similarities between the two women’s movements that may have implications for the march’s staying power.

“I watched the ERA die because it was run by celebrities,” she said. “They were interested mainly in abortion and gay rights and not anything else that a great bulk of women wanted to achieve, like peace and childcare.”

Inclusivity is necessary for a movement to last, said Sanders. She believes the march organizers have demonstrated an unwillingness to reach beyond partisan lines by removing a pro-life organization from its list of official partners before the march.

Sanders also drew similarities between the Women’s March and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which captured national attention and widespread participation but failed to produce any substantial political change.

“There was no organized presenting of demands to officials with power,” she said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re really not getting anywhere.”

Sanders sees hope for the sustainability of the women’s movement only if it is able to inspire local participation in politics and activism.

Phoenix resident Lisa Umar said the march inspired her to make her debut as a rally organizer. Umar organized the Rally to Support Refugees in response to Trump’s executive order barring immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Approximately 500 people showed up to protest at Sky Harbor Airport on Jan. 29, according to Umar’s estimate.

Umar said she had been searching for a rally in Arizona to attend after news of the executive order broke, but when she couldn’t find one to attend she decided to take the responsibility upon herself.

“I don’t want to be one of those people who goes, marches, holds a sign, and then goes back to her everyday life,” she said.

Umar has been following the “10 Actions for the first 100 Days” action plan posted by the Women’s March organizers and calls her representatives frequently to urge them to vote for progressive policies.

Umar said she has connected with a number of people through Facebook who said the rally was their first political demonstration. She is optimistic the march has been a wake up call for many who may have previously been indifferent to politics.

Unique to this new women’s movement is that the bulk of the organizing has taken place on Facebook. The idea for the march itself began on Facebook before catching national attention.

Members of Indivisible Southern Arizona hold a rally outside Sen. McCain’s office in Tucson to protest ICE raids on Feb. 12, 2017. Photo by Meredith Morrissey

Shortly after the Women’s March, Kristen Randall formed a Tucson Facebook group called Indivisible Southern Arizona. The group hopes to resist the Trump agenda.

“There are so many groups right now and there’s so much energy that I think some of them are probably going to peter out,” she said. “But the indivisible strategy is set up to be sustained.”

Randall said the group started out with 11 members and in four weeks has grown to 1,800. She said she wanted to form her own group because so many similar groups she saw on Facebook did not meet face-to-face.

Facebook group Stronger Together AZ has garnered nearly 9,000 members and begun the process of becoming a political PAC. Members are aiming to mobilize a volunteer force to get involved in local progressive organizations.

Kaylyn Adams, co-chair of Stronger Together AZ’s development and training committee, said she sees Facebook as both hinder and help to the sustainability of the movement. “We’re able to connect with thousands of people instantly, but at the same time, that makes communicating disorganized and chaotic.”

Adams believes the first indication of the movement’s success may not come until the 2018-midterm elections. An early political target of the group is Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who Adams criticized for voting to confirm controversial Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos.

Adams said she thinks Trump’s actions will cause people to stay angry, and that this anger may be powerful enough to sustain the movement. “The momentum that was built has given people a way to connect and get involved that previously did not know how,” she said,

Meredith Morrissey is a reporter for Arizona Sonoran News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at mmorrissey@email.arizona.edu.

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