Olympia Women’s March Attracts Crowds, Controversy
By Jon Fitzgerald
On January 21, people on every continent gathered in a series of women’s marches as a declaration of unity and power. The marches, spawning from the original event planned for Washington, D.C., gained massive momentum as over three million people worldwide participated in what is now being called the largest single-day protest in American history. One of the many so-called sister marches was organized in Olympia, attracting a crowd the Olympia police estimated as ten thousand people. The protests were largely in response to Trump’s inauguration and policy proposals, but also to promote unity against sexism, racism and hate.
The Olympia march started at 10 a.m., with a massive crowd of people gathering in front of the legislative building on the capitol grounds. The march started down Columbia Street, turning at Legion Way, and coming back up Capitol Way to rally on the Capitol grounds. One marcher said that as they were coming up Capitol Way, they could still see a flood of marchers coming down Columbia Street. The rally was concluded by several speakers, who voiced their hopes for equality and for a better future for the next generation of women, who are having to grow up during these times.
While marchers were brought together by their dislike of Trump and his proposed policies, some tensions arose around the narratives of the march, which was criticized by many as privileging white, cis women. There were many people carrying signs depicting vaginas and uteruses, with phrases linking them to womanhood. Others carried signs which appeared to contradict these narratives, with phrases like “Support your sisters, not just your cis-ters!” This brought up conversations around how to make feminism more inclusive, and highlighted the necessity of re-defining feminism as an intersectional movement. We spoke to Maddie Bell, a nonbinary Evergreen student, about their experience at the women’s march in Olympia.
The march was large and tried to be inclusive, as Bell described, talking about watching a live stream of the march in Washington D.C. before attending the Olympia one, “the speakers were emphasizing that women’s issues are human issues, not isolated.” Yet the inclusive rhetoric did not always go far enough, said Bell, “The phrase ‘supporting your brothers and sisters’ was repeated both there and in Olympia. And though that phrase is supposed to be a message of inclusion, it really is exclusionary to people who don’t fit into those categories.”
Another source of tension were the “Pussyhats” organizers urged attendees to make and wear as they marched. These homemade pink hats with cat ears were a ubiquitous symbol for the event, an illusion to Trump’s lude comments describing groping women, that spawned the rallying cry “Pussy grabs back,” but not everyone felt comfortable with the focus on reproductive organs and genitalia as symbols. Bell told us, “My mom also encouraged me to make a pussy hat and sent me a picture of the one she made. I think the pussy hat is great because it gets people talking about pussies and works towards potentially re-appropriating the word, which is important because a lot of upcoming regulations are targeting pussies. But, I didn’t wear one because my version of feminism doesn’t require my genitals to be part of my identity.”
Many attended the march despite knowing there may be aspects that participants disagreed with, opting to voice their opinions on signs or speaking with others, while sharing in the overall support of women’s rights and rejection of Trump. Bell said, “Even though some of the language wasn’t exactly correct… that doesn’t mean that this movement isn’t important, because people can always be taught. It shouldn’t be written off because they got this thing wrong or that thing, it should be used as a starting off point for spreading understanding and compassion and action.”
Despite the tension over some optics and messaging at the march, Bell said they felt inspired by the event, “I do think the impact of marches are the ripples they cause, but we need to continue. As a single person who believes in these ideals, if you showed your participation or if you wanted to, it shows how many people also believe in these things; that you’re not alone. The momentum of the marches needs to carry through, though. Now more than ever.”
Organizers of the marches are attempting to capitalize on this momentum and sense of urgency with a coordinated plan for continued actions. The first of the national women’s march “10 Actions in 100 days” was a letter writing campaign, encouraging participants to contact their senators.
Bell hopes to stay engaged on their own as well by keeping tabs on the actions of the new administration, saying, “it’s when we’re not paying attention that people get away with shit. So we have to pay attention!” Keeping up with politics can be discouraging at times but Bell remains optimistic, “I’m past that point of exhaustion from political information, and I’m at the point of wanting to do something more, that point of being energized by information. I think the exhaustion comes from the pessimism, the unknown, but I don’t want to wait for the unknown to happen, I want to take action.”
The Women’s Marches on January 21 were far-reaching and momentous, but they’re just the beginning of what is going to be a passionate, opinionated year, or four. The spirit for protest is in the air: on Saturday, January 28, thousand of people flocked to airports across the country to protest Trump’s executive order that barred the citizens of seven countries with high Muslim populations from entering the U.S. We are in the middle of a conflict between people and country that will play a pivotal role in shaping our future.