Women's March on Washington: Solidarity comforts anxious Americans
WASHINGTON, DC - As the United States woke up to a new president, a new kind of popular opposition emerged on Saturday amid thousands of demonstrators who filled the streets for the Women’s March to denounce Donald Trump and his policies.
But beyond politics, a human connection between protesters in Washington fostered a sense of safety and comfort for individuals who feel threatened by Trump’s presidency.
The new US president stoked anxiety among minority groups, women and immigrants with his nationalistic campaigning. His rise to power also coincided with an increase in hate crimes against minorities.
Sana, a young Muslim woman at the march, said she was fearful of Trump’s attacks on Muslims, but the mass protest gave her a reason to be optimistic.
“After the election I was feeling pretty scared,” she told Middle East Eye. “I didn’t want to leave my house. The day after, I didn’t want to go to school. But seeing everyone come together… has made me more feel much more hopeful about the state of the union.”
Sana added that the US is a country for the people, and most Americans do not agree with Trump policies that violate civil rights.
“I came out personally because he’s made specific remarks towards Muslims, and I felt like I had to show up to show other people that I’m against this,” Sana told MEE.
This solidarity-induced hope was echoed by other demonstrators.
The march gathered diverse groups from around the nation. The demonstrators sang, danced and chanted together, showing readiness to resist Trump’s policies in the streets if the president infringes on their fellow citizens’ liberties.
Ali Alshuwaykh said that as an Iraqi American he is worried about his rights with Trump in the White House.
“But today was very encouraging, seeing how many people are standing up against him,” Alshuwaykh said. “I think people are more aware. They want to do something.”
Two women held signs depicting the Star of David with a crescent inside it, demonstrating comradery between Jews and Muslims.
Miriam Lerner said her sister designed the poster, which proclaims: "Never again".
Lerner said Adolf Hitler made Jews wear identification signs and put them in a registry prior to the Holocaust.
"Never again for the Holocaust - this means never again for the Jews, never again for any group that's being marginalised," Lerner told MEE.
The president’s opponents say his own rhetoric proves him to be bigoted and misogynistic.
Leaked tapes made public during the campaign showed Trump bragging about being able to grab women’s genitals because of his celebrity status. In October, he called his election opponent Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” on the debate stage.
He has also been criticised for harsh words towards women in public spats with female celebrities including comedian Rosie O’Donnell and former Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly.
During the campaign Trump suggested punishing women who get abortions - comments that his critics view as an infringement on reproductive rights.
Trump has also proposed banning Muslims from entering the US and hinted at tracking followers of the faith in a religious registry. He promised mass deportations of undocumented immigrants and pledged to build a wall along the US southern border and make Mexico pay for it.
Hanin and Shawk Masbab joined the protest all the way from Warren, Michigan. They said as Arab women they face gender struggles within their community as well as externally.
They added that the march is an opportunity not only to tackle Trump’s misogyny but to address cultural sexism, too.
“White feminism is a big deal, but it’s not the feminism that’s important to us as brown women,” Shawk Masbab said. “This is our chance to say white Americans are not the only ones that are out here, we’re out here, too, and we’re being underrepresented in every form.”
A poster of a Muslim woman with an American flag wrapped around her head as a hijab was visibly abundant among other signs at the march.
Mike Veanata, a protester, said the artwork, which reads “We the people,” has become a "symbol of the revolution” against Trump’s policies.
“It’s the answer right here. She is part of America,” Veanata said of the woman depicted in the image.
Some non-Muslim women wore the flag hijab to the march in a show of support.
Republicans in control of Congress and the White House may have turned Washington red, the colour of their party. However, on Saturday, the US capital was definitely pink.
According to media reports, attendees at the women’s march far outnumbered Friday’s inaugural audience.
Demonstrators wore pink hats and shirts for women’s rights. From high ground, the marchers could be seen like a pink brush, slowly painting the streets of Washington.
Scott Christian, a retired teacher, stood on a sidewalk holding a sign with a welcoming message in Arabic, Spanish and English.
“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” it reads.
The tri-lingual proclamation was created by a pastor in Virginia and is now used as a motto against xenophobia.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s just beautiful. It’s such a strong spirit,” Christian told MEE of the protest. “Just being with so many people - and it’s so positive.”
The retired teacher’s sign was one of thousands of political messages that ranged from promoting love to defending women’s reproductive rights to ridiculing Trump.
One marcher held a portrait of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin with the “I voted” sticker, alluding to Trump’s questionable ties to Moscow.
Other slogans included: “If you build a wall, we will raise our children to tear it down”; “Love not hate makes America great”; “We are all immigrants”; “We did. We can. We will”; “This protest lasts ‘til 2020”; “Our bodies Our choice” and “Exercising pu**y power”.
Three Trump supporters interviewed by MEE dismissed the marchers as paid protesters.
"I heard there were ads on Craigslist - $2,500 to come protest," a Trump supporter said as demonstrators walked by.
A woman with a Trump "Make American Great Again" hat defended the president against accusations of sexism, brushing off his infamous "grabbing" comments as "locker room talk".
"He loves women," she said, pointing to the number of female officials in his business organisation.
Although dubbed a women’s march, the protesters advocated for a myriad of issues, including environmental protection, racial and economic justice, immigrants' rights, Native Americans' access to water and welcoming refugees.
Rebecca Casto, a mother and activist who was wearing a hoodie featuring the Palestinian flag, said she wants an administration that does not further encourage the “toxic rape culture”.
But she also had a message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “It’s important that the US no longer subsidises the genocide that’s happening in Palestine.”