If you’re looking to gauge public sentiment ahead of US President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration look no further than the bus permit applications.
According to The Huffington Post, less than 400 bus permits have been requested to park in Washington D.C.’s RFK stadium for Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States. This pales into comparison against the 3000 buses that Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 attracted.
And, presciently, it’s less than a quarter of the almost 2000 bus permit applications that have been lodged for the same stadium for the Women’s March on Washington which will take place in the US capital the day after Trump is sworn in.
The Women’s March is a grassroots movement that has gone global. It is estimated that 200,000 Americans will march in what has been described as “a human rights demonstration of historic proportions”. Another 500,000 citizens are expected to take to the streets in other parts of America and cities across the globe.
The March on Washington’s premise is “to send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us”.
That mission and the march is resonating – and being replicated – around the world.
When Dr Mindy Freiband, an American vet living in Sydney and co-founder of the Women’s March on Sydney, first heard about the Washington March she was eager to get back for it. “A lot of us watched those results with great trepidation and great despair at what happened,” she says.” She was desperate to do something to register her despair at Trump’s election so when Freiband realized heading home wasn’t feasible she set about organizing a march here in Sydney.
“The march in Washington seemed like a good way to voice my dissent and my rejection of the hateful and abusive rhetoric in Trump’s campaign,” Freiband told Women’s Agenda. “Financially it was impossible for me to get home for the 21st so I thought I’d march here.”
She reached out to a Democrats Abroad group to see what sort of interest was there.
“I got a resoundingly positive response,” she says. “In the wake of the election a lot of people were feeling frustrated and despondent. Something a lot of people shared in common was needing to do something. The march has provided that for a lot of people.”
While Trump’s election was the genesis for the march, Freiband says the Women’s March on Sydney has grown into something much bigger. “It’s not so much anti-Trump as it is anti-normalisation of sexism, racism and xenophobia.”
In December Freiband came across another group who were organizing a march for the same reason at the same time. She reached out to the founder of that group Kate Taylor, a law student at UNSW, and the two decided to join forces and merge their events into one.
Taylor had set about organising a march after she was prompted by a friend living overseas.
“A friend who was in the US was watching what was happening with the women’s march there. He contacted me and ‘You should do this in Sydney’. I didn’t know how else to respond other than stepping up.”
Like Freiband, Taylor quickly discovered a real appetite for the march among her friends and peers. “People felt the need to stand up against hate speech and bigotry,” Taylor says. Joining forces was a no brainer: they could have more impact with more numbers and both say the partnership has been fantastic.
For the past six weeks they have worked with a committee of about 20 people and almost 80 volunteers to prepare for the March that will take place on Saturday. They have formed partnerships with ActionAid, OzHarvest, Mums for Refugees and secured a line up including Amanda Palmer, Mariam Veiszadeh, Wiradjuri elder Jenny Munro, Jane Caro and Tracey Spicer for the event.
Due to Australia’s timezone, the Women’s March on Sydney will be one of the first of hundreds of solidarity marches in over 30 countries around the globe to take place.
The crowd, expected to number in the thousands, will voice support for the rights of women, minorities and immigrants. It will send the message that Australians and Americans (no matter where they live) are paying attention and will not stand quietly as hatred, bigotry, and misogyny are normalised.
While both Freiband and Taylor aren’t surprised by the momentum and support the march has attracted, but both are impressed.
“When people are given the opportunity to stand up and speak about the things they believe in, they are willing and able to do it,” Freiband says. “We hope this will stir activism in the local community. It’s true that people have opinions and passions and interests that they might not feel they can voice alone – but when they are in a group of like-minded people, they feel quite empowered. That’s the most exciting thing about marching.”
I will be marching in Sydney on Saturday – who will join me? It will start near Sydney’s Anzac Memorial Pool of Reflection at 11 am on 21 January. Those in Sydney can register here, while the Melbourne event.
In Melbourne, a similar march is being organised by Melissa Goffin, Steph Ash and Alana McDowell.
Goffin’s an American expat, teacher and mother of two whose lived in Australia for 12 years. She told Women’s Agenda that back home in the US, her mother and most of her friends would be marching. After initially thinking about flying back to the States to join them, she saw an opportunity to organise a local, Melbourne version of the march.
“After the election, I found myself inconsolably miserable and depressed and feeling like the world was on an awful path,” she said. “I felt helpless. So I reached out the Democrats Abroad, who connected me with a number of other women.”
Asked why she’s marching, Goffin shared a story about being at a lunch with eight girlfriends recently and all of them recounting a story of some kind of sexual assault they’d experienced. “Every one at that table had multiple stories to tell, which was a reminder to me of what it means to be a woman in this world. I found Trump’s rhetoric around that really affected me. I’m the mother of a little girl and a little boy and I want better for them.”
She said the march is for anyone, no matter what their gender, their race, sexual orientation or background. “We’re all just feeling that to some extent, we’re concerned about the path the world is on. This is an opportunity for women, for anyone, to be a part of a louder voice saying we expect more from our politicians.”
Goffin added that knowing hundreds of marches are being organised around the world has given her hope. “These people are using this one day to say whatever it is that is important to them about community and progression and compassion.”