Last Saturday, on the first full day of Donald Trump’s presidency, women’s Marches took place across the globe, from the city at the heart of it all, Washington DC, to countries as diverse as Thailand and the Bahamas.The mood in London was upbeat, optimistic even. Mothers pushed toddlers in prams, fathers strolled along, hand in hand with their daughters, and people of all ages and genders belted out pop songs, blasted over the crowd on loud speakers. It was a reassuring assertion of liberal ideas and feminist solidarity on a very disturbing day.
Yet strangely, over the last few days, liberals, feminists and people I generally consider rational have erupted in scandalised condemnation of the marchers as opponents of democracy. Janice Turner wrote in the Times that “this rally feels anti-democratic” because “Trump won”, while Rod Liddle, in a particularly nasty piece for the same news- paper, accused marchers of “approv[ing] of democracy only when the people [they] like are elected.”
Liddle is certainly qualified to critique the legitimacy of a feminist movement. His credentials include a 2009 piece for the Spectator, which began: “So—Harriet Harman, then. Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober” and for which he would later have to apologise. Thank you for airing your views, Rod. Feminists worldwide are always fascinated to hear what you have to say.
While obviously few of the detractors are as unpalatable as Liddle, their arguments are nonetheless flawed. The marchers had plenty to say, none of which was antidemocratic. Their protest was not, as Turner claimed, “against the election result itself” or even specifically against Donald Trump. What these men and women were standing up against was an America whose priorities have become so skewed that 46 per cent of the electorate voted to make a man, who pointed at GOP rival Carly Fiorina and said “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”, their president.
One media outfit that made the radical journalistic decision to actually ask protestors what they were protesting about—the much maligned BBC—identified calls for “racial and gender equality, affordable healthcare, abortion rights and voting rights” as key issues under threat from the Trump presidency. British marchers identified a wide range of issues on the table, including “anti-immigration feeling, the refugee crisis and Irish and Northern Irish women being denied access to abortion”.
One marcher, Erica Wald, summed it up well. She said that she was protesting against “the normalisation of Donald Trump” and by that, I think she means, the normalisation of his terrifying views. Not against Trump himself – that would be fruitless – and not against his assumption of office – that would be antidemocratic. Against a culture that produced 59.4 million voters who accept what he stands for as normal, or as necessary, or even as desirable.
The website for The Women’s March on London describes itself as “a grassroots movement of women to assert the positive values that the politics of fear denies”. Trump’s victory proved a “catalyst” for a conversation about all kinds of issues; it is not the issue itself. More than that, these marches were not entirely issue-based, they were symbolic.
Because on Friday, I sat down to dinner in college and everyone around me was just, well, sad. But on Saturday, people lined the streets and cheered each other, for being feminist, open-minded and undefeated. We needed some hope for democracy last weekend and that’s what the women’s marches provided. Please don’t do them down.