Letter from the US: Huge women’s marches stare down Trump’s attacks

The day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, January 21, more than 4 million people joined “Women’s Marches” across the United States to protest the new Commander in Chief’s promised attacks on women’s rights.

Hundreds of thousands more took to the streets around the world, with protests on every continent, including Antarctica. In London alone, about 100,000 marched on the day.

The first thing to note about the huge marches was that while they centred on fighting Trump’s agenda to roll back women’s rights and dignity, they also expressly included fighting back against the reactionary, ultra-right attacks on race, LGBTI rights and working people’s rights he championed in his election campaign, as spelt out in the “Guiding Vision” of the Women’s March on Washington (which can be read here).

The second thing to note was its size. Initially projected as a March on Washington, solidarity demonstrations were held in 600–700 cities and towns across the country. In Washington, the police estimated more than 500,000 took part.

From a list compiled by experts that included only a fraction of those places, and which had estimated figures (low and high), and looking at only places that had 1000 demonstrators or more using the low estimates, I counted more than 4.1 million participants.

This demonstration was the largest in US history.

The majority of marchers were women, with a significant minority of male supporters. Many interviewed by the media indicated that this was their first protest ever.

Marchers were angry and determined to oppose Trump’s agenda on many different issues. Some used satire.

Many women came with homemade knitted hats that featured cats’ ears — a reference to Trump’s infamous remark about his entitled status towards women allowing him to “grab them by the pussy”.

Some speakers identified themselves as “nasty women” — a reference to Trump’s misogynistic attack on his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Speakers hammered away on particular issues, from health care to trans rights. All noted the huge size of the demonstrations, and how they felt greatly empowered by seeing so many others who felt as they do. Different speakers addressed the issues raised in the “Guiding Vision” through their own personal experience.

Another major theme was that the energy of the action should continue in the days ahead, through local organising, discussion and reaching out to new people.

The march was projected by a few women on social media the day after the November 8 election and kept snowballing. Young women of colour were in the lead. This recalls the leadership role of young women in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

The leadership was broadened out to include women leaders of all races and from many groups, who issued the Guiding Vision for the march.

Ahead of the march, the New York Times interviewed some white women who pulled out of the march because the “Vision” included “race”. Nevertheless, large numbers of white women joined.

White women predominated in the marches, although women of all races participated. This demonstrates the need to reach out better to women of colour, but there is another important side to this.

These white women marched together with women of colour. They cheered the many women of colour on the stage. They cheered the Muslim women in hijabs who spoke and chaired, the Black trans woman who spoke at the Washington march, as well as the speakers from the other categories of women the “Vision” listed.

These white women came out and demonstrated against Trump, whatever they thought about all the demands. There is no question that these white women, including those for who this was their first protest, were exposed to a great educational experience. They learned a lot from who they were marching with, and from the explanations from the stage.

All the women on the demonstrations, whatever their colour, also learned that the best way to fight for whatever particular issues they were most concerned about is to unite with all women under attack by the authoritarian Trump administration. Trump was the great unifier of this historic action.

The “Guiding Vision and Defining Principles” moved well beyond narrow “identity” politics to an understanding that all forms of oppression in this society are related. To fight one aspect means to fight on all these fronts. This statement compliments the platform issued by Black Lives Matter last year.

Marxists have an important role to play in this discussion. All these forms of oppression have their roots in the history and functioning of US capitalism, and their relation to the fundamental division in capitalist society between the ruling capitalist class and the exploited working class.

A truly socialist vision of a working-class revolution to overturn capitalism is not a narrow one of simply ending the exploitation of the working class. Rather, it means ending all forms of oppression, injustice, humiliation, violence and war —to champion every fight against all the wrongs of this capitalist society.

Given the very low level of working-class struggle in the US at present, this can appear abstract. But it charts a road forward, as we join the immediate struggles ahead.

This leads to a final point, unfortunately a negative one. Some unions, especially teachers’ unions, endorsed the Women’s March, but the majority of unions did not. This includes the US’s major union federation, the AFL-CIO.

There is a need to fight against this self-defeating trend and bring into all these struggles the power of organised workers. It is a big job, but a needed one. If unions do not reach out to support all the oppressed, they will continue to shrivel and be less and less a factor in US politics — let alone able to win support for their own struggles against the bosses and the bosses’ government, now personified by Donald Trump.