Director of the Loyola Women’s Studies and Gender Studies (WSGS) program Betsy Jones Hemenway expected a large turnout at the Women’s March in Chicago on Jan. 22. About 40 people had said they would join a group she organized to depart from Loyola to the downtown rally that expected to draw 50,000 participants.
But upon arrival at the rally, the 70 people that ended up traveling with the WSGS group found a larger crowd than anyone had predicted — 250,000 people came out to march in Chicago.
Such mass support was reflected worldwide for the march, which aimed to shed light on women’s issues, such as inadequate access to health care and violence against women. An estimated 500,000 people showed up in Washington, D.C., the main location of the Women’s March. People marched in all 50 states and in multiple continents and countries, from Australia to Argentina.
“Just being in the crowd and feeling everybody’s energy — it was a very friendly, equal group,” Jones Hemenway said. “I mean, certainly everyone had very strong opinions and [was] chanting and shouting and wanted their voices heard, but …. it was very peaceful.”
The march was largely planned as a response to President Donald J. Trump’s Jan. 21 inauguration, but it wasn’t the first of its kind. A similar protest for women’s suffrage occurred the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in 1913.
Yet, when observing photos of the century-old march, and even marches of more recent years, the crowds each year look strikingly different for one reason in particular: many groups were formerly excluded from rallying.
The modern Women’s March included women of diverse races, sexual and gender identification, and beliefs, whereas women’s movements in the past were primarily comprised of straight, white women. This time around, many men and children also attended as allies for the women’s movement.
Associate professor and Graduate Program Director of History Michelle Nickerson, who studies women’s history, said the newfound inclusivity of this movement will help address the root of society’s problems to make everyone equal.
“I think we’ve learned a lot, for example, from both the strides made by and the mistakes made by the women’s movement of the 1970s,” said Nickerson. “For example, feminism is thriving right now with the latest generation of intersectional feminists. I think it’s because they’ve basically taken many of the fantastic ideas and issues of American feminism, but they’ve managed to create … a much wider community of people.”
Although historic, the 2017 Women’s March didn’t cause any immediate change in policies or laws regarding women’s rights. The issues concerning the women’s movement persist, leaving some to wonder where the movement can go from here and how many of those who rallied will continue to press for change.
“I think that’s the next challenge, to take this energy and channel it into very specific groups and organizations and actions,” Jones Hemenway said. “So, I think the next challenge is for individual people to decide on what they want to work on, how they’re going to connect to groups or organizations and how to … strategize to create change.”
For junior economics major Paige Hesson, the Women’s March was not the end of her activism. She said people need to continue the conversation and take concrete actions such as calling their representatives, participating in town hall meetings and voting in the midterm elections for members of Congress.
“[The women’s movement] is a social movement, but it’s not about posting cool pictures on Instagram like, ‘Look at me at the Women’s March,’ which obviously I did … But it’s not just about that,” the 20-year-old said. “It’s about having continuous conversation with the people around you and with the people that disagree with you.”
Hesson said that in order to change policies, supporters of the women’s movement need to be able to reach Trump’s supporters.
“There’s a large portion of the American public that [believes] the same things [Trump] does and that voted for him,” Hesson said. “So, until … we can change the minds of his constituents, I think he won’t really necessarily have a need to change his mind because people are still supporting him no matter what he says or does.”
English major Rachel Goldense, 20, attended the Women’s March and plans to continue marching in protests to come.
“I think if there’s enough unrest and protest, at some point [the Trump administration] has no choice [but to listen],” said Goldense, a junior. “They can’t continue with hateful rhetoric and [legislation] when there are people standing in front of the White House saying, ‘You can’t do this.’”
Nickerson advised protesters to take concrete action now to build on the momentum of the march while they can by getting involved in politics on the local, state and national level.
“That’s going to take action, time and persistence. People have to start doing it right now,” Nickerson said. “The march in and of itself is not going to do anything. It really depends on what’s going to happen next.”