Updated: Jan 23, 2019
Author: Angela Yang
Photos courtesy of Angela Yang/Pressing the Future
“This is what democracy looks like!”
“Women, united, we’ll never be divided.”
“My body, my choice!”
Chants permeated the morning air as crowds moved through the streets on Jan. 19, partaking in the third annual Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles.
Thousands of women and men—many donned in pink, some waving rainbow flags and almost all hoisting slogans on posters—attended the march, but 2019 saw a significantly diminished turnout compared to the previous two years.
The event, a slice of the broader national movement run by Women’s March Inc., kicked off with speakers at Pershing Square before sign-wielding protesters trekked to City Hall on a closed-off route, guarded by local law enforcement. A lineup ranging from celebrities to politicians and social activists then took the stage at Grand Park to address this year’s keynote theme: “Truth to Power.”
Twenty-nine days into the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, and 16 days after the swearing-in of its most diverse Congress yet, individuals from a range of demographics united under the general impetus of keeping Washington accountable for its actions and inactions.
Marchers raised specific posters based on their varied agendas. Intersectionality, the idea that otherwise discrete minority groups face overlapping disadvantages, was a common motif among advocates in the assembly, as marchers waved pride flags and painted signs for transgender inclusivity. A popular slogan read, “Trans Rights Are Human Rights.” The most common sights in the sea of color, however, were simply expressions of female unity. On pink and white paper, puns and artful allusions urged for furthering the woman’s ability to speak for herself, choose abortion and increase her prevalence in traditionally male-dominated spheres.
Ralliers flowing into the lawns outside L.A. City Hall at the conclusion of the hour-long march were greeted by a sizeable blimp floating low above the throngs—a diaper-clad caricature of President Trump. The balloon is a nod to the “baby blimp” phenomenon that originated in 2018 as a facetious protest attempt in London against Trump’s U.K. visit, until it sparked the same trend in urban localities across the U.S.
This January’s more meager attendance may be in part a result of controversies over the leadership’s potential anti-Semitic beliefs. Women’s March Inc. co-chair Tamika Mallory posted in mid-2017 an Instagram photo with American minister Louis Farrakhan, commending him in her caption despite the Nation of Islam leader’s inflammatory comments about Jews.
On separate occasions decades apart, Farrakhan has proclaimed Adolf Hitler “a very great man” and Jewish people “the mother and father of apartheid,” as well as his personal “enemy.” Both Mallory and co-chair Carmen Perez were also accused of complementary beliefs, according to a report in Tablet magazine’s December 2018 issue that alleged Perez “asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people.”
The organization’s presidents—Mallory, Perez, Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland—have since faced calls to step down amid haranguing concerns from a progressive public, and some chapters had decided to cancel their marches or even cut ties.
Just two years after its colossal launch, the national Women’s March seems to have encountered its first high hurdle, and time will tell whether it amounts to a stumble or a fall for the major movement in its infancy.