The long road after the march

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The 2018 Women’s March displayed the power of anger manifest in action


  • Protesters near Trump International Hotel and Tower. Photo: Alec Perkins, via flickr

  • Photo: Alec Perkins, via flickr

The 2018 Women’s March agenda was “Power to the Polls.” Come November, many women will be laughing all the way to the ballot box in the face of naysayers who scoffed at their pink pussy hats. But don’t be fooled. We’re still angry.

It’s estimated that this year’s Women’s March drew more than 200,000 protesters in New York City — about half the number of people in 2017, according to The New York Times. Protesters marched down Central Park West and toward Trump Tower, where they chanted “Unstable! Unfit! Donald Trump is full of shit!” reported the New Yorker. The subways were full of people on the way to and from the march on Saturday; I struck up a conversation with a woman holding a “threaten my existence and you’ll meet my resistance” sign. Last year, she said, she didn’t know there was a march. This year she was pushing friends to attend.

I felt buoyed by the easy solidarity I found with strangers on the subway last weekend. But if the 2016 election taught us anything — let’s not forget that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump — it’s that women are not a monolithic voting bloc with a singular agenda, and even those unified in their opposition to Trump are splintered in their focus.

Some might see these fissures as the sign of a fraught movement, but the branching and flowering into myriad goals is to me a sign of growth. From generalized resistance to Trump in 2017 spurred by his infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, the 2018 Women’s March had a clear set of objectives and action steps to reach them: getting women to the polls, supporting DREAMers and immigration, building the #MeToo movement. And the movement doesn’t stop with the march.

TIME magazine reported that at least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in 2018, potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in 1994, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. What’s more, “to date, 390 women are planning to run for the House of Representatives, a figure that’s higher than at any point in American history. Twenty-two of them are non-incumbent black women — for scale, there are only 18 black women in the House right now,” wrote New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister.

On the local level, “Beyond Suffrage,” a new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, traces women’s political activism from the fight to win the vote to the present day, focusing on how women navigated New York politics — often behind the scenes. The Women’s March helped triggered the current wave of political involvement, but it’s part of a long history of women coming up to the political plate in response to dissatisfaction with those in power, particularly in New York.

The Women’s March had its one-year “glow up,” complete with snazzy PR and an online swag shop. It’s easy to forget that critics scoffed at last year’s march, questioning the effectiveness of marching at all. When I attended the march in 2017, like any cynical journalist I too questioned the march’s agenda, and my own. Was marching smug virtue signaling (reinforced by the obligatory Instagram selfie) to those who already shared my politics? Was it merely a collective conscience-easing that absolved women like me — white, relatively privileged — from doing the real work of change?

I marched because the election results filled me with a frenetic energy I couldn’t shake, and I feared it might manifest in self-destructive behavior. And, like any journalist who got into the profession because of starry-eyed ideals, I wanted to tell my daughter-to-be that (I was pregnant at the time) perhaps I’d been part of history when she’d been part of me.

Energized and emboldened, I marched past Grand Central up to Trump Tower. It was then, beneath the sea of knitted pink hats and behind the glittery signs, that I recognized en masse the feeling I’d had since the election: unmitigated, raw anger.

“When I walked in the Women’s March in Washington a year ago — one body among thousands — the act of marching didn’t just mean claiming the right to a voice; it meant publicly declaring my resolve to use it,” wrote the novelist and essayist Leslie Jamison in a recent essay on turning anger into accountability.

Jamison’s observation echoed my own experience, and we’re two of many women who are using anger to torpedo them to action. Righteous anger has long been seen as the providence of men, expressed in fiery speeches, or in some cases, violence and destruction. Women’s anger is often downgraded to a passive emotion like despair, or amplified for frightening impact. How often is the word “feminist” preceded by shrill, strident or humorless? Perhaps, given all that women’s anger has accomplished, the emotion can adopt a new image, one defined by power and hope.

I’m not running for office or launching a movement, but I do feel a renewed call to hold myself accountable — to my own ideals and goals. It’s this personal reckoning that is harder to quantify. For me, and many women I imagine, it’s a private, personal calculation. Data doesn’t capture how many women will follow a dream or leave a toxic partner, start a business or simply say “no” when in instances they long said yes because of the collective anger that made its force known in streets around the world this year, and last.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially — as the “daily prayer” meme that’s now printed on t-shirts and tote bags says — she’s been granted the confidence of a mediocre white man.

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