What Women's March activists must do now
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"We will not go away/Welcome to your first day" shouted participants in the Women's March on Washington. On his first full day in office, President Trump was confronted by hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding human rights as they streamed through the capital — and thousands more in cities worldwide.

Trump's presidency signals the dawn of a new era, both against and for human rights. Within moments of the inauguration, White House web pages relating to civil and LGBTQ rights, climate change, and healthcare were removed.

Many Americans were left wondering: What precisely was happening to human rights in the U.S.?

The Women's March provided an answer. It has spurred a new human rights movement, one that will not only to defend itself against attacks but also advance a new inclusive agenda.

Just one week before the Women's March, the event's organizers released a statement on its guiding principles. The morning rally provided the avenue to put those principles into motion. The speakers — activists and celebrities alike — modeled the broad range of issues that drew together huge crowds of men, women and children wearing pink "p---- hats."

The mothers of fallen black and brown bodies gave name to their children as the crowd rallied in support. Activist icons Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis joined the unfinished work of the feminist and civil rights movements with other groups facing discrimination. The testimonies of immigrants and religious minorities made plain that there is work to be done in ensuring equal rights for all.

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The rally nearly fell victim to its own success. The long list of speakers ran over the allotted three-hour time and the crowd far exceeded expectations. Nevertheless, the vast majority of participants patiently listened before sprawling across the streets of D.C., instead of the planned route. Those who waited were rewarded with unannounced performances by Alicia Keys and a two-song set by Madonna.

 

The rally and march were entirely peaceful; not a single arrest was made despite unrest on Inauguration Day.

Trump's reaction to the event was uncharacteristically understated. While admitting that he watched the march, he asked why the same protesters didn't vote in the election. But Trump lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million, suggesting that many of the event's participants did in fact vote — before taking to the streets.

Surprisingly, the new president tacitly supported the Women's March by acknowledging protesters' right to do so.

Yet the overwhelming public outcry hasn't stopped Trump from attacking the issues at the heart of the Women's March. He issued an executive order to undercut the Affordable Care Act. On Monday, he reinstated the Global Gag Rule, a harmful policy that limits information on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Trump's team is also proposing major cuts to Violence Against Women programs.

More assaults to programs promoting and protecting human rights are sure to come.

Women's March activists are already moving forward with their own agenda. The event's organizers have launched a campaign for 10 actions in 100 days. The first action is a legislative postcard campaign. True to its grassroots and intersectional nature, individuals are encouraged to write on issues that they themselves identify as important. Similar efforts are springing up through organizations like Indivisible and Countable.

The seven women and I who shared a van to the march created our own agenda. We penned a collective opinion piece on the ride home, and shared resources for local activism; two among us are considering running for office.

So what comes next for activists in the Women's March? In a word: action. If Trump's first day in office was any indication, the U.S. is entering a new age of civic activism.

To be effective, participants activists will need to be both responsive and proactive. So far, the Women's March organizers have been able to do both. The actions they and march participants advance in the next 100 days will lay the framework for the golden age of human rights in the U.S.

Dabney P. Evans is an assistant professor and director of the Institute of Human Rights at Emory University. She attended the Women's March in Washington.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.