Two crowds on the National Mall with two very different messages
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As I looked out at the massive crowd at the Women’s March last Saturday, I saw a direct line stretching across the history of the women’s movement. For generations, women have organized to demand equal rights and justice when they faced discrimination, exclusion and oppression.

Near where I stood, in 1913 a 26-year old lawyer and activist named Inez Mulholland put on a white cape and boots and rode a white horse at the head of what was then the largest Women’s March in American history, demanding the right to vote. The March was timed to coincide with the next day’s inauguration of President-elect Woodrow Wilson, who took side streets to a hotel in order to avoid the crowds.

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A week later, opponents of abortion care gathered for their annual march, and were for the first time addressed by a sitting Vice President. Their goals include defunding Planned Parenthood, appointing Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, and passing law banning abortion nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

It would be a mistake to regard these two demonstrations as equal. One was about standing up for, and expanding basic rights. The second promotes a radical white male supremacist agenda.

Over the years, women have returned to the National Mall to demand their rights. The National Organization for Women (NOW) brought 750,000 abortion rights supporters to Washington in 1992 for a March for Women’s Lives, and we worked with other partners in 2004 to organize an even larger March for Women’s Lives that drew a record 1.15 million people to what was then the largest protest in U.S. history.

The Women’s March last weekend was historic not only because of its sheer size — some 673 sister marches throughout the U.S and 32 more around the globe drawing nearly five million participants — but also because of its inclusive affirmation that women in all our diversity are entitled to full recognition.

The emphasis on inclusivity in the March made me proud for NOW to become one of its first sponsoring groups. My organization was conceived as an anti-racist, pro-labor, feminist organization, and today we are committed to the practice of intersectionality — putting marginalized women at the center of our advocacy.

Tamika Mallory, one of the National Co-Chairs of the Women’s March is the daughter of parents who were founding members of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and was that group’s youngest ever Executive Director. At the rally, she addressed members of the white liberal community who are shocked that Donald TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE is now president.

“Welcome to my world,” she said. “Welcome to what it feels like to be Muslim, to be undocumented, to be black, to be a black man, to be a black woman or a woman of color carrying the entire weight on her back of the entire community. Welcome to what it feels like to be a Mexican-American, a Latino person in this country. We've been here. We've been dealing with the Trumpisms.”

Frankly, I'm ashamed that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, while 94% of African-American women and 69 percent of Latinas voted for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton5 things to know about Boris Johnson Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota The Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike MORE. But it was inspiring to see women of all races and backgrounds come together to affirm that we must--and we will--show up for each other on our national journey towards equality and justice.

Going forward, we can affirm that women’s rights are human rights by working tirelessly on issues that must be brought to the forefront of our national agenda. One of the most important is the continuing struggle for voting rights.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Americans in fourteen states faced new voting restrictions for the first time in a presidential election in 2016. States that provided Donald Trump with narrow margins of victory — and were key to his win in the Electoral College—were dramatic examples of the effectiveness of these restrictions.

In Wisconsin, for example, Donald Trump won the state by fewer than 30,000 votes. According to the state’s own records, ten times that many eligible voters  — as many as 300,000 people — lacked the proper ID and may have been disenfranchised.

The North Carolina Republican Party actually sent out a press release taking credit for driving down African-American turnout in the election.

Restrictions on early voting disproportionately block women, especially women of color, from exercising their right to vote. Women are overrepresented in the ranks of low-wage work, and many can’t take time off to go vote on Tuesday. They need flexible voting hours via early voting.

What’s more, voter ID laws have a disproportionately negative effect on women. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, one third of all women have citizenship documents that do not identically match their current names, primarily because of name changes at marriage.

As the 2016 election results illustrate, women of color are the most reliably progressive voters in the country. When they are blocked from voting, anti-woman legislators get elected, and then they enact laws that harm women in all communities, or block beneficial policies like paid leave, equal pay, or an increase in the minimum wage.

In other words, voting rights are key to achieving women’s rights as human rights. In the months and years ahead I will be doing all I can to ensure that every citizen can exercise their right to vote and to have that vote count equally.

I left the Women’s March with a feeling I had not experienced since Election Day: hope. The tone for the start of the Trump Administration was set not by his mean-spirited, white nationalist Inaugural Address, but by the uplifting message of millions of marchers. Looking back to those women who marched for suffrage in 1913, and all those who’ve stood up in protest over the years since, our story joins their stories, and their examples propel us forward.

Terry O’Neill, is the president of the National Organization for Women, a feminist and civil rights attorney.


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