Armed with messages of female empowerment and defiance, millions of people paraded the Women’s March movement straight into the history books on last weekend.
Women, along with the men and children who support them, took to the streets in cities around the world in support of women’s rights and, some, in protest of Donald Trump’s presidency.
For many, the Women’s March was an inspirational show of feminism and a march for equal rights, like the 1913 march for the right to vote and the 1978 march for women’s rights.
But it has also been compared to Occupy Wall Street – which sparked protests in 82 countries but failed to produce real change.
“If you’re showing up at the Women’s March on 21 January in the hopes that the world will be different on 22 January, then you need to think seriously about the goal of marching,” Micah White, co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement, wrote in The Guardian in the days leading up to the march.
White knows first-hand how a global protest movement can capture the spirit of millions, but fizzle out with no real change being made.
The occupy movement set out as a protest over social and economic inequality in the U.S. and worldwide.
Its war-cry “We are the 99 per cent” called attention to the wealth inequality around the world but many blamed the movement for lacking organization and specific demands. Eventually, people lost interest.
“The number one challenge standing in the way of an effective protest in America today is the inability of our social movements to actually govern,” said White.
“That is because leaderless protesters don’t know how to make complex decisions together as a movement. Occupy couldn’t even come up with its one demand.”
The Women’s March movement has similar risks. Though its unifying message appeared to focus on women’s rights, supporters also marched for the rights of immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities and more.
But some experts suggest the sheer number of people affected may help empower it.
“People’s interest and engagement will dissipate over time; [but] women make up 50 per cent of the [U.S] population. The proportion of the population affected suggests that greater optimism may be warranted,” said Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, a political studies professor at Queens University.
“I feel confident that President Trump is going to provide moments of mobilization to influence women and their allies.”
Goodyear-Grant believes this movement has the potential to create real change – providing they remain organized enough.
The first step, she says, would be to focus on how supporters can work to enact change within their government.
“Midterm elections are just two years away [in the U.S.],” she said. “There’s no doubt that the democrats regaining control of the Senate would help.”
All members of the House and approximately one-third of the Senate are up for re-election during midterm elections. Though the Republican Party currently has control, with a majority in both the Senate and the House, voters may be able to change that in 2018.
The Women’s March will also need to drum up financial support that can be funneled into organizations like Emily’s List, a U.S. political action committee (PAC) that aims to help elect pro-choice female Democrats to congress.
“These moves could make things a lot more difficult for Trump and his agenda,” said Goodyear-Grant.
Immediately following the March on Washington, leaders from the Women’s March group held a town hall event discussing next steps. They noted the first goal should be to rally support and raise money for organizations that helped sponsor the march, including Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Campaign.
The group has also launch a campaign titled “10 actions for the first 100 days,” which encourages supporters to write their Senators about issues of concern, whether it be abortion access, LGBTQ rights, or immigration.
In Canada, the outpouring of support for the Women’s March movement will likely send a strong message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about how the country wishes to see him interact with Trump’s administration, according to Goodyear-Grant.
“It puts some of our leaderships on notice that mobilization is happening in response to foreign governments,” she said.
“As our government seeks to establish a relationship with this new administration, the uprising in this country also puts our government on notice that you better be careful in that relationship.”
The government may already be showing signs of resistance to some of Trump’s policies. Canada is exploring the possibility of contributing to a safe abortion fund announced by the Netherlands in the wake of Trump‘s move to cut off funding to organizations that offer abortion services internationally.
“Canada’s intention is to advance a strong women empowerment agenda. This includes an increase in investments to support advocacy work for women’s reproductive rights and for the provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion, where legal and post-abortion care,” read a statement from Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau’s office.
The statement reiterates that “sexual health and reproductive rights will be at the heart of Canada’s new international assistance policy.”