UVM students join Women’s March on Washington

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UVM students join Women’s March on Washington

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UVM alumnus at D.C. march

A contingent of 48 UVM students joined the estimated 470,000 pink-hatted, sign-waving protesters who attended the Women’s March on Washington Saturday.

Some students were hours late to the march, watching tightly-packed Metro cars shuttle pink blurs of protesters from the surrounding suburbs into downtown D.C.

The concept for the Women’s March began when Hawaiian grandmother Teresa Shook proposed a march on Washington to 40 Facebook friends. By the time Jan. 21 came around, an estimated 4.8 million took to the streets in 673 cities around the world, according to the march’s website.

While the planning began on the internet, the march itself stood in direct contrast to the culture of Facebook-based “slacktivism” that characterized the months leading up to President Donald Trump’s election.

Below gray skies and drizzly weather, speakers praised a brightly-colored crowd for showing up, physically.

“You took time out of your busy schedules, piled on buses and trains, slept on floors, and paid your own way because you believe in the fundamental principle that you matter,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, to the crowd. “Yes, women matter. And we will not be shy about standing up for what matters to us.”

NRDC is an American environmentalist organization that touts a membership of over two million, according to its website.

Junior Lindsey McCarron was one a few UVM student activists who helped pile several dozen students into cars and SGA vans. McCarron and other organizers found floors for students to sleep on in Falls Church, Virginia and College Park, Maryland.

While many of the UVM marchers found each other on Facebook pages and by word of mouth, McCarron noted the importance of marching in person instead of advocating virtually.

“Physically showing up to things is way more important than a nice facebook share [or] a solidarity tweet,” they said. “Physically showing up and taking time to be there is extremely powerful.”

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem referenced the role of physical protest in overturning anti-abortion laws in Poland last month.

“Six million people turned out in the streets, and they had to change it. We are the people, we have the people power, and we will use it,” Steinem said. “Thank you for understanding that sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes, pressing send is not enough.”

For many who attended the march, this was the first time protesting. Three quarters of the UVM marchers were first-time protesters, sophomore Kelsey Aaron said.

The march mobilized a greater population than just college-aged women. New Jersey resident Kristi McDonald was one of many activists who organized busloads of protesters to come into the city.

McDonald brought 100 protesters between ages 55 and 75 from Somerset County, New Jersey. McDonald said that over 80 percent of the women were marching for their first time Saturday.

Protesters with handmade “Nasty Women,” “Pussy Grabs Back,” and “Dear Mr. Trump” signs standing on the National Mall made it clear their message was targeted toward the new president and his administration.

McCarron stressed that the protests, while catalyzed by the election, were not specifically because of it.

“[The protest] went far beyond Trump,” they said. “These issues have existed before Trump and will exist after Trump.”

Aaron said she hopes the trip to D.C. spurred attendees with a desire to mobilize around various issues across the country. She likened her theory on organizing to a video she saw in Rubenstein professor Trish O’Kane’s class.

“[O’Kane] showed us a video of a flock of birds. When a predator shows up, they’ll clump up and condense themselves,” Aaron said. “Donald Trump is trying to attack Muslims, women, immigrants, at-risk groups. No matter who you are, you need to be showing up because it affects you. As a woman– a queer woman– my liberation is tied up in Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock. My liberation is tied up in the liberation of all things.”

First-year Gillian Natanagara was energized by the ocean of feminine energy, the chants and the young activist speakers, she said.

Now that the iconic pink “pussyhats” are folded away, the metro trains are running normally, and a new man sits in the Oval Office, Natanagara said she is weary of a national return to slacktivism.

“It’s easy to post on Facebook, yes,” she said. “But for many of us, it was even easy to go to a march. It’s fun. But what do you do after the march, when you put your sign down and hang your boots up?”

Back in Burlington after a weekend of sore feet, sleeping bags and cramped, delirious car rides, students expressed the desire to start organizing locally and joining the struggle to become free.