2016 was a bad year. And while it may be over now, the world’s feeling like a weirder place for it.
Early on Saturday morning Australian time, Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. Yep, it’s really happening. During his inauguration speech, Trump stated that his presidency had “special meaning” to Americans. “Today,” he said, “we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, but we are transferring power from Washington D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”
The people, however, have something else to say. Trump’s inauguration struggled to draw even a third of the audience Barack Obama’s historic inauguration in 2008 drew. Hundreds of thousands of women protested the events at the Women’s March on Washington. The protests against Trump’s inauguration quickly spread around the world with 51 countries demonstrating in solidarity, including marches in Sydney and Melbourne.
When the Women’s March Melbourne started at 1pm on Saturday, the State Library lawn was covered in people. According to police reports and the ABC, over 5000 protestors showed up. Pink pussyhats were everywhere, alongside signs with bold slogans like ‘Love Trumps Hate’, ‘Fight Like a Girl’ and ‘#BlackLivesMatter’.
The march carries important symbolic weight for many women. Erin, 27, had never been to a march before the Women’s March Melbourne. “I’m an American. There’s just so much turmoil; everyone’s in mourning. I was [in Australia] during the election, and even that day it was hard not to be in the states — to be there and get out in the streets. So when I had the opportunity to be here today I wasn’t going to turn it down.”
Everyone at the march is fired up, creating an energetic atmosphere. A diverse range of protestors, including people of all ages and a stunning intersection of movements, showed just how meaningful this moment in time is to so many people. The march was about racism, the environment, fair working conditions and so much more. This kind of intersectionality is what our movements need: people working together in solidarity to build real people power.
For the past few decades, sisters Diana and Carey have supported the climate movement through the Climate Guardians, Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups. It only seemed obvious that they’d attend the Women’s March Melbourne, too. “I feel very strongly about women’s issues and Trump’s attitude to women and climate change” Diana said. “I think [protesting] is really important to women all over the world,” Carey added, “it’s a sense of being part of something. It’s really nice to know there are other women here.”
Being a part of something bigger was a theme that ran throughout the protest. The speakers came from a variety of organisations, including Democrats Abroad Australia, Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) and big unions, like the National Union of Students. One of the lead organisers of the march, Steph Ash, had never organised a march before, making the scale of the Women’s March Melbourne all the more impressive. “I organised the march initially to give Americans the chance to march in Melbourne if they couldn’t make it to Washington. But it’s evolved into a much bigger event.” What started as an anti-Trump rally grew into an anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia and anti-bigotry rally. “I really hope [the march] goes into productive action and effective change. We don’t just want to be upset about the result, we want to find solutions.”
Like Ash, all the speakers mentioned the importance of solidarity and organising now more than ever. Speaker Cathy Lewis put it well: “We need to organise demonstrations between marches. We need to link up with one another. Join all these different protests together. Become stronger. Solidarity will always trump hate.”
The message of solidarity resonated with the protestors too, many of whom engage with other activist organisations. Fernanda is Brazilian and an active member of CARF. “I came to protect the rights of women. I’m a socialist, feminist, revolutionary and international. We have a branch fighting in the US with radical women. So we’re here to support them in international solidarity. We need to build a movement to fight against those fascists. We have to be strong against them.”
For real change to happen, we need to continue the fight through continuous organised resistance. If there’s one take away from the protests that are happening around the world today, it’s that now is the time to be part of that resistance. We can’t just claim solidarity anymore; we have to live it.
Ready to stand up and fight back? Take a look at some of the groups organising in Australia today: