On January 21 st, hundreds of thousands of women, non-binary people, men, children and dogs (yes, even the dogs had signs) descended upon East Midtown Manhattan to participate in the Women’s March on New York City. The march had a different tone than that of the protests I witnessed and took part in right after election night. The earlier protests were full of grief, shock and anger. The Women’s March, however, was characterized predominantly by hope. There were people of all ages present: old women with large signs hung around their necks, Suffragette-style, to a group of 9-year-olds leading a chant of, “Show me what democracy looks like!” with a group of young men responding with “This is what democracy looks like!”
In the wake of the March, Barnard and Columbia students’ voices have been reinvigorated in the ensuing discussion about gender, race, sexuality, class and ability. Many took to Facebook to echo concerns about vagina-centric signs and messaging. The demonstration has caused some students to rethink their activism and take action beyond the boundaries of Columbia campus.
“With social media being what it is, and how we have so many different networks, at the very least we can post and inform people about when there are local elections,” said Leyla Martinez, GS ’18, founder and President of Beyond the Box Initiative, a criminal justice reform advocacy group. “As a formerly incarcerated person myself, I know that many people who have been impacted by mass incarceration believe that they cannot vote. But that isn’t always the case. There are over 70 million people in the US with a criminal record and it is crucial for them to be informed about their right to vote.”
At 1 P.M., I was standing with Danielle Fox, BC ’17, and a cohort of Barnard and Columbia students. While there was not one unified group of Columbia students in attendance at the New York City March, there were small groups scattered throughout the scene. In Fox’s group, Sofia Petros, CC ’19, carried a sign reading “Survivors against a rapist in the White House.” Oddly enough, it was the only sign I saw that used the word “survivors” instead of “grab” or “pussy” in conjunction with the allegations of Donald Trump sexually assaulting over a dozen women.
“Ruth don’t die! Ruth don’t die! Ruth don’t die!” A short-lived pro-RBG chant broke out out as our section of the enormous crowd inched its way to feed into the March. A few minutes later, there was a collective cheer as someone announced via sound system that U.S. Senator of New York Chuck Schumer was about to address the crowd in the plaza. “I don’t want anybody to lose hope,” he said.
“I don’t want anybody to lose faith. ... This is just the beginning. Women and men around the country are rallying in every city. And Donald Trump isn’t going to know what hit him. I am on your side. The Democrats in the Senate are on your side. And we are not going to stop fighting until we take this country back.”
While the March was an unforgettable, historic demonstration, the news that broke a few days later of President Donald Trump’s executive orders to advance the building of the Dakota Access Pipelines and reinstate the Global Gag Rule were a jolt into what the next four years will look like. This news served as a reminder to Columbia students that their work is far from over, whether that means more serious efforts to help get out the vote in the midterm election or grassroots mobilization.
“I think actively contacting local representatives, state senators, congressional senators, and lobbying are things we can do as college students to make a difference,” said Lakshmi Sanmuganathan, BC ’20.