By Julie Alexander
I cannot explain what it felt like to be in Lansing for the Women’s March without first describing how I felt immediately after the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump disgusted me from the very beginning of his campaign. From his statements about Mexicans coming into the United States being criminals, drug dealers, and rapists up through his bragging about getting away with grabbing women and many other points in between, my respect for him became less and less. I want to make clear that my lack for respect for Mr. Trump does not come from the fact that he is Republican or that he is conservative. I can disagree with someone I respect. I cannot respect blatant and unapologetic bigotry and sexism. I cannot respect someone who says Mexicans are rapists, says Islam hates us, refused to condemn white supremacists supporting him, encouraged violence against protestors at his campaign rallies, or who brags about grabbing women by their genitalia. So needless say, I was disappointed by the election results. The results made me angry and I felt a great sense of despair. The election sent a message that bigotry is acceptable. Hate crimes increased immediately following the election. It sent a message that a man can brag about getting away with sexual assault and still become president of the United States. It was a horrible day to be a woman. I imagine that it was a horrible day to be anyone else that Mr. Trump had so blatantly disrespected. I realized that I had been so naïve in thinking that my country was much better than this.
Therefore, when I heard about the Million Woman March, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I needed to be a part of it. I had never taken part in a large protest before. Any elected official, let alone the president of the United States had never so passionately disgusted me. On the day after the election, I posted on Facebook (which I rarely do) about the fact that good people need to stay in the United States rather than flee to Canada. A Trans woman commented that she no longer feels safe in the United States and that she had already begun to make plans to leave. I told her that I wanted her to know that there are people here who do not hate her. I want Muslims, Latinos, Blacks, Jews, people with disabilities, the LGBT community, immigrants, and everyone who feels insecure to know that there are people in this country who respect and value them as people. We needed a counter message to that of the election. The Woman’s March seemed to be it.
I heard about the March on Lansing, a sister march to the Washington, D.C., march. I volunteered to drive three of my friends. On the way down, my friends were talking about the marches that were happening all over the world, including Antarctica! At the suggestion of one of the organizers, we parked at Lansing Mall and took the bus downtown to the capitol. We were not the only ones. As soon as we started walking from the car to the bus stop with our signs, we saw other women with signs. There was instant comradery. There was even a woman who made several of the infamous pink “pussy hats” and was giving them away. We filled the bus with women in pink hats with signs. I heard a woman say, “It’s like the sixties all over again.” I was not around for the Civil Rights Movement, but it seems fitting that at the end of MLK week, we would be following in the footsteps of those activists.
When we arrived at the Capitol, there was already a large crowd gathered. There was a sea of pink hats. There were so many signs. The signs were diverse in their messages. Women’s rights, in particular reproductive rights and access to healthcare, was a strong theme. I saw a number of signs that read, "Keep your tiny hands of my rights," "Girls just wanna have basic human rights" and "You haven’t seen nasty yet." I also saw men carrying signs that read, "Men of quality do not fear equality." I saw signs about protecting the environment. I saw signs about Native American rights. I saw signs supporting all of the groups Donald Trump has disrespected. My own sign read, "Love not hate makes U.S. great" on one side and "Hope not fear" on the other.
The first speaker was Democratic candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer. She commented on the fact that the D.C. march was three times the size of the inauguration the day before. I cheered loudly for that. She also reminded us of Michelle Obama’s now famous words, "When they go low, we go high." She spoke of how we cannot wish for our new president to fail but we must not let him forget that he is now responsible to all Americans. Other speakers were Dr. Farha Abbasi from the Michigan Muslim Community Council, Dizzy Warren, the executive director of Enroll Michigan, Zoe Steinfeld, a transgender woman, and Lisa Brown, the current Oakland County Clerk who served in the Michigan House of Representatives. Lisa Brown was banned from speaking on the House floor for saying "vagina" while speaking out against legislation that limited reproductive rights. She also performed in the Vagina Monologues on the State Capitol steps with Eve Ensler. Dr. Abbasi was probably my favorite speaker. She was passionate and powerful. She mentioned that people say there are three strikes against her. She is a woman, an immigrant, and a Muslim. She challenged the new president to uphold the rights of all, "Mr. President, I am the new face of America. I am every Muslim, Jew, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Bahai, Atheist; I am every indigenous person at standing rock, I am every child drinking lead water in Flint, I am every black life lost. I am every dreamer, documented or undocumented. I am your tired, your poor huddled masses." The entire transcript is worth reading:
The weather that day seemed symbolic. The morning started out gloomy and foggy, but during the rally, the sun came out. The new leadership in our country brings with it a lot of fear and doubt. Approximately 9,000 people in Lansing, 3 million across the United States, and 4 million around the world came together to stand up for equality and respect. That is a sunny spot during a gloomy time. We will have more. The light in the dark is when people come together in solidarity to resist racism, sexism, xenophobia, and simply hatred. As we were driving home, it became foggy again, so foggy we could hardly see. The day after the march, Donald Trump signed an order reinstating the Mexico City policy or "global gag rule" that bans United States federal funding for any international health organization that counsels women on family planning options that include access to safe abortion. This will do a lot more than limit access to abortion. This policy will severely limit women around the world from accessing healthcare. These organizations also provide HIV testing, medication for people with malaria, and maternal health services. This was Mr. Trump’s first strike in his war against women. Mr. Trump is also making good on his promise to ban Muslims from the United States by banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. People protested this action in airports around the country. We will come together again and again and again for as long as necessary. It is our solidarity and our coming together to stand up for one another that will be our sun during this gloomy and foggy winter.