Ready for the Women's March

| 17 Jan 2017 | 09:59

On January 21, as President-elect Donald Trump begins his first day in office, thousands of New Yorkers will march to Trump Tower to make their voices heard in support of women's rights. They will be joined by what could be a record number of others across the country who feel there has never been a more crucial time to fight for “civil rights for every human regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, religion or creed,” according to the Women's March on NYC mission statement.

One of an estimated 370 global sister marches, the Women's March on NYC is a branch of the Women's March on Washington event that took off on Facebook not long after the presidential election. The D.C. march is expected to draw as many as 200,000 people, and Katherine Siemionko, one of the New York City march organizers, is planning for 100,000. “That's a conservative estimate based on group registration,” she said. “We're only assuming half of people on Facebook will actually show up.” As of Monday morning, 35,000 Facebook users had marked themselves as attending the march in New York City. The D.C. march had 196,000 Facebook attendees, and the official Women's March on Washington website counted 700,000 people at all 370 marches that could show up.

Siemionko is a professional project manager, and said she became the point person for the New York City march because she happened to step up. “I think that [the head organizers] started something that they didn't recognize was so powerful,” she said. Siemionko had planned to attend the march in D.C. with her sister-in-law, but when that didn't work out she said, “Don't worry, I'll do one right here in New York City. I submitted a permit, and now here I am.” She praised the NYPD for their assistance coordinating security measures with the volunteer safety team, but emphasized that the volunteers' priority would be to “support the marchers and make sure that their First Amendment right to assemble is not violated by the police or by any city member.” Siemionko does not anticipate having any problems with what is intended to be a peaceful event.

The space she is renting to house the 1,000 volunteers as well as the stage and sound equipment are among the event's biggest expenses. A choir will kick off the pre-march rally near the UN by singing “America the Beautiful,” and groups such as a drumline and brass band will also play. “We're trying to keep it very upbeat,” Siemionko said. She wouldn't disclose how much money had been raised to support the march, but a GoFundMe page with a listed goal of $20,000 has been exceeded by nearly $42,000 in donations.

About $700 in sales from a special red pantsuit pin have also contributed to the coffers. Artist Morgan Brock created the small accessory so that people could show their support for certain values held by the pin's inspiration, Hillary Clinton. “A lot of times my art is just what I see going on,” said Brock, who first drew the pin in watercolor before the election. After seeing the event on Facebook, Brock reached out to Siemionko, who readily partnered with her. “It is what it is and we've got to go forward from here,” said Brock, who will march in New York City on Saturday.

As may be anticipated for an event of this scale, some fracturing has occurred over the purpose of the women's march movement. The four co-chairwomen of the Women's March on Washington recently told the New York Times that they were focusing on the struggles of minority and undocumented immigrant women, and would not shy away from uncomfortable discussions about race. This, the Times reported, has not sat well with some white women who now feel they are “unwelcome.”

Nina Olson, an arts administrator in New York, said she doesn't think there is “a pervasive sense that white women feel they're not welcome,” and plans to march in D.C. wearing one of several “pussy hats” her mother has knit for the occasion. The cat-ear shaped pink hats have become a symbol of female resistance and a movement of their own since the recording of Trump talking about grabbing women was revealed in October. “This is really an event to bring all people together,” she said. “It's about unity.” Olson said she was horrified by Trump's election and his record on women's issues. “I see him as someone who has a history of assaulting women, which I find totally offensive,” she said.

Siemionko said there isn't discord within the New York City march committee. “We do have a very diverse leadership board, but what we are promoting here, at least in New York City, is 'human first,'” she said. “None of our committee members want to be looked at by their skin color or their race or their ethnicity. We are human before we are anything else, and we have a very diverse board of humans.” Siemionko declined to name the other members of the march committee, citing threatening emails the group has received from opposing parties. “There are certain individuals that may not support this, so we're trying to focus on equality and not focus so much on the committee and the organization,” she said.

The leaders of the Women's March on Washington have a detailed mission statement on their website that lists disability rights, reproductive rights, environmental rights and LGBTQIA rights among their top priorities. President-elect Trump's name is noticeably absent from any of the national march documents. “We are not going to give the next president that much focus,” Linda Sarsour, a national march organizer and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, told PBS NewsHour last week. “What we want from him is to see us in focus.”

Cait Johnston, a member of Planned Parenthood of NYC Action Fund's Activist Council, will march because she wants to help demonstrate “the number of women who are affected by policies that [Trump] is trying to put in place.” Johnson is working on a narrative feature about a group of women in 1960s Chicago who provided abortions to thousands of women, and has found that many of the same problems persist today. “It consistently shocks me that women now are saying the same things that they were then, about how you can't have equality unless you have control over your reproductive health,” she said. “I'm marching to try to help that process.”

The Women's March on NYC will start on Saturday at 10:45 a.m. in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza with a rally, followed by the march itself, which will stagger start times in order to ease crowd control. Several similar events have already been held or are in the works in New York City to protest Trump's inauguration, including a Writers Resist rally that was hosted by PEN America at the public library's midtown branch on Sunday, Jan. 15, and a gathering of celebrities along with Mayor Bill de Blasio outside Trump Tower planned for Thursday, Jan. 19. These are not the first nor, surely, the last acts of opposition the city will see over the next four years.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at