The Vancouver chapter of a worldwide movement
By Rebecca Peterson, Humour Editor
In the face of a devastating election and the worldwide rise of neo-fascism and alt-right movements, something incredible happened over the weekend: A global show of solidarity, or something like it. All that frustration, fear, and hopelessness, poured out in a loud and jubilant protest that overshadowed Friday’s presidential inauguration. It was far from perfect, but by God, was it ever something, and Vancouver showed up for the party.
In fact, Vancouver showed up for the party in a major way.
I first heard about Vancouver’s “Women’s March on Washington” from my sister, who saw the invite on Facebook. When I perused the Facebook event myself, I saw that there were 3,000 confirmed attendees, and 2,000 who were interested.
Vancouver promptly blew these figures out of the water.
It was impossible to really comprehend the size of the crowd in and around Jack Poole Plaza Saturday morning. I’d arrived early with my sister to meet up with representatives from the IATSE Union for film and television production, so we were directly in the middle of all of the hubbub, surrounded by a sea of pink hats and protest signs. The last time I’d seen anything like this was in February 2003, when Vancouver marched with the rest of the world to protest the war in Iraq. I was eight years old when I took part in that particular protest, with a limited grasp on exactly what it was I was marching for. Saturday, I knew why I was there.
The night of Donald Trump’s election, I received messages from several friends of mine living in the states—friends who were largely women, many of whom were queer like me, mentally ill like me, and the most common thing I heard from them that night was how alone they felt. How they felt like they were going insane, losing their country to an ideology that supports xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and straight-up racism. All I could do that night to comfort them was to assure them that they weren’t alone, and that the world was watching—that so many of us were on their side. Saturday, I felt I was largely marching for them.
The speakers before the march made a point of placing the prominent issues facing Canadian women at the forefront; specifically, the troubles faced by indigenous women in Canada. It was a sobering reminder that Canadians are not so far removed from our American neighbours. There is a tendency, I think, for those of us lucky enough to live north of the border to feel a kind of superiority when looking at the troubling events occurring in the United States. The speakers reminded the protestors that we weren’t just marching against Trump, but for the bettering of the lives of women and oppressed people worldwide.
Finally, the march began.
It began slowly, maybe a little uncertainly—I don’t think anyone was anticipating the sheer volume of attendees crowding the streets, with a small marching band guiding the flow of protestors near the front of the crowd, and a line of indigenous drummers somewhere closer to the back. Vancouverites not participating in the march seemed largely supportive. Spectators watched the march from sidewalks and coffee shops, or waved down from apartment buildings as we made our way to Georgia street, then down towards our target destination: Trump Tower.
Security at the tower, unsurprisingly, was dialled up to face off against the throng of peaceful protestors passing by. Construction workers on-site took selfies with the crowd as marchers booed at the sight of the building, raising fists and signs and voices to denounce everything the tower stands for, and the man whose name is spelt in enormous chrome letters across the front.
The march concluded where it began, back at the plaza, where music and empowering speeches awaited the protestors. I remember feeling intensely satisfied as I looked at the crowd around me, and as I scrolled through Twitter on my phone seeing pictures from protests around the world, and I thought: “Here, we’ve done something that can’t possibly be ignored.”
I massively underestimated the Trump administration’s ability to ignore things, as it turned out.
I finally returned from downtown only to hear that a White House press conference was called—not to address the record-breaking protests held worldwide against the new administration, but to complain that the free press was lying about inaugural attendance numbers (which was wildly untrue). It was laughably frustrating to watch a grown man standing at one of the most important podiums in the world whine and lie about something as petty as how many people showed up to Donald Trump’s ego-driven affirmation of power, but I had to remind myself that I did not march for Donald Trump. I marched for my friends, for women I’ve never met, for women of colour, trans women, queer women, mentally ill women, and for me.
While Trump’s administration might have ignored us, the rest of the world didn’t. Social media has given us an incredibly networking tool, a lens through which we can observe and celebrate the actions of others. Millions marched around the world for progress and solidarity. In Vancouver, an expected turnout of 3,000 protestors became a march of over 15,000 people. I know I will always be grateful to have been a part of it, to actually physically show up and do something for a change. After the hopelessness and helplessness of the last few months, this felt like a turning point. It finally felt like a proper resistance.
While I want to discuss the positive aspects of the march, I feel it’s important to note that there was some controversy surrounding the Vancouver WMW. While the organizers of the march apparently made efforts to contact local organizations and certainly did an admirable job in putting the voices of indigenous peoples forward, they did not reach out to the Vancouver chapter of Black Lives Matter. When asked about this oversight on their Facebook page, the organizers apparently deleted any posts regarding the mistake. It wasn’t until the Black Lives Matter Vancouver Facebook page made a post concerning WMWYVR’s actions that the event organizers addressed the matter, stating that the “perceived exclusion” of Black Lives Matter was “entirely unintentional.”
While I am absolutely grateful that a march was organized at all for Vancouver, I believe it’s important to fully address the exclusion—intended or not—of Black Lives Matter, rather than brushing it off as a matter of “sorry if you felt that way,” which is a very weak apology at best and a condescending non-apology at worst. It was clear that the event organizers had very little time to put the protest together, which resulted in a few mistakes. However, recognizing the mistake is the first step towards fixing it. If this is to be a movement, rather than a one-time event, intersectionality must be at the forefront of all actions and considerations. Hopefully organizers and attendees alike have learned from this, and will do better in the future to uplift the voices of those who are often spoken over or ignored entirely.
That is the question, of course—was this a one-time event, or the start of something bigger?
The marches showed us something incredibly important; they showed us that we are not alone. They showed us that there are many millions of people out there willing to show up, willing to fight for a better world and a brighter future. However, there is the matter of momentum to consider. We are facing a long four years ahead of us; longer, if neo-fascism continues to grow as a threat to progress and freedom. This is not the time to stand idly by and take a neutral stance. In the face of such blatant and horrifying hatred, there is no neutrality.
It’s easy to show up for a global protest. It’s harder to ask yourself, day after day, how you plan to make a change. How you plan to support others, how you plan to use your privilege to make a real difference so that others might enjoy the same freedoms that you do.
The Women’s March on Washington was only one day. There are many, many more days ahead of us. We must keep that passion and that fire burning as hot as we can, for as long as we can.