Rights Activists: Fight Just Getting Started - Higher Education

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Rights Activists: Fight Just Getting Started

by Catherine Morris

The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, millions across the globe marched in the streets to advocate for women’s rights and civil rights. Though demonstrations brought out hundreds of thousands more than originally anticipated, the real advocacy work is just beginning, activists said.

“I really believe that the revolution will be televised, Snapchatted, Facebook-lived, it’s going to be blogged out,” said Symone Sanders, CNN political correspondent and former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders. “The revolution is here.”

Sanders was speaking at a Youth and College division of the NAACP rally in the nation’s capital on the morning of the Women’s March on Washington. While hundreds of thousands were making their way to the National Mall for the March, NAACP members met in the historic Metropolitan AME Church from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. to strategize and plan to fight on behalf of civil rights that some believe are threatened by the incoming administration.

In addition to Sanders, speakers included Cornell Brooks, NAACP president; Stephen Green, national director of the Youth and College Division of the NAACP; Jidenna, recording artist and activist; and Jamal H. Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Prayers and music from the Howard University gospel choir, who sang songs such as “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” interspersed the proceedings.

“It is evident that our nation is divided,” said Jacari Harris, president of the executive branch of the Student Government Association at Bethune Cookman University (BCU).

Harris flew up to D.C. with a group of BCU students. “I am here to experience the inauguration and be an advocate for all students,” he told Diverse.

Speakers said that mobilizing for protests and marches is critical, but sustained activism will be necessary for effecting actual change.

“Today is a beautiful day because it is soon to become the largest women’s march in the world,” Jidenna said at the NAACP rally. “Now what I will say is that, as with all marches, we have to focus on strategy beyond the March itself. The March will produce a sense of power and solidarity. That’s great, but there’s other things that we can do.”

He gave the example of a recent national protest in Iceland, in which women walked out of their jobs at around 2:30 p.m. in the capital city of Reykjavik to underscore the pay disparity between men and women, as an effective way of communicating ongoing inequalities.

The NAACP was one of many groups that came to Washington to protest the first day of the Trump presidency. In Washington, 500,000 protesters are believed to have attended the Women’s March, according to an unofficial estimate from the district’s deputy mayor, double the original estimate of 250,000.

More than 600 sister marches took place across the country and the world. In Boston, city officials estimate that 175,000 attended demonstrations in the city, many more than the 60,000 that organizers first projected. Downtown Los Angeles was swamped with 750,000 protesters.

In Washington, many protesters wore pink hats with ears in a sly reference to one of Trump’s more controversial comments about assaulting women, and carried homemade signs bearing slogans such as, “I Met God, She’s Black,” “Keep Your Tiny Hands Off My Rights,” and “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights.”

After hours of speeches on the National Mall that featured words from prominent figures such as Madonna, Dr. Angela Davis, and Gloria Steinem, among many others, the March began moving towards the White House around 1 p.m. The sheer volume of people diverted the March from its original planned route down Independence Avenue. Marchers spilled over onto Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenue.

Protesters spread out through the city, shutting down traffic and surrounding the area around the White House, which is currently fenced off. As they moved past the former Old Post Office Pavilion, a Romanesque Revival pile that has been converted into a Trump International Hotel, they spontaneously began to chant, “Shame.”

Dr. Margaret Stetz, a professor of women’s studies and professor of humanities at the University of Delaware, said that she planned to attend the March on Washington, adding that movements such as the March can sometimes help steer elected officials to make broader policy changes.

Her reasons for marching are, “to speak out forcefully to a man who has said, while campaigning for president, ‘I love the poorly educated.’ I have spent my entire life trying to ensure that all people, but women in particular, would be well educated. Now, I have grave worries about the fate of public education over the next four years under the incoming administration, and I will not sit back, waiting passively to see whether everything I have worked for will be dismantled. I hope that the president will be listening.”

President Donald Trump appeared to be unmoved by the demonstrations as of Sunday morning, tweeting, “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”

He wrote a few hours later, “Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.

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