On Jan. 21, Swarthmore community members traveled to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia to participate in the Women’s March. Demonstrators took to the streets to protest the proposed policies of the Trump administration that would largely affect marginalized communities as well as other issues coming out of the nation’s capital.
Students largely saw the Women’s March as productive with shortcomings in intersectionality; they and faculty see these Marches as a first step toward confronting actions by the government in the coming years.
On Nov. 29, Violence Prevention Educator & Advocate and Women’s Resource Center Advisor Nina Harris announced over email that the WRC, the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, and the Center for Innovation and Leadership would subsidize transportation to the March through chartered buses to Washington. Later, Executive Director of the Lang Center and Associate Professor of political science Benjamin Berger stated on Jan. 19 that the Center would offer free SEPTA tickets into Philadelphia for the March as another avenue to be involved with the network of Sister Marches.
“There were 144 people signed up to ride the buses including five people who came through a standby process that morning when others didn’t show up. Of that 144, 24 were staff/faculty. There were 59 people on the waitlist,” said Director of CIL Katie Clark.
Berger said that the Lang Center provided 225 round-trip SEPTA tickets for students to attend the Philadelphia Women’s March.
“By all accounts that I’ve heard, both marches were tremendous successes. We were pleased to be able to support our students’ engagement,” Berger stated.
College administrators across the organizing institutions had to negotiate shifting logistics within the college and with the plans of the Women’s March regarding how to best move three buses of students to Washington and ensure each person experienced the March as best as they could. Harris noted the difficulties particular to getting students to Washington but pointed out the drive of the community to participate.
“I think the most challenging thing about the logistics is that the national organizers [of the Women’s March] were still managing details and logistics up until the day of, so we just had to be responsive as information was coming out as late as the day of,” she said. “We did our best to work with that, but I think everyone was aware of what the dynamics were, so people were prepared and committed to being a part of the process.”
These logistical challenges, did prevent some students from taking the schools bus. Lydia Roe ’20 was able to attend the March on Washington despite getting wait listed for the chartered bus due to limited seating.
“I went to the D.C. March; I caught a ride with a high school friend who was driving down … I did at first sign up for one of the buses and didn’t get on, which could have been a bummer, but it worked out okay for me,” Roe stated.
Marian Mwenja ’20, who used SEPTA tickets through the Lang Center to reach the March in Philadelphia, did wish the March on Washington was more accessible.
“I think it was great they had buses to D.C. and SEPTA tickets to Philly, but I think they should have gotten more D.C. buses because the wait list was so long,” Mwenja said.
Once at the Marches, the experiences of demonstrators varied with regards to space and venue, and many of the views converged on the role of intersectionality in the March. Roe saw the March largely as purposeful, but because of the dramatic policy changes in the first days of the Trump administration, felt somewhat deterred from her initial optimism.
“Overall, I thought the march was quite positive. It was obvious that first and foremost it served as a cathartic experience for so many people to come together in their mutual anger about the current state of our country. The vibe was energized and upbeat, almost weirdly so — a week and a half later, as Trump’s blatantly evil actions pile up on each other, I’m having a hard time remembering why we all felt so happy and empowered … I mean, I do think the organizers and speakers did a good job of stressing that the March had to be only the beginning. And there was a heavy emphasis on intersectionality and the fact that not all women are going to be equally impacted by the new administration too which was great,” Roe said.
Gabriel Brossy de Dios ’20 also highlighted the empowering nature of the March and being in the Swarthmore community, but agreed with Roe on the disappointing first actions by the Trump administration.
“Despite its logistical challenges that led to a lot of standing around, I thought that the March was generally a good morale booster for people, myself included, because seeing so many people protesting Trump makes one hopeful that they can be mobilized against him in the future, like we’ve seen on a smaller scale with the airport protests against what’s essentially the Muslim ban,” Brossy de Dios stated. “It was nice to be there with friends from Swarthmore, and to know that there were more of us scattered through the crowd, but I think it would have had a similar vibe regardless of who I came with.”
The Marches were not without criticism. Roe did note some troubles she had with the amalgamation of ideas at the March, which speaks to the March’s national and bipartisan draw.
“The media, at least that I had read, ahead of the March seemed to focus on how divided we all were about race, class, and even politics, but to me, that didn’t ring quite true in the moment on the ground,” she said. “However, that’s not to say those fault lines weren’t present—near me, for example, was an older white women who said indignantly, ‘What about regular women?’ when a speaker was listing those we had to keep our voices loudest for: immigrant women, black women, Muslim women, etc. — not to diminish other groups!”
Mwenja saw the March in Philadelphia as much less focused on intersectionality, citing racialized feminism as a barrier to being included in the demonstration.
“I thought the march was problematic in that it was overrun by unchecked white feminism. I really appreciated how many people came out against Trump, but I did not feel safe in the space because of the lack of critical analysis, especially concerning not checking white privilege, that made it clear that many of these participants were not prepared to do what is necessary to stop the rise of fascism,” Mwenja said.
Mwenja continued with more specific ways in which the March could have been more productive in terms of demonstrating power to authorities, including the college.
“I think the March could have been a lot more impactful because of the impressive number of people who came,” she stated. “We could have shut down multiple roads, but the leaders did not take that more effective route. Swat is a lot like the March in that it fails to be radical enough in thought [and] in action to effectively combat fascism.”
Gabriel Brossy de Dios ’20 commented on the college’s involvement in the Marches, arguing that administration should take a more substantial stance on issues during this new administration.
“In general, I think that the college’s response to the Marches was pretty adequate […] Beyond providing transportation, I think that an endorsement of the Marches would be less meaningful than an actual endorsement of or opposition to policies, like they did in response to the Sanctuary Campus walkout, which would be more concrete,” Brossy de Dios said.
In reference to the campus community, however, Title IX Fellow Becca Bernstein stressed the unique experience the Marches presented for the Swarthmore community to be united with a large number of other groups and individuals.
“As someone who was there, I would add, it was awesome. I stayed in a group of about 10 to 12, a real mix of students and staff, and just to be together — it was a moment, I think, as a member of the campus community where people really did feel like they were together. I know that not everyone had that experience, but I felt really lucky that I could have that experience with students.”
Bernstein continued, stating the Marches must be used to build a more inclusive and intentional college community.
“Some people had overwhelmingly positive experiences. For some people, it was their first march; for other people, they’ve been involved in things like that in the past,” Bernstein said. “I think creating space for all of those experiences to come to the surface, and to be okay, and for people to come up with their own understanding of what they want to do next.”
Harris echoed these ideas, concentrating on the large base of support on campus and the momentum it has carried forward from the Marches.
“[In addition to student support,] we had a significant number of faculty and staff that came together to support it as well … We really wanted to be intentional about how we came together as a community to do this—and not just like, ‘We got free rides to D.C.,’ but […] why come with the Swarthmore community, why connect here around these issues, and how do we move forward. […] I think the post-March gathering was the beginning stages of processing what the experience was, and how we can connect that back to our campus community.”
Harris described further how she and other institutions on campus plan to be intentional through concrete educational and action-oriented opportunities.
“The WRC and CIL are working on doing a series of conversations. I think, again, one of the things that came up is we have this kind of newfound solidarity, or do we, or what does that look like? How do we have a genuinely inclusive community that raises up everyone’s needs and issues, so creating some more space to have a more intersectional movement, what does that look like, how do we do that, what skills do we need to develop as a community to be effective in that kind of organizing,” Harris asked.
She outlined that the WRC will begin holding educational and organizing opportunities around Reproductive Justice Fridays. This series will teach participants about reproductive laws and legislation while offering leadership and community development.
The lasting sentiment from students is that, as of now, the March has provided a short-term sense of community beyond the campus, which must be fortified if there is hope for a continued effort against unsavory politics. Roe shared she wanted the March to provide a basis for progressive action that would define the left moving forward.
“I personally had my own troubles imagining all the people there who had voted for Clinton in the primaries, or all of those posting tributes of pure adoration to Obama on Facebook, as I think neither of them represent the truly progressive direction we must go in as a country and have committed their own evil actions that provoked no response from general society,” Roe said. “And therein, of course, lies the rub—while the majority of Americans can agree that we don’t want Trump’s policies, we can’t, or at least haven’t in the past, been able to agree on what we DO want, and how we’ll get it. It was great to feel unified for a day, but unfortunately that unity is illusory.”
Brossy de Dios held similar feelings of the March’s troubles, but he identified that it is a foundation from which action needs to be scaffolded.
“Like most marches, the Women’s Marches didn’t change the mind of the person in the White House, but they did change the minds of people who attended and people around the country about what scale of action is possible now. And although I saw a fair amount of signs for racial justice and heard some speakers who spoke about it, the event could have been made better to expand its scope beyond women’s rights and into other areas, of which race is only one. But again, despite its logistical and programmatic shortcomings, the March was a good symbol at the right time,” they said.
The college community largely came together in protest of the new administration and policies. Many in the community hope the campus can act in the best interests of those groups that are most affected by the Trump administration’s policies.