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Why the Women's March Matters to Canadians

The inauguration-weekend protest in Washington, DC is expected to draw over 200,000 people—including many Canadians. Here’s why they're marching

Why the Women's March matters to Canadian Women

Barely 24 hours after Donald Trump is sworn in as president of the United States on Friday, more than 200,000 people are expected to flood the streets of Washington, D.C. to speak up in defence of human rights they fear might be at risk under the new administration. The Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21 is shaping up to be one of the biggest demonstrations in modern U.S. history. Busloads of Canadians are travelling down to join the march, for their own unique reasons. Here’s what it’s all about.

What is the Women’s March on Washington?

After Donald Trump was declared the winner in the early hours of Nov. 9, a Hawaiian grandmother posted on Facebook that she’d like to protest in Washington. Word spread, and countless other marches combined to become the Women’s March on Washington. Its goal, the official site reads, is to “send a bold message to [America’s] new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.” While it’s widely seen as an anti-Trump rally, organizers prefer to frame it as a chance to speak out en masse against sexist, racist, anti-Muslim and ableist rhetoric that swelled during and after the U.S. presidential campaign. The two-and-a-half kilometre march, which starts at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, will be capped by a rally near the U.S. Capitol.

So it isn’t just an anti-Trump march?

“If you go to Washington just to protest Donald Trump, you’ve missed the mark,” national co-chair Tamika Mallory said in a recent Facebook Live interview with Essence magazine. “He is a symptom of a disease that already existed. He’s just going to give new voice to white supremacy, the racism, the sexism, the misogyny, all the stuff that was already there.” As such, the march is about much more than equal pay and reproductive rights for women — it’s meant to draw attention to institutional sexism and racism against women (particularly women of colour who’ve been historically left out of the feminist movement), as well as LGBTQ rights and the rights of immigrants and lower-income people. (Read the Women’s March’s platform here.)

 Who will be there?

High-profile feminists and activists — and lots of celebrities. Gloria Steinem is the march’s national co-chair, along with singer and social activist Harry Belafonte. Actor America Ferrera will chair its artists’ committee. Katy Perry, Cher, Padma Lakshmi, Amy Schumer, Zendaya, Samantha Bee, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore have all said they’re showing up. Madonna alsotweeted her support for the march, sparking rumours she might be performing. Comedian Chelsea Handler and filmmaker Ava DuVernay will lead a sister march at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on the same day.

Why are Canadians marching—what’s at stake for us?

“Canadians are a part of this because we’re aware that what goes on in the U.S. does have an impact here,” said Tasha Donnelly, who’s with the Canadian delegation’s organizing committee. She points to the rhetoric that trickled over Canada’s borders since Trump was elected. “For a lot of people it meant sexism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim sentiment were not considered a deal-breaker for people. That attitude is what we’re worried about in Canada.” Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, for example, tweeted enthusiastic support for Trump’s victory, hoping it might be something that could be emulated here. “That worries us. We want to say this will not do in Canada, we will not permit that kind of divisiveness and disrespect to our voters.”

Canadians are also concerned about the message Trump sends their kids, Donnelly said, and they’re marching to protect rights we often take for granted in Canada, including reproductive freedoms. They’ll also highlight the rights and struggles of indigenous, black and Muslim people here.

How unified are the marchers?

A New York Times piece last week reported the conversations about race happening on women’s march Facebook groups have made some women feel “unwelcome.” The event was first titled the Million Women March. That was quickly changed when organizers were reminded of the Million Woman March in Philadelphia in 1997, a rally about what it means to be an African American woman. The national committee is intentionally diverse, placing a new brand of feminism, called “intersectionality,” at the heart of the march. It’s about doing a better job of working for women who’ve been historically disenfranchised while asking white women to acknowledge that they’ve had it better (and to do more listening.)

I’d like to join in — can I still get on a bus?

There are still spots on buses with the Canadian delegation leaving out of Toronto and Windsor, Ont. Ottawa and Montreal buses are sold out.

I can’t make it to Washington. How else can I get involved?

Sister marches are happening in more than 300 American communities besides D.C., and in nearly 50 countries outside of the U.S, including Saudi Arabia, Australia, the United Kingdom and South Africa. Twenty of those are in Canada, including marches in Halifax, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, Calgary, Grand Forks, Nanaimo and White Horse (find the full list here) If you can’t join in person, the Women’s March on Washington said it will likely post a live stream on its website.

Will there be counter-protests?

Students for Life of America, a pro-life group, plans to show up at the Women’s March to make their anti-abortion views known. Trump supporters have also applied for demonstration permits in Washington D.C. for January 21st.

How can I follow the march?

Chatelaine’s Sarah Boesveld, Katie Underwood and Sadiya Ansari will be attending — follow them on Twitter: @sarahboesveld@katieunderwrite@sadiyaansari. We’ll have live coverage documenting the journey to D.C. and will report from the streets of Washington throughout the day.

In Toronto, FLARE’s Alanna Evans will be on the ground at Queen’s Park and tweeting from @FLAREfashion between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

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