ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Days after the 2016 presidential election that defied the prognostications of pollsters, pundits and the candidates themselves, a friend of mine accurately predicted the need for sensible shoes.
“Buy comfortable shoes in preparation for marches and rallies if the new guy in charge goes after reproductive rights, gay marriage, mass deportations, Muslim banning, environmental issues or whatever cause you back,” I wrote in a Nov. 12, 2016, column, turning her shoe soothsaying into one of 10 suggestions on how to move forward through an administration that promised major policy shifts and a massive polarization.
Now as we head into this administration’s fourth year, it appears that policies have shifted or been outright obliterated, and the divide between supporters and resisters has grown ever deeper and more bitter.
And those shoes? Well, for many, they’ve come in handy at many marches and rallies, the largest and most transformational being the first Women’s March in January 2017, a day after the much smaller Trump inauguration.
It’s believed to be the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history, with millions of pink-hatted, poster-holding women (and men) filling the streets in Washington, D.C., and in hundreds of cities around the world where sister marches were simultaneously held – including in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Fort Sumner and Deming.
That day, I spoke with many women who had never attended a protest or been involved in political activism. This was different, they said. This was a fight for the heart and soul of the nation, for values that mattered to them, such as equality, diversity and democracy.
It was the birth of the resistance, and who better to give birth than women?
The fourth annual Women’s March takes place Saturday in Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Because of a conflict with the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. March, Albuquerque will hold its Women’s March at Civic Plaza on Sunday. Speakers in Albuquerque include Rep. Deb Haaland and Albuquerque first lady Elizabeth Kistin Keller.
Few expect the same turnout as the first time, although New Mexico Women’s March Chairwoman Samia Assed said the enthusiasm and interest in the Albuquerque march have been high.
Nationally, participation has decreased over the years, partly over controversy that blew up last year over concerns that the four national chairwomen were steering the movement away from its original course of empowerment and inclusion and into anti-Semitism and homophobic interests – allegations the women denied. Several marches in major cities were canceled, and some sponsors and prominent supporters walked away.
Assed, a longtime Albuquerque activist who has been with the Women’s March from the start, said that the conflicts were disappointing but not damning and that the march is still vital, perhaps more than ever before.
“Every movement has growing pains, but one needs to step back and look at the bigger picture, the need to keep lifting up another sister and standing up against fascism and for democracy,” she said. “Sustaining the movement is so crucial. You don’t just march for one year and that’s it. We still have so much more to do to effect change. It’s exhausting work, but it has to be done.”
Last fall, three of the four national chairwomen stepped down. The board now consists of 16 members from diverse backgrounds and communities. Assed is one of the members.
This year’s theme is Women Rising, with a focus on climate change, immigration and reproductive rights. But Assed said participants bring their own reasons for marching.
“We always try to make it as inclusive as possible – from anti-war, homelessness, suicide, missing and murdered indigenous women,” she said. “We have everyone from the Raging Grannies to young people, every ethnicity, from politicians to the poorest.”
Of special significance in this election year is the march’s mission to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities. The movement has been credited with helping inspire the unprecedented number of women who ran for office during the midterms and won.
This year, politically active women are expected to play a key role in who wins or loses the presidential election and other, down-ballot races.
A renewed sense of empowerment and community is what Assed said she hopes participants walk away with.
Those sensible shoes have miles to go.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.