Salena Zito: To be an effective protest, women's march needed a more coherent and truly inclusive message
Without that, even a massive event becomes a sideshow and a side story instead of an opportunity for change, she writes
Editor’s Note: Salena Zito is a CNN contributor and national political reporter for the Washington Examiner. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.
What do women really want?
It’s the age old question that came to a head once again on inaugural weekend when the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, massive rallies were held in Washington and other cities across the country and around the world.
Billed as the Women’s March on Washington it was somewhat diverse, but was mostly filled with white women, many middle aged, many part of the feminist movement from the ‘70s who brought their daughters and granddaughters, with a serious amount of them dressed in bright pink vagina costumes, or pussycat pink knit caps.
While everyone from the press to the President to the attendees obsessed about the sizes of the crowds, there was less attention paid to the serious, legitimate questions that still need to be answered, or at least addressed, in the aftermath of the march.
The message of the march was muddled, thorny and divisive. If this movement is to be successful where it counts, in local legislative races that eventually filter up to the federal level, there needs to be more cohesiveness and less exclusivity. The thing is, the movement has to decide what the movement is about, other than being against Trump.
Was it a fight for equity and reproductive rights? Or was it an excuse to express dissatisfaction with the results of the presidential election? The latter is a question many people asked on social media.
A Tweet by CBS News highlighting a speech from a former NAACP leader at the march featured a caption, “We will march on ‘til victory is won,” which prompted a strong reaction from Resilient Patriot (aka Michael Flynn Jr.):
“What victory? Women already have equal rights, and YES equal pay in this country. What MORE do you want? Free mani/pedis? #WomensMarch”
His tweet captured a hard truth: When it comes to reproductive rights, women’s rights have come a long way. So has equal pay. The ability to serve on the front line in the military is now a reality and our country came within a hair of electing a women president; as her supporters and the media point out regularly, she won the popular vote. Women, all told, are doing well in America, a fact obscured by the images and rhetoric from the march.
Access to abortions has few barriers, the same for contraception. In fact, on Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York’s health insurers will now be mandated to cover a woman’s initial three-month supply of contraception and then a supply for up to 12 months.
All “medically necessary abortion services” will also be covered by commercial health insurance policies without co-pays, coinsurance or deductibles.
When it comes to displeasure with the election results, iconic feminist Gloria Steinem didn’t even pretend to quell her sentiments. After speaking at the march, she told the press her message to President Trump was: “It was time for him to leave” the presidency, one day after being sworn in.
The march was also not inclusive. Feminists who were pro-life but supportive of social justice issues like gender equality and immigration rights were uninvited. Linda Sarsour, a Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American Muslim racial justice and civil-rights activist, told The New York Times, “If you want to come to the march you are coming with the understanding that you respect a woman’s right to choose.”
That statement potentially left out one in six pro-life women who supported Hillary Clinton, according a Pew Research survey.
It’s important to get to the deepest question: Why march at all? What drew people to this event? Was it because women truly felt that their feminist goals aren’t being addressed in culture, government and society?
Two women waiting for their delayed flight at Reagan National in Washington gently debated the ideals: a 46-year-old North Carolinian technology professional who was in the nation’s capital for the inauguration, and a 61-year-old Californian who was there for the Women’s March.
Their conversation was warm, curious and civil, but neither woman could reach a conclusion about what comes next.
The Californian, who works for a city government, admitted that in her workplace, she is paid the same amount as her male co-workers. “But that wasn’t always the case – neither was the right to get an abortion,” she said.
“Right,” said the high-tech professional. “You just made my point, it was the case, it isn’t anymore,” she said, adding that glass ceilings have opened up all across the nation, and that her daughter’s abilities to achieve anything they want were proof of that.
The government worker interrupted, saying, “But I am really worried that we might step backward under this president.”
The North Carolinian, who said she considers herself a feminist, said even as a Trump supporter she would never let that happen under her watch. “And I would have never voted for him if I ever believed that was the case,” she added before asking the government worker if marching was more about not liking Trump winning the election.
“Oh, it has everything to do with it,” she admitted. Then they both laughed.
The right to protest is as American as apple pie and baseball, but once the emotional high of the events are over, protesters, if rooted in true fundamental change, will then take their voice home and begin to get involved in grassroots local organizing around the issues they believe in. That type of change requires volunteerism and running for local office.
It’s not an impossible quest; the country is filled on a very local level with people who identified with the tea party movement.
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But protests need to have a core value, a single focus – not an “intersectionality.” To make true change, it cannot be just about ‘pussy’ hats and vagina costumes. Otherwise, you just become a sideshow and side story about people unhappy about election results.