By Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, J.D.
Founder/President, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice
On Saturday, January 21, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. President, some 673 cities across the country and globe served as sites for an estimated two million women and others who marched in solidarity against Donald Trump and/or in favor of a set of policy values they considered to be threatened by Donald Trump’s presidency. The Women’s March on Washington has been called historic and was certainly politically notable in the range of communities and number of people participating. But what the historical or political significance of the event is and will be for the future depends in large part on political perspective and worldview.
The Women’s March Global specifically invited “individuals and organizations committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion and those who understand women’s rights as human rights to join our local coalitions of marchers in representing the rights and voices of progressive people around the world.” In this sense, the Women’s March was not so much about women in general but about women related to a progressive agenda.
The broader purpose of the Women’s March Global is “building and empowering a persistent global network that will organize future campaigns and actions in support of progressive values including women’s rights.” But it also notes that this is a “proactive international movement, not a U.S. election-specific protest per se, which has galvanized people to defend women’s rights and those of others in response to the rising rhetoric of the far-right populism around the world.”
This Women’s March was broader than women or women’s rights. The issues represented at these various marches ranged from abortion/reproductive rights to LGBT rights to workers’ rights to nuclear weapons to Brexit. As such, in this Women’s March, progressive women and others took a political stance on progressive issues, rather than women in general taking a stance on women’s issues. That might explain why many conservative women and women of faith, who are generally no less concerned about women’s rights, did not participate. It also explains why a women’s pro-life group was not allowed to participate in the March in Washington. While it is commendable that so many women, from so many parts of the world, joined together to raise voices and concerns about political issues, it is also notable that neither this Women’s March nor its organizers speak on behalf of women in general or women’s human rights more broadly but instead for progressive issues and against Donald Trump’s “non-progressive” agenda.
Women’s issues matter very much, but the intertwining of women’s issues with a range of others issues, can impact this Women’s March and its political impact in different ways. If your political perspective and worldview is progressive, this event is certainly a highlight of political action whether in response to President Trump’s election or related concerns. But if your political perspective and worldview represents other values, it is difficult to embrace some of the purpose but also some of the results of this march – which included not only a range of other issues but also a a segment of offensive and even vulgar representations of those issues (perhaps ironically given the backlash against the vulgarity of previous comments by Donald Trump and before he as a political candidate). Thus, while women’s issues matter significantly, so does worldview.
For most, if not all of my career, I have focused my work on international human rights – addressing a range of concerns worldwide and particularly centering on the impact of human rights of and abuses against women. Throughout my work, I have underscored the fact that human rights are inextricably linked to women’s rights as women are the central barometer to understanding the health and well-being of a people and a society. However, the lens I applied to this work was not only based on the international human rights treaty framework, but also my faith perspective as a woman. That God values all people and Jesus specifically valued women in a way that was radically different than the cultural and historical contexts, and that biblical principles guide our interactions, are essential parts of my worldview, especially as it relates to women’s rights.
I did not choose to participate in this weekend’s Women’s March in Washington or any of the other local marches that were part of the Women’s March Global. It is not because I don’t value myself and my rights as a woman or those of my “sisters,” and it also is not because I support Donald Trump, but because I am raising three children whose activities and events kept me committed to my family’s priorities. But even if I didn’t have my family commitments, I still would not have marched at this Women’s March simply because the some of the progressive agenda related to this particular event is not the focus of my political or worldview. That does not mean that I don’t applaud the many women and others who did participate and who exercised their political rights to do so, but it does mean that some aspects of this Women’s March did not represent my perspectives as a woman, citizen, or person of faith and likely do not represent the perspectives of others in our country.
In addition, while I did not support Donald Trump as a presidential candidate and have serious concerns for him as president, my political stance and worldview bring me to a different set of conclusions on how best to address these concerns. I respect the women who chose to march (and many of my dear friends were among them), and recognize that historically marches have made an impact on key policy issues and societal concerns. However, I personally think a march will not be effective in moving the agenda with a newly elected president. President Trump was legitimately elected by about half of the voters in this country. That half neither supports progressive perspectives or policies nor views Donald Trump from the same angle as those who are progressive. And, although the media tends to focus on the extremes that may be in the “far right”, the overwhelming number of the individuals who voted for Donald Trump are reasonable, educated, hard-working, patriotic, and many are God-fearing. They are not generally hateful against people who are different from them, nor opposed to women’s rights. But they do not share progressive ideas of how government should function and what the priorities are for governance. If Donald Trump is representing the perspectives of those who elected him, then it is unlikely that he would support progressive policies but it also doesn’t mean he is opposed to women’s rights. But immediately after the swearing in does not give us adequate time to know what his actions and policies may be and their related results. It is after we see those policies and results that we can take actions tailored to addressing related concerns.
The real impact of political action is not so much how many people take to the streets, but whether there is a policy agenda that is supported by the people in general and for the good of the country as a whole. When significant societal wrongs need to be made right, our democratically elected officials are a vehicle for us to make changes and speak into that process. That means we need to view our democratically elected officials as resources not as the “enemy” unless and until they play their roles in a way that is in opposition to the government’s constitutional structure or negatively affects the well-being of the people and country as whole. I can’t say that anyone, including Donald Trump, can demonstrate just by taking the oath of office that he is in opposition to our Constitution or our people. We need to give him a chance to work on behalf of all the people, and we need to hold him and his administration accountable in doing so. March if there is reason to do so, but better yet read, write, respond to our elected officials so they are informed and are aware of the concerns that affect us as women and as a people. And more so, do what is right and exemplary in our families and communities. That is where true change begins.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.