Now that the Women’s March on Washington is over, women like 32-year-old Jacqueline Glass will determine whether it marked a historic one-day demonstration or the start of a widespread resistance to Donald Trump's presidency.
Glass was among the more than 2 million people who came out in a show of global protest — from Washington to Sydney, Australia. Now women’s groups and civil rights organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List, are scrambling to harness that energy by enlisting more supporters and encouraging women to run for local public office.
Glass, an African American who recently settled in Norfolk, Va., after retiring from the military, has felt off ever since the election, when her 10-year-old son woke up crying. “I don’t want him feeling like he’s in a place where he’s up against the world. This is America,” she said. “I was having these sinking feels about the world and really down for a period of time,” she said.
The feeling became so strong Glass took to Google, which led her to VoteRunLead, a New York nonprofit that grooms women for public office. She's now researching local commissions and boards in which to get active. “I’m taking these tiny steps toward an ultimate goal,” she said, which is to run for U.S. Senate.
There's early anecdotal evidence that some women are turning grief over the Election Day loss by Hillary Clinton into action. According to VoteRunLead, more than 2,300 women have signed up for training seminars in the past two months, a major increase. Planned Parenthood, which provides free health screening to poor women and is targeted by Republican leaders for funding cuts, is seeing hundreds of thousands of people signing up to volunteer and reach out to their members of Congress. EMILY's List, which works to elect pro-abortion-rights women, drew at least 500 women for a Sunday workshop in downtown Washington on running for office.
“This is the moment of the beginning of the revival of the women’s movement,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told the throng of demonstrators around the Capitol Saturday. “We don’t have equal pay for equal work in this country” or national paid family leave. “Until every woman and girl in this country has a chance to reach her God-given potential that America will not reach its full potential,” said Gillibrand, something that won’t happen until they're better represented in government.
Women are more than half of the U.S. population, yet they hold fewer than one in four seats in the nation’s state legislatures, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Running for office is just of many ways the event’s organizers are hoping women will take action.
Filmmaker Michael Moore gave the crowd a “to-do list,” including running for office and calling Congress on a daily basis to resist the Republican agenda. He urged marchers to turn their communities into “regions of resistance” to fight Republican policies and pass progressive laws on health care and anti-discrimination measures.
Recently, in Speaker Paul Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., 50 medical students in lab coats delivered a letter signed by 400 health care professionals to his office. Nearly 50% of the low-income counties served by Planned Parenthood have no alternative health-care provider. About 3% of its services are abortion-related, with the majority focused on providing contraception and screening for treating sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
Despite these bursts in activism, the same thing that made the march an overwhelming success — it drew half a million in Washington alone, or twice as many as expected — also makes it hard to measure its long-term impact.
Many of the women who streamed into Washington in buses, trains and planes are busy mothers, working professionals or older women who already fought the battle over women’s rights in the 1960s. “We won’t live long enough, most of us, to see the damage done by any Supreme Court appointees that are going to be made during the Trump administration,” said Marcelle Leahy, wife of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “This is such an important time. You’re all geared up and I want you to go home and keep on going,” she told a breakfast before the march.
Many marchers expressed interest in getting involved, but didn’t have concrete plans. Joan Treistman, who came from New York City to the march, was heading for lunch with her friend and daughter. It was her first time in public activism, and she left resolved to stay active. She said she planned to be in contact with her senators and local lawmakers as well as talk more with her friends about issues important to her. She had mixed emotions leaving the parade.
"It's the intersection of exhilaration being at the parade, and sadness that we have to be so vigilant" of government, she said.
Samantha Schindler and Samantha Woodman flew all the way from Seattle. On their flights they connected with a group of people who do community outreach and they've decided to join. Claire Wexler, a social worker from Baltimore, said she intends to keep donating to Planned Parenthood. She also left the march compelled to contact her local lawmakers on issues.
One of the most tangible impacts may be more women deciding to run for office. Women first began to run for office in the 1920s, after passage of the 19th Amendment granting the right to vote. Yet they weren’t truly successful until the modern women’s movement during the late 1960s and early 1970s, according to Susan J. Caroll’s The Book of the States.
Since the mid-1970s, women greatly increased their numbers in state government. Yet, progress has slowed in recent years, and nationwide statistics show little or no growth in the numbers of women serving in state-level offices since the turn of the century, according to Rutgers data.
This may be partly due to the increasingly polarized nature of politics, says Erin Vilardi, who founded VoteRunLead. “It doesn’t look like a place where you can get anything done, so that’s a turn off,” she said. Women also tend to undervalue their qualifications, she said. Yet, since the election, her group has been overwhelmed. “My cellphone rang for one week straight,” said Vilardi. “It was both in a sad way about not getting to the mountaintop, but also in a ‘it’s time for me’ way,” she said.
Trump is also the first U.S. president with no military or government experience. Women are realizing “I don’t need to hold myself to these ridiculous standards. The ship is sinking, I’ve gotta jump on board,” she said.
There’s many causes to latch on to. The Women’s March’s platform calls for equal rights for women but also racial and economic equality; anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans; access to affordable reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion; criminal justice reform; an increase in the federal minimum wage; immigration reform; and protections for the environment.
While the women who came to Washington cited broad concerns, a majority say it’s still better to be a man in America and sexism remains a problem, according to the first major survey on gender following the election. Trump’s Cabinet is 90% male and 90% white.
And, according to the poll by the nonpartisan research firm, Perry Undem, the biggest predictor of getting more politically involved — more than ideology, age, gender, race and geography — is negative feelings about Trump’s comments and past behavior toward women, including bragging about sexual assault.
“We always say that women run because they want to fix something or when they’re mad as hell,” said Muthoni Wambu Kraal, a senior director at EMILY's List. “Watch out for the one who is both.”
Contributing: Dustin Racioppi, The (Bergen) Record; Nicole Gaudiano and Eliza Collins, USA TODAY