As hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the Women’s March on Washington Saturday to protest Donald Trump’s presidency, hundreds of thousands more took part in solidarity marches, rallies and other forms of protest across the United States, Canada and the world.
In St. John’s a winter storm forced organizers of a solidarity rally that was set to take place outside city hall to move the event online, where speakers delivered their messages to thousands on Facebook.
Following a land acknowledgement, event organizer and critically-acclaimed author Elisabeth de Mariaffi explained why it was important for people in this province to join women in Washington and around the world in protest.
“Today we’re here in solidarity with our friends and neighbours in the U.S.A., but we’re also here for a more important reason,” she said. “Today we’re here to send a strong message to our Canadian politicians [that] misogynist rhetoric, racist rhetoric, anti-Muslim rhetoric, anti-immigration rhetoric will not stand here. In Canada we will fight long and hard and loud because we believe that women’s rights are human rights.”
Trump rose to power on a wave of right-wing populism and a promise to “make America great again,” and despite overtly discriminatory statements about or toward marginalized communities, including women.
Lynn Moore, a St. John’s-based lawyer and activist and one of Saturday’s speakers, asked how the world arrived at a point where a person like Trump could be elected to one of the most powerful positions in the world.
“We got there because we live in a world that is sexist and racist and elitist, and a celebrity culture,” she continued. “We live in a world that honours whiteness, maleness, gender conformity. A world that honours abled-bodiedness and money and celebrity. And because this is our normal, we often don’t see it.
“We don’t see the sexism, the racism, the ableism, the transphobia, the homophobia, the hatred toward sex workers. But we come together today because we do see it, and because we want equality, equality of opportunity, safety from violence for everyone. We are so sick of violence.”
Amelia Reimer, a cultural support worker at the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre, spoke Saturday too, saying Trump’s “clear and consistent pattern of negative behaviour has given many spoken and unspoken permission to act out of anger, bigotry and fear” in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere in the world.
This behaviour will not be tolerated amongst our leaders here in Canada. — Amelia Reimer
“We need to be loud and clear: this behaviour will not be tolerated amongst our leaders here in Canada,” she said. “Racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and other such antagonistic and inhospitable ideals have no place in our modern world. We cannot just stand by and watch this happen.”
Reimer noted that even before his presidential campaign Trump “expressed repeated disdain for Indigenous Peoples and issues,” and that the possibility of his administration privatizing Native lands in the U.S. to facilitate oil development pose a serious threat to “irreplaceable, sacred cites and natural resources that will be destroyed forever.”
Reimer advocated for unity, inclusion and equality in the fight to protect the sacred.
“Like blades of sweetgrass, we are stronger when we are woven together than when we are torn apart,” she said.
Aduei Riak, a South Sudanese-American refugee now living in Newfoundland, rounded out the event’s speakers, saying “solidarity among women across the world is one of the ways we can bring progressive, caring and humanist progress to our politics and society.
“We must avoid falling for angry populist backward forces that has the potential of bringing regression and not progress,” she continued. “I believe we are going to change things because we are fully armed with courage, love and the ability to organize ourselves.
“I know there is so much anxiety and confusion around the world, but there is also amazing opportunity to turn our fears into hope for the future. Like the women who helped me escape war and find education, we can make this world a hopeful place by showing it in our actions everyday.”
Progress and change cannot be a weekend affair. — Aduei Riak
Riak urged persistence, solidarity and action.
“Progress and change cannot be a weekend affair, so we need to take the energy from today back to our communities and the day-to-day,” she said. “More women need to show up at the voting booth, at party meetings and public gatherings. We need more women, and in particular young women, to get involved in local and federal politics. Linking our local action to the global movement is how solidarity between women can bring real change.”
de Mariaffi highlighted some deficiencies in provincial government policies, identifying inadequate healthcare, childcare and pay equity as some of the issues holding women back locally.
“We want women-centred health care, so that women in small communities in this province don’t have to leave their homes a whole month before they give birth because they don’t have the proper health care in their community,” she said.
“We want safe, reliable, affordable childcare so that we can build careers and raise healthy families too. What’s more, we want the entire dollar—not 75 cents, not 73 cents, and not 66 cents to every full dollar that a man makes, which is what we get here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
In Labrador more than a dozen women showed their solidarity by holding a group snowshoe and boil-up on the beach in North West River, an area where women presently face significant challenges posed by the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
Organizer Jan Morrison told The Independent Saturday the event in North West River that while she’s “happy to protest Trump at the drop of a pink pussy hat, today wasn’t about him.
“With his dismissiveness of women, gays, and any other race than white, it seemed important to be publicly together with those who are inclusive and compassionate,” she explained. “As a psychotherapist with nearly 30 years in private practice, I don’t hold out any hope of changing the values of a narcissist. Speaking truth to power is a way to wake-up and stay awake when one feels like cocooning for four years.”
If we want to create a more just world we cannot do it with hate. We need hope, we need courage, we need love. — Lynn Moore
In her message Moore advocated for non-violent resistance and discouraged acting from a place of hatred.
“If we want to create a more just world we cannot do it with hate. We need hope, we need courage, we need love,” she said. “We can’t hate the racists, we can’t hate the new president, we can’t post mean things online when we see something horrible, not if we want those people to turn away from hatred.
“We can resist and we can make change, and we can raise our fists, but without hate. We can stand together in solidarity, we can raise our fists, but we can defy hatred and bigotry without violence, and we can eliminate poverty, and we can do it all without hate.”
de Mariaffi concluded the online protest by encouraging everyone to copy and paste a prepared letter to the five federal party leaders in Canada, urging them to create a national strategy to uphold existing human rights principles for women, to make the parties more accountable to women.
She also urged those who can afford it to donate “your time or your money…to a hard working women’s organization,” naming Planned Parenthood, the St. John’s Women Centre, and NL Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre as some of the organizations in need of greater support.