St. John’s rally to protest Trump, right-wing populism

Jan. 21 event being held in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.

Update (Jan. 21, 2017, 9 a.m.) — The rally outside St. John’s City Hall has been cancelled and the event moved online, where the speakers slated to address the crowd will deliver their messages on Facebook

St. John’s residents will join hundreds of thousands of others across the United States, Canada and the world in a mass denunciation of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and the values he is bringing to the White House.

A demonstration outside St. John’s City Hall is being planned for Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States, as an act of solidarity with American women who will be directly impacted by the Trump administration’s policies and as a means to let it be known that “women’s rights are still important,” says one of the event’s organizers.

Caroline Clarke has never organized a protest, but after watching Trump rise to power despite running an openly misogynistic and racist campaign, coupled with revelations he has boasted about sexually assaulting women, she felt compelled to act.

“His ‘grabbing a woman by the pussy’ comment was particularly concerning,” she says, adding she feels Trump’s presidency will “set us back like 50 years” in the fight for women’s rights.

The Women’s March on Washington was planned in the days following the Nov. 8 presidential election in which Trump narrowly defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who would have been the United States’ first woman president.

Clarke said when she heard about the march she wished she could travel to Washington to join what is being heralded as the biggest mass protest for women’s rights since thousands of African American women and allies took to the streets of Philadelphia in 1997, and possibly the largest mobilization ever in response to a presidential inauguration.

But organizing an event in St. John’s was much more realistic, she said, so Clarke reached out to prominent St. John’s feminists Lynn Moore, a lawyer who works primarily in sexual abuse litigation, and author Elisabeth de Mariaffi. Together, with support from the St. John’s Status of Women Council, the three have coordinated a rally (not a march, due to potentially inclement weather this time of year) that appears to be slated to draw hundreds to the steps of City Hall.

“It might feel easy to write off what we’re watching in the States as ‘someone else’s country’ but what is really important is for women, and indeed for all of us, to see this moment as an opportunity to stop and address some real problems with gender equity here at home,” de Mariaffi told The Independent in an email interview.

Also about intersectionality

Clarke says like the March on Washington the St. John’s rally “goes beyond” the fight for women’s rights. “It’s also human rights. It’s for the LGBTQ community, for people with disabilities, for visible minorities — for everybody,” she explains.

Intersectionality has been a focal point and major topic of discussion for Jan. 21, when events will be held in an estimated 200 cities worldwide.

“Where past waves of feminism, led principally by white women, have focused predominantly on a few familiar concerns—equal pay, reproductive rights—this movement, led by a majority of women of color, aspires to be truly intersectional,” Julia Felsenthal wrote in a feature on the Women’s March on Washington for Vogue earlier this week.

Women are not a monolith, solely defined by gender; we are diverse, we represent half of [the United States], and any social justice movement—for the rights of immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, for law enforcement accountability, for gun control, for environmental justice—should count as a ‘women’s issue.'”

Democratic Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez struck a similar note in a recent interview with Democracy Now, arguing “when women are attacked, we all are attacked.

“And when women win, we all win—black women and Latina women and white women and Asian women, women from every color and every ethnicity marching together,” he explained.

Gutiérrez, a 25 year representative for Illinois’ fourth congressional district, said as a husband, father and grandfather he “cannot unhear” Trump’s comment about grabbing women’s genitalia, and that Trump’s efforts to downplay the comments as “locker room banter” contributes to the normalization of such language and violence against women.

Gutiérrez says he will boycott Trump’s inauguration and instead march alongside his wife Soraida Arocho in Washington the following day.

“For me to have to stand by and normalize those kinds of expressions [by attending the] inauguration is something I cannot do that,” he told Democracy Now. “I cannot look at my wife and my daughters and my grandson in the face if I were to stand at that inauguration.”

Legitimizing bad behaviour

Clarke also explains the St. John’s rally is about more than just Trump himself, and that she hopes the event will send a strong message to those—particularly conservative politicians in Canada and this province—who feel empowered by the billionaire president-elect’s antics.

“Trump coming into power has made a whole bunch of people vocal, people who we don’t really want to hear from,” she says, citing Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Kellie Leitch, Ontario judge Bernd Zabel, and N.L. Progressive Conservative MHA Steve Kent.

In November Leitch expressed enthusiasm over Trump’s election victory and echoed his anti-elitist messaging. In her bid for the Tory leadership the physician and Collingwood, Ont. MP has proposed screening immigrants and new Canadians to ensure they hold “Canadian values”. Previously, as a cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, Leitch introduced the controversial “barbaric cultural practices” tip-line.

Last October, after Leitch had announced her support for vetting new Canadians’ values, provincial PC MHA and former Deputy Premier Steve Kent publicly supported his reportedly longtime friend. Then, a week after Trump’s election win, Kent pulled that support while simultaneously downplaying controversy around a photo he posted of himself on social media wearing a Trump “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, Justice Bernd Zabel sparked controversy when he wore a “Make America Great Again” hat into a provincial courtroom in Hamilton the day after the U.S. election. He has since been banned for professional misconduct and will no longer be trying cases.

The rise of right-wing populism

Clarke worries that Trump’s election is part of the global rise of right-wing populism, and that it poses real threats to people—particularly members of marginalized communities—and civil liberties in Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“With Trump getting in…racists have been more vocal,” she says, explaining racism and xenophobia are legitimized in the minds of many when they see individuals in prominent and powerful positions espouse ideas that contribute to the fear or hatred of a particular group.

“We just want to show that rights and freedoms are still important in our community — and mostly we want to show our leaders that with the Conservative (Party of Canada) leadership election coming up: choose a good leader!

Earlier this week Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its annual review of human rights around the world. In his essay The Dangerous Rise of Populism: Global Attacks on Human Rights Values HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth says “[t]he appeal of the populists has grown with mounting public discontent over the status quo. In the West, many people feel left behind by technological change, the global economy, and growing inequality. Horrific incidents of terrorism generate apprehension and fear. Some are uneasy with societies that have become more ethnically, religiously and racially diverse. There is an increasing sense that governments and the elite ignore public concerns.”

Roth focuses on Trump’s “dangerous rhetoric” and calls the billionaire businessman’s successful campaign “a vivid illustration of this politics of intolerance.”

He concludes with a call to civil society, arguing “what is needed in the face of this global assault on human rights is a vigorous reaffirmation and defense of the basic values underpinning these rights.

“Civil society organizations, particularly groups that fight to uphold rights, need to protect civic space where it is threatened, build alliances across communities to show the common interest in human rights, and bridge North-South divides to join forces against autocrats who are clearly learning from each other.”

Clarke says the St. John’s rally will do just that.

St. John's lawyer and women's rights advocate Lynn Moore shares her #WhyIMarch sign. Facebook photo.
St. John’s lawyer and women’s rights advocate Lynn Moore shares her #WhyIMarch sign. Facebook photo.

“This demonstration is to show the opposite of what Trump stands for — it’s to show that this community still values tolerance and respect for all people in the community,” she explains. “It’s to show that we are committed to equality for all Canadians — women, people of colour, minorities, all religions, refugees, people with disabilities.”

de Mariaffi said the rally is timely in the local context and pointed to Newfoundland and Labrador having the highest per capita rate of domestic violence in Canada at a time when the provincial government is making policy decisions antithetical to assuring women in N.L. are safe and equal.

“The province wants to shut regional courthouses, so women in rural areas are left with very few resources — in some case, zero resources — when they need to leave a violent home or relationship,” she explained.

“N.L. also has the greatest gender wage gap — women here earn less compared to men than anywhere else in Canada. [The] cost of childcare in Newfoundland and Labrador is among the highest in the country — in fact, it’s second only to Toronto in terms of expense. Add to that the fact that we have far fewer regulated spaces than anywhere else, and far fewer subsidies, and you’re starting to get the picture.

“The Women’s March global effort is about solidarity with our friends in the USA, but in Canada it is just as much about holding our governments — and by that I mean federal, provincial, and municipal — responsible for the commitments they have made for women,” she said.

Sign Making PartySpeakers at the Jan. 21 event will include Moore, St. John’s Native Friendship Centre Cultural Support Worker and Indigenous rights advocate Amelia Reimer, and South Sudanese refugee Adieu Riak.

The rally is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. on the front steps of City Hall and will be moved indoors to the Foran Room in the event of inclement weather. In the meantime, those supporting the Women’s March on Washington and the St. John’s solidarity rally have launched a selfie campaign featuring (on the event’s Facebook page) pictures of supporters holding signs with the hashtag #WhyIMarch and an explanation of why they are attending the event.

The St. John’s Women’s Centre is also hosting a sign-making party on Jan. 19 from 7-9 p.m. at 170 Cashin Ave.

For more information visit the Women’s March on Washington — St. John’s Facebook event page.

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