On Inauguration Day 2017, Women’s March organizers in just a few months pulled off what is considered to be the largest single-day protest event in U.S. history, with almost half a million people jamming the pre-COVID streets of Washington, D.C., while a total of up to five million protesters gathered in cities and towns across the U.S. that day to make loud and visible their passionate opposition to Donald Trump’s hateful agenda as he took office.
The idea of the Women’s March was born on Facebook the day after the 2016 election, when a woman living in Hawaii named Teresa Shook voiced her opinion that a pro-woman march was needed as a reaction to Trump’s victory. Soon veteran activists and organizers began planning a large-scale event scheduled for Jan. 21, 2017, the day after Inauguration Day.
In the intervening 3½ years, leadership of the organization has changed, but the movement has remained active, and is now planning marches all across the U.S. on Oct. 17 calling for Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, as well as opposition to his attempt to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs, deputy executive director of program at Women’s March. Here, she talks about the mission of the group, recent actions and why they’re marching again on Oct. 17.
TABITHA ST. BERNARD-JACOBS: Women’s March has been marching every year since then. We’ve had a march every January since 2017. We’ve also had incredible programming. This year alone we have a text banking program where Women’s March volunteers have sent and received over three million texts to women voters in key states to make sure they have everything they need to vote. In just two days last week, our volunteer texters sent over 700,000 texts to voters in key presidential swing states and states that are going to be the ones that will decide control of the Senate. Since we announced the march last week, we had 99,000 people pledge to vote and I think we’re up to 202 marches all across the country in 46 states. And that’s just literally in the past couple of months. So the work has continued on for the past couple of years and it’s brought us to this moment where we are right now, where women are leading into our power and realizing that this election is coming down to us. Women are going to be the ones to decide this election.
MELINDA TUHUS: Can men march?
TABITHA ST. BERNARD-JACOBS: Men can march. People of different gender identities can march. This is a movement that’s open to people who are aligned with freedom for women, so as long as you identify as a feminist, or even if you don’t and you just believe in the power of women, there’s space for you in this movement.
MELINDA TUHUS: Is there any significance to the date of the marches being Oct. 17?
TABITHA ST. BERNARD-JACOBS: We thought of a date that would be far enough into the future for people to be able to organize around, but also at a date where it’s really pivotal where some states will be having early voting, some states people can still register to vote, so different people across the country can activate whatever suits them best in their own location. We have 212 marches across the country, so we have small marches where people are gathering together in small groups. We’re a week and a half away from the march, whatever suits you best is fine. We just want people to get out in the streets, and even if people don’t feel safe getting out in the streets, we have virtual actions happening as well. We have text banking that will also be happening on the same day. So there are different ways people can take part. Whatever way suits them best, whatever way they’re most comfortable with. But the main point is for everyone to realize that this moment comes down to us and we have the power to make the kind of change we need in this country and we need everybody showing up in whatever way is best suited for them in this moment.
MELINDA TUHUS: The current occupant of the White House likes to talk about “suburban housewives” who are afraid of Black people and should come out to vote for him. What’s your pitch to women who aren’t activists and maybe even voted for Trump in 2016?
TABITHA ST. BERNARD-JACOBS: Well, I think the idea that the identity of a suburban housewife, if that’s the way he wants to phrase it, that she has one identity, is kind of ridiculous. I think the suburbs are getting more diverse; women are much more diverse than we’ve ever been.
And beating Donald Trump is going to come down to the power of women. I’m a mom. I have two small kids — my son is five, my daughter’s one. I’m speaking to people around me. I’m speaking to my neighbors. I’m speaking to my friends. It’s really going to come down to people power, to the power of women organizing in our local communities.
We have Sisterhood Sundays that we kicked off a couple weeks ago which is a program where we’re calling every woman who is part of our base, and we’re encouraging them to identify three other women in their lives that they’re going to be accountable with and they’re going to be supporting them in helping them come up with a voting plan. And then we’re providing support for them, so that as it comes closer to the actual election, we’re going to be checking in with them and asking them do you have a plan to vote? How can we support you in this? And that’s what it’s going to come down to — people supporting each other and having a voting plan and getting to the polls and to realize our power in this election. And it’s really going to come down to women.
MELINDA TUHUS: So the main focus of all these events on Oct. 17 is to emphasize the need to get out to vote, is that right?
TABITHA ST. BERNARD-JACOBS: So another key goal of the march is for the power of women to send a message, that we are the most powerful electoral force and we want to show that in a very strong way, that we will be the ones deciding the next Supreme Court justice. And we are strong in the belief that there should not be confirmation of the Supreme Court justice before the inauguration.
MELINDA TUHUS: I know a lot of groups are strategizing about what to do after the election if Trump won’t support a peaceful transition of power, should he lose. Is Women’s March engaged in any of those discussions or planning?
TABITHA ST. BERNARD-JACOBS: We have been involved in efforts around protecting the election and also in terms of what happens after the actual election, helping people know that it’s not just going to all come down to what happens on Election night, but it’s going to be what happens afterwards. So we’ve been involved in those efforts; we’ve been preparing our base to be prepared to safeguard themselves and be prepared for what happens afterwards.
For more information, visit the Women’s March at womensmarch.com.