Why marches shrink, and what now?

The first Women’s March took place on January 21, 2017. Attendance skyrocketed past the predicted numbers, and the movement became the biggest single-day march in history. On January 18, 2020, the fourth annual march took place, commemorating the 2017 march and taking another stand for women’s rights. The attendance this year was significantly lower. So how did the Women’s March, which describes itself as a march designed “to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities,” go from 4.6 million people to attendance in only the thousands four years later?

It was not just about the lack of publicity of the march, but for an abundance of political reasons. According to Elez Beresin-Scher, leader of Burke’s FemCo (Feminist Cooperative), the surge in attendance was perhaps due to getting further and further from Trump’s election, causing there to be less drive and motivation to participate in protests and other political movements.

Beresin-Scher also referred to many accusations of antisemitism within the organization’s administration and poor decisions these organizers have made, such as not inviting Black Lives Matter back to speak at the Women’s March in Los Angeles this year.

As we move further from the 2017 march, there seems to be more and more division and less and less motivation to create change. To address this shift, we must evaluate what drove the 4.6 million marchers to participate on that rainy day in January 2017. When interviewing various young marchers this year, they all mentioned being drawn toward the march due to the empowerment it provided, sparked by the collective helplessness and urgency to make drastic change; a feeling seemingly apparent nationwide. The March was accessible, providing a pedestal to make change for the people who are doubted the most: young people.

Since then, there has been a dramatic decline in attendance. But does this trend remain consistent within the teen population, such as Burke? To answer this question, students took part in an optional survey that asked them whether they participated in the 2017 Women’s March, following up with a question regarding their participation in the 2020 march. Out of 46 respondents, 63% attended the 2017 march, yet none attended the 2020 march.

The same reasons for the lack of attendance translate from America’s population to the Burke population, as many of their explanations for not attending the 2020 march cited the lack of publicity surrounding the march, the antisemitism controversy, and the common belief that marching is “trite and pointless.” Beresin-Scher also touched on this, noting that she doesn’t believe the Women’s March and its organizers have “achieved much change, which is what we need.”

If marching is pointless, what can be done? What does America need for an inclusive, equal future? This starts in our small communities, like Burke. As a school, Burke can continue to stand for things such as diversity and equality. However, they must do a better job of making sure this mission truly occurs throughout every single student and staff member’s experience.