Arts Community, Worldwide Crowds Unite for Women's March: 'The President Is Not America'

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Protesters gather outside the White House at the finish of the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.

After the Golden Globes, the country’s then-President elect dismissed “liberal movie people.” But based on the tenor of the Women’s March on Washington, the arts community is just getting started with Donald Trump and his threats to stifle the rights they hold dear.

“Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack,” America Ferrera, who chairs the Artist’s Table of artists committed to the mission of the Women’s March on Washington -- which includes music artists Neko Case, Cher, Grimes, Angelique Kidjo, Madonna, Matt and Kim, Katy Perry, KT Tunstall, TV on the Radio, Questlove and Zendaya -- told the crowd. “But the President is not America… And we are here to stay, Mr. Trump.”

Madonna delivered a spirited speech before her performance of “Express Yourself” and “Human Nature.” She dedicated the latter song to Trump. “It seems as though we had all slipped into a false sense of comfort -- that justice would prevail, and good would win in the end. Well, good did not win this election. But good will win in the end,” she said. “Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that this won’t change anything.” She then encouraged the crowd to “choose love.”

And indeed they did. The hundreds of thousands gathered in D.C. were a diverse, but peacefully unified force. There were nasty women and empathetic men, chants of “this is what democracy looks like” and “women’s rights are human rights,” and a sea of pink pussycat hats and signs that focused on reproductive rights but also spoke to immigrant rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change, that pesky issue of the border wall Trump wants to erect, and more. 

One woman’s sign read, “Trump keep your tiny hands out of my vagina," and another’s noted “#freeMelania.” A child atop her dad’s shoulders held a placard with the word “hate” X’d out in rainbow colors. Another sign, strung in a tree outside the Health Department, declared, “Roses are red. Trump gives me angina. Yes I know medical terms, despite my vagina.”

As momentum for the March on Washington swelled to include sister marches around the country and the world -- feminist trailblazer Gloria Steinem said from the stage there were 370 marches, taking place in every state and on six continents today. A crowd of 500,000 people was estimated in D.C. Its organizers set a broad platform ranging from reproductive freedom and gender equality to racial and LGBTQIA equality, economic justice, and ending violence against women, police brutality and racial profiling. 

It was a broad slate, and its ambition caused what had been billed as three hours of speakers before the 1.5-mile march to bulge to more than five. Chants of “let us march” began to echo, with one participant noting, “The bulk of the movement just dissipated because people didn’t want to wait around anymore.”

Nonetheless, the hours were palpably empowering, with new speakers bringing new adrenaline. If there was a theme to the orations from the stage, it was for those gathered to collect the energy of the day, go forward and get to work. “Make sure you introduce yourselves to each other and decide what we’re going to do tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow," Steinem said.

Janelle Monae and Alicia Keys were among the performers, with Keys assuring, "Let us continue to honor all that is beautiful about being feminine. We are mothers. We are caregivers. We are artists. We are activists. We are entrepreneurs, doctors, leaders of industry and technology. Our potential is unlimited. We rise!"

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards declared, “We’re not the problem. We’re the solution,” and documentarian Michael Moore, who opened his remarks energetically, noted, “OK, we got through day one!" and said, “The majority of Americans didn’t put Trump in the White House, and we’re here to represent them.” He implored the crowd to call Congress daily to voice concerns, and elicited a call and response with the audience to ensure they memorized the number (It’s 202-225-3121, for anyone interested). 

Artists across the country vowed to continue the charge. For Sarah McTaggert, lead singer of alt-pop band Transviolet, who participated in Los Angeles, the simultaneous marches send a powerful message to the government. 

“It’s important to show the administration we’re here in these numbers,” she told Billboard. “And if you start making good on your promises to take away our rights and continue the rhetoric you’ve started with degrading women, we are not going away. We’re here to remind [Trump] that what he’s doing is not OK, it’s not American.”

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