Why Musicians and Execs Are Marching Tomorrow: Making Something 'Constructive and Good' of an 'Unfathomable Presidency'

Janelle Monae photographed in New York City on Dec. 20, 2016.
Amy Sussman/Invision/AP

Janelle Monae photographed in New York City on Dec. 20, 2016.

While today’s presidential inauguration is turning out to be one of the smallest in recent memory -- with an estimated attendance of 800,000, it would be less than half the size of Obama’s first inauguration -- the Women’s March on Washington, slated to take place tomorrow, seems to be gaining starpower and momentum by the hour.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that six times as many buses have applied for parking permits on the day of the march as for the day of the inauguration. On Wednesday, it was announced that 16 musical acts -- including Janelle Monáe, Maxwell, Angelique Kidjo, Samantha Ronson, the Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter -- will perform as part of the march’s festivities. “Music has always been a powerful tool for galvanizing unity, and I believe that singing and standing together, our voices will be stronger than any force that tries to repress us," said Monáe in a press release.

The Women’s March is organized by a diverse group of female entrepreneurs and thought leaders and is sponsored by hundreds of socially and politically progressive organizations, including Planned Parenthood. It’s estimated that at 10 a.m. tomorrow, as many as 200,000 women, men and children from all backgrounds and corners of the country will convene at Independence Avenue SW and Third St., near the Capitol Building, before beginning their march toward the White House at 1:15pm. More than 600 “Sister Marches” have been organized around the globe.

Lily Claire Nussbaum, a Brooklyn-based musician and one of the events’ volunteer arts organizers, said that after Hillary Clinton lost the election, the march gave her something to look forward to. “I was feeling sort of shocked and helpless,” says Nussbaum.

She jumped into the march with both feet because, she says, she’s always looking for ways to move forward: “I’m not marching because of the ‘not my president’ angle; this march is about unity, equality, and about literally, physically standing together -- and saying that, while we accept the president, we are not going without a fight. We’re not just going to watch this happen. There’s this divisiveness -- we all feel it -- but there has to be a way around it. There has to be a way to say, 'Listen to us, we’ll listen to you, and even when we fundamentally disagree, there must be a way for us to live in this country together.'”

The march’s central message -- one of protecting human rights and demanding equality and healthcare for all -- seems to be sharpening in focus as entertainers and artists from across the industry are lending their powerful voices and physical presence to help underscore its goals. Celebs like Amy Schumer, Samantha Bee, Lena Dunham and Scarlett Johansson, and a dizzying list of fellow A-listers are openly backing the event and widely promoting it on social media.

“This is a march to show what this nation is actually made of,” said one of Olivia Wilde’s many recent Instagram posts rallying supporters. “We are not merely marching to oppose Trump and his twisted vision of what a ‘great’ America looks like, but to put our bodies on the line, and stand up for the values we are simply not willing to compromise.”

Singer/songwriter/activist Neko Case says that while she’s struggling to process the incoming administration, she is anticipating the sense of community the march presents. “To connect with people right now, and not just be doing things on social media, is kind of where humans need to be,” says Case. “At a certain point, you’ve got to gain hope and energy from other human beings, you can’t just click a button.”

Case feels that the role of the entertainment industry in advocating for social change is to broadcast a message that might not be getting through to the public at large when it comes from people in government positions: “We have the benefit of an audience that is already listening to us, and feels a solidarity with us. Sometimes people can relate to artists more than they can to politicians.”

Former Merge records co-founder and Superchunk bassist Laura Ballance says she’ll be attending the March both for catharsis (“I am so very upset about the election of Donald Trump, I mostly still can't believe that he is really going to be our President”) and to help advocate for the issues that matter most to her. Namely: “climate change, human rights, healthcare for everyone (this includes women), guns and nuclear proliferation.”

A growing number of democratic political leaders have opted out of today’s inaugural events, but many have committed to support or attend Saturday’s celebration. “Women’s voices are more important now than ever,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-D) tells Billboard. “We need women at the table as major decisions about the future of our country get made that will have a lasting impact for years to come. Women’s voices matter, what we do with our time matters, and Saturday’s march is an opportunity to be heard. I can’t wait to march and be part of this historic showing of strength, courage and determination.”

There is a positive charge in the energy surrounding the event, even for those who are going to great efforts to overcome logistical challenges to arrive in DC by Saturday morning. Non-partisan organizations, such as Atlantic Records Group and Condé Nast, are chartering buses to help employees participate. One artist tells the story of a friend who’s traveling to the march from upstate New York: “She says the seventy-something-year-old bus captain has been sending them texts, rallying the group and planning ahead for their safety. He’s like their camp counselor,” she laughs. “It’s awesome! Like, 'Thank you, Grandpa Feminist!'”

Nussbaum, who has a long history of political activism -- her first march was the Million Mom March to prevent gun violence on Mother’s Day, 2000 -- sees the Women’s March as both a gathering point and a launch pad for change. “There’s a staggering inequality in government for women and people of color," she explains. "We want to put a magnifying glass on it and encourage people to get involved.”

As for where she hopes to see our country go from here? “This march is the celebration of the beginning of something," she asserts. "This is the beginning of an unfathomable presidency, and we want something constructive and good to come out of it. We want to champion women and keep spirits strong. There are things to do.”

President Donald Trump Inauguration


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