Women’s March Vancouver: Breaking in the protest newbie

Photos and writing by Andrea Loewen
@andreaxuaxua
Is it just me, or did every single person go to the Women’s March? Well, okay, it may actually be the lovely Facebook bubble I live in full of people who care about the world, but still. This wasn’t just my circle of friends who carry military-style shoulder bags and wear denim vests covered in patches. This was everyone, including, joyously, some protest newbies.

On this special occasion I had the pleasure of initiating my inexperienced friends into the world of protests This put me in the important, self-appointed role of wizened guide into the world of dissent.

This is a big, scary time and almost anyone with a heart will rally behind the cause, so of my friends who I invited to join, most were already planning on attending, which could have been my first hint that they did not technically need me to guide them along. They were forewarned by me about all the standing around, the listening to speeches and yelling where appropriate, and the marching that is more like really slow walking because of the vast numbers of people crammed onto the streets.

Of course, the joy, beauty, and rage of protesting is more than all these things. It’s a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. At my first protest, back in 2001 when America declared war on Afghanistan, my friends and I piled into a car and drove out from Abbotsford to gather outside the downtown library and make a statement. The feeling was thrilling, not because anything particular exciting happened, but because we were a part of it. We stood there in our safety pinned sweaters and realized that we were, for the first time ever, physically putting our bodies on the line. Not in a dangerous way, it was peaceful as can be, but we were there, standing, shouting, and walking, physically demonstrating our dissent.

That’s the feeling you have to experience to understand. I expected my friends to lean heavily on me for wisdom and support during the nerve-wracking experience of joining a protest. They were going to need to meet up in advance, get both pumped AND prepped, and then hold my hand as we entered the fray. Of course, at the Women’s March, as with most protests, the “fray” was simply a group of passionate, friendly, outspoken people whose only desire is to stand and declare their solidarity with a cause. Not particularly terrifying.

Upon marching I realized that my friends are not babies (except the actual babies) and that protests are are welcome and easy spaces to join. Marching for your fundamental rights is not really hard, but just really important. I suddenly had to take myself down a peg or two in my mind.

Protesting is accessible to everyone and does not require a specialized skill set. Protesting any cause one believes in should be as easy as cheering, and moving through crowded terrain-it is an important and valuable right  for everyone to be able to exercise. Thank goodness for this.

The beautiful solidarity of men and women standing together was healing on my heart. Everyone there was different, with their own values and priorities, but we all shared one very important belief: that women (in all our intersecting identities) deserve at least as much autonomy over our lives and bodies as men. Of all the protests I’ve been to, this one felt different – more positive. Yes, we are angry and we want change, but the spirit was not aggressive. We marched because we need hope and unity.

It was made all the more special standing next to my friends on their first protest. I felt like we were joining in a new rite together: one of powerful allyship, with each other and women around the world.

Oh, and we can’t forget the taking and sharing of pictures. Use the hashtag!

I am not labouring under any illusions that this march is going to change laws or get Trump kicked out of office. Protesting is about declaring, “I am here, and I care!” Physical presence is paramount-it shows your community that you care enough to take time, travel (even just across town) and show up. Ultimately, though, this protest was about something far beyond our physical space. We needed to reach beyond our borders and show our American sisters, as well as those around the world, that we stood with them.

This protest began with a Facebook post from one woman, who said “I think we should march” after Trump won the election and then woke up the next morning to 10,000 responses. It was born on social media, and it lives on through social media.

The day of the march, and now several days after, my newsfeed was flooded with pictures from marches around the world. My friends and I spent inordinate amounts of time scrolling through our feeds, heartened by the knowledge that we did not stand alone.

Social media may take a lot of knocks, but in this case it helped fuel this march from one city to a global conversation, and brought me and my newbie friends along for the ride. #womensmarch

 

Andrea is a Vancouver-based writer, theatre producer and promoter, choreographer, and yoga instructor with a big dose of love for sci fi/fantasy, her cat, green tea, riding her bike no matter the weather, and using a robot to vacuum her floors so she doesn’t have to.  She covers dance for Vancouver Presents, as well as writing for her own blog, The Receptionist and co-producing and co-hosting the podcast Life, Right?