Half Million, Including Unionists, March in Washington, D.C., for Women's Rights

“Show us what America looks like! This is what America looks like!”

With that chant – a variation on one that unionists first coined – and more, more than 500,000 people, including unionists from as far as Los Angeles, descended on Washington on Jan. 21 for a massive march for women’s rights.

And the unionists made their point about women’s rights clear, carrying signs declaring “Will strike if provoked!” The word “strike” was in white block letters inside a red box.

But women’s rights wasn’t the only cause espoused by the D.C. marchers of all sexes and genders. They were joined by marches in cities from New York to Chicago to Minneapolis to St. Louis to Cleveland to Los Angeles – and by busloads and planeloads of marchers who traveled to D.C. from New York, Chicago, L.A., Toronto, Boston, Portland, Ore., and more.

Campaigners for workers' rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants’ rights, freedom from police brutality against African-Americans, veterans who protested wars and Muslim-Americans protesting discrimination overwhelmed the Nation’s Capitol. Their numbers dwarfed the 100,000 people whom new Republican President Donald Trump drew the day before.

Support of the causes, groups and individuals whom Trump vilified and scorned was a big theme of many marchers. But the several thousand unionists at the D.C. march, led by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, emphasized a more positive attitude.  That attitude carries an edge, though, marked by the signs and statements.

“This is so inspiring, especially after yesterday” – Trump’s inaugural -- Shuler told Press Associates Union News Service before addressing the labor marchers in their own pre-march rally in a D.C. park.

“We’re here not only to march, but we’re here to build a movement,” Shuler told the crowd, via bullhorn. “It’s a movement for paid family leave. It’s a movement for equal rights. It’s a movement for workers’ rights. It’s a movement for immigrants’ rights.

“We’re going to march together and stand together in solidarity to make sure our voices are heard,” she declared.

Labor’s edgier message came from other participants and from its individual jacket stickers and signs. The back of the strike sign read: “Women union strong and ready to fight.”

The D.C. march drew members of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Teachers, the Steelworkers, the Office and Professional Employees, AFSCME District Council 24, the Mine Workers, the Food and Commercial Workers, IATSE, the Electrical Workers, the Professional and Technical Employees, Pride at Work and the Auto Workers, among others.

The marches in other big cities, including New York, London and Berlin, drew hundreds of thousands of people each. Some highlights included:

            • Some 100,000 people showed up in Los Angeles at 9 am Pacific Time – coincident with the height of the D.C. march, but two hours before L.A. labor’s protest was scheduled to kick off.  “We will not stand for hate and division,” the L.A. County Federation of Labor said.

“We want to be respected. We deserve an economy that works for all, a political system that is transparent and representative, an energy system that is sustainable for the long term, media which can be trusted to provide real and honest information, justice for oppressed communities, and a united society,” the Fed said. Crowd estimates ran up to 750,000 people.

• Some 250,000 people rallied in Chicago’s Grant Park, a crowd so large that organizers had to call off a planned march from there through the Loop – which didn’t stop thousands from doing so anyway. Reports said several hundred thousand also marched in New York.

The Chicago L added trains and cars to its daily service, while D.C.’s Metro system was overwhelmed by a million riders – so much so that officials threw open the gates in at least one station close to the march, Gallery Place. The farthest station, 30 miles out in the suburbs, had lines going up its escalators out to the surface and the length of its large parking lot.

            • Home Depot workers in the Twin Cities not only marched, but struck. Calling themselves the first workers to strike during the Trump administration, they walked out the morning of Jan. 21. The key causes were low pay and lack of respect for the mostly Latina workforce.  They pledged “a new resistance” to Trump and corporate capital.     

“Now is not the time to be scared or to stay home,” Veronica Mendez Moore, co-director of CTUL, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha/Center of Workers United in Struggle, told Barb Kucera of Workday Minnesota. “Now is the time to fight. Now is the time for the resistance.”

“This is about corporate power,” said Nick Faber, vice president of St. Paul Federation of Teachers Local 28, one of many union leaders to join the protest there. “When workers don’t earn enough, it’s difficult for them to play a role in their children’s education, he said, and the entire community suffers.”

            • The San Francisco protest for women’s rights and workers’ rights targeted Trump’s nominee as Labor Secretary, fast-food kingpin Andrew Puzder and his policies and actions. His Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains are known for their low wages, job safety violations and sexual harassment. The San Francisco protest started at a Carl’s Jr., then headed downtown.

"The person whose business we are outside of is the person who has been nominated as the Secretary of Labor. He hates the minimum wage, he hates labor unions and he hates the fact that workers actually have rights," Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, told local broadcasters. Some 300,000 marched there.

“We're going to fight for civil rights, we’re going to fight for women's rights, and we’re going to fight for the right to have representation in the workplace," Paulson added.

In D.C., individual participants anticipated a long and continuing battle for womens’ rights, workers’ rights and other causes, against Trump and the GOP.

“Trump would like to break the union system, so we’re standing strong to combat that for the next four years,” said Barbara Churchill, Treasurer of International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 868, located in the D.C. suburbs.

“I’m so excited to be here, amongst my sisters and brothers, standing for justice, not just justice for women, but for all human beings,” said Joan Hill, a Steelworker from Pittsburgh.

“Everything he stands for pushes us back 100 years. That’s ridiculous,” Yvonne Rojo of City of Commerce, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb, told Press Associates Union News. “Let them see the number of people,” added Rojo, an IBEW Local 11 member who flew into D.C. the day before. “I think this kind of speaks for itself – how many people didn’t vote him into office.”

“We want equality for all. Progress cannot be made and America will not be strong if half of us are held back,” said Maryse Crevecoeur, a United Federation of Teachers member from New York, who teaches at PS 6 in Brooklyn. UFT chartered three buses for its members. Its members sung labor’s anthem, Solidarity Forever, during the march.

Washington (D.C.) Teachers Union member Nancy Nickel, a second grade teacher, added that GOP policies would “hurt small kids in our public schools.”

Another marcher, a special education administrator from Pittsburgh, held a sign reading “I have an I.D.E.A.: Say ‘No’ to DeVos,” referring to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Trump’s nominee to head the Education Department, Michigan millionaire – and strident public school foe – Betsy DeVos.

“I’m not in the union,” the administrator, who declined to give her name, explained. “But I support them 100 percent, because with no unions, I have no teachers.”

“My students understand what unions have done. They’re the reason we don’t have another Triangle Shirtwaist fire,” said high school history teacher Anna Koloseike of Asheville, N.C., which she called “a blue spot in a red state.” The fire killed 146 working girls in New York City’s garment district in 1911, and led to building fire safety codes and other reforms.

“I came down to show solidarity with my sisters and brothers in the U.S.,” said Sandra Banman, a middle school teacher from Toronto and one member of four busloads of marchers who detoured from the main rally to show up in front of the Canadian Embassy.

“The fact that education is now being labeled elitist is crazy,” she added. “This is liberating. It forces us to be more democratic.”

Signs – especially the hand-made or home-made signs -- said much the same thing, for unions and against looming anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-immigrant Republican policies.

“Public education is a human right,” read one sign held by an UFT member.

“It’s the ‘U’ and ‘I’ in union that makes us strong,” the banner from the Carpenters’ local in D.C. added. “Equality hurts no one,” read another sign, carried by a Sheet Metal Worker.

“Trump: Racist, sexist, elitist, homophobic, xenophobic,” read a handmade sign by Dori Strickland, a communications professional, currently unemployed, from Chicago’s North Side. “I need a billboard, not just a sign,” she said. “There are too many problems” with Trump.

Eric Halter, of the Democratic Socialists, was one of several people sporting one-word signs: “Ugh!”

Many marchers made it clear they are campaigning not just for themselves, but for the future. Dozens pushed babies in strollers. Two 15-year-old high schoolers from Towson, Md., held signs that read “Beware! Next time I’ll be voting!” and “Dear World: We are not all idiots.”

And Rosie Poling of Naples, Fla., carried a sign that read: “Today I turn 18. Tomorrow, I work for equality.” Jan. 21 was her birthday.