Newsfeeds and television screens across the country are being inundated with images from the Women’s March on Washington and and its sister marches in cities across the country on January 21. While news sources largely frame the march as a victory for all women, they have neglected to do meaningful ground reporting on marcher’s reasons for attending, as well as conflicting opinions over the march itself.
The organizers of the Women’s March issued its mission and vision for the protest several weeks prior to January 21st, asserting that the march would be in defense of “the most marginalized among us,” who were targeted during this past election cycle. Among those includes Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault and communities who are hurting and scared, according to the mission statement.
While the mission never directly cites Trump or his administration, many cable news stations tended to assume that anti-Trump sentiment motivated the protests. CNN framed the marches as marches for women’s rights as well as a protest against Trump. Right-wing conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones has even dared to suggest that the Women’s March is merely a facade to suppress Trump support.
In many cases, news sources are mobilizing the assumption that the marches were anti-Trump in nature by comparing turnout at the various marches to attendance at Trump’s inauguration just the day before.
The fact that news networks preemptively made this assumption could suggest that newscasters were able to fill in the blank left in the mission statement that Trump was the perpetuator of harmful rhetoric towards minority groups. Alternatively, the assumption of anti-Trump sentiment could bolster right-wing perception of protesters as “sore losers” as was that case during protests following Trump’s election back in November.
The assumption is not a far stretch though, as the march’s mission, supporters, and speakers directly opposed specific elements of Trump’s controversial policy platforms. Speakers like Michael Moore did call out Donald Trump and members of his cabinet such as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos directly.
On the ground there seemed to be no singular unifying reason why women, men and gender nonconforming individuals turned out in such high numbers at marches across the country. The march seemed to be a place where various agendas were being advocated for alongside other interconnected issues.
And while many of the reasons that could be identified in speeches or signage were directly in conflict with the Trump administration’s stances regarding issues of healthcare, race, the criminal justice system and climate change, these social and political issues have been strongly advocated for prior to Trump’s election.
Framing the protests as inherently and solely anti-Trump is problematic in the sense that it gives the Trump administration and other hardline conservatives the grounds to perpetuate the narrative of activists and liberals as sore losers rather than champions of social and human rights causes.
Shallow and strategically positive news coverage of the march makes an argument for certain victory, and paints an image of unity amongst women. Though certainly true in some capacities, a sense of unity did not necessarily hold up on the ground.
There has been a multitude of responses to the march, ranging from those who felt is was a revolutionary symbol of unity and femme power, to those who felt it was a problematic but necessary step in women’s history, to those who felt is was solely a celebration of white feminism.
Many participants criticized efforts to promote intersectionality at the march. Intersectionality refers to interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, especially with regard to interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
“Intersectionality” was thrown out a lot by Women’s March speakers, but was it upheld in actuality? For many who attended, the march represented a microcosm of white feminism at large.
Despite varying experiences of intersectionality at the marches, news coverage did advertise a very white portrait of activism. Cable news stations and online media sources have been circulating videos of speeches made my Ashley Judd, Gloria Steinem and Scarlett Johansson, yet omitted the valuable speeches by women of color like Janet Mock, Angela Davis, or 6-year-old Sophie Cruz who gave a powerful speech about the power of love and courage in both English and Spanish.
This same prioritization of political speeches made by white women was noted at the recent Golden Globe awards ceremony. At the ceremony, Meryl Streep stole the show with her political speech, yet other women of color such as Viola Davis or Tracee Eliss Ross who also gave moving speeches were not nearly as publicized.
One of the greatest failures on reporting was a lack of coverage on the participation of singer and actress Janelle Monae and the Mothers of the Movement, a group of black mothers whose sons including Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, died at the hands of law enforcement. Monae had the mothers participate on stage in a interactive song called “Hell You Talmbout,” in which the audience acknowledged the lives and unjust deaths of black individuals.
The inclusion of these mothers in the performance was a powerful moment, and illustrated a meaningful intersection of motherhood and the importance of black lives. But somehow, this story has been infrequently discussed in the days following the march, highlighting a clear journalistic negligence regarding issues of race discussed at the march.
News prioritization of white speakers inherently reorganizes priority of speech content. White female speakers spoke predominantly about women’s reproductive rights and healthcare. While healthcare is one of the reigning threats to women nationally under the Trump administration, it is not the only cause at hand that constitutes a “woman’s issue,” and was not the only issue discussed at the march.
The lack of coverage on speeches by speakers of color meant that there was less coverage on issues that either disproportionately or only affect women of color and trans women, such as mass incarceration, hate crimes, and immigration policy. This biased news coverage ultimately misrepresented the national women’s agenda to audiences that does not fully reflect the demands and concerns of all minority groups.
News coverage has thus far fundamentally failed to confront the nitty gritty of the march: its motivations and its serious flaws. While from aerial views of whole cities covered in pink hats can be powerful and aptly moving, imagery and numbers about protests should not be prioritized over their content.
Day one of this administration turned out what is projected to be the largest protest in the nation’s history, and yet news coverage on the event has done little to fully investigate the concerns of those who felt to compelled to participate, and those who felt more could be done to make the experience all the more progressive.
Undoubtedly, the massive participation in the march says many things about the unity and progress of women and other minority groups, but more critical and invested journalism must occur to unpack grassroots organizing.