Thousands gathered in Charlotte on the morning of January 25th to participate in the city’s fourth annual Women’s United March. The event was first organized in 2017 as part of the worldwide Women’s March to protest the election of President Donald Trump. Since then, however, the Charlotte Women’s Movement (CWM), the group responsible for organizing the local march, has grown and broadened its advocacy, choosing to cut ties with the national Women’s March while continuing to fight for women’s issues.
“It’s become more than just a protest against [Donald Trump] and his presidency, or even of political parties. It’s become about women’s rights, women’s voices, and lifting women up — advocating for women.” said Laura Meier, the co-president of CWM.
Similar to other locally run Women’s Marches — including those in Rhode Island, Florida, Washington state, and Los Angeles — CWM decided to remove its affiliation with the National Women’s March, due to the anti-Semitic comments of some of its organizers.
“We could not be who we were and continue to be a part of that organization,” said Meier.
According to Meier, the march is now only one of many projects CWM organizes throughout the year. This past year, for instance, CWM worked to educate women about affordable housing issues with Habitat for Humanity ,and brought candidates in for a forum in conjunction with The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group that educates communities about public policy issues.
“There are so many organizations that do wonderful things in the Charlotte area […] and we partner with a lot of these other organizations to reach women as much as we can,” said Meier.
As for the march itself, CWM followed many of these same principles and provided different local and national organizations the opportunity to purchase booths to recruit volunteers for $100.
“It was a huge success. The organizations let us know they got pages and pages of volunteers [and] donations, and it was just fantastic.” said Meier.
Caroline Roddey ‘20, president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA) at Davidson College, used these booths to help recruit volunteers for both PPGA and NARAL Pro-Choice America, and found they helped provide a new purpose for the Women’s March.
“I think that the march itself is not on the same level and scale as it was when it was started in 2017,” Roddey said.“After the 2016 election, it was huge around the world, and a lot of people were really paying attention […] but at this point, to me, I don’t think that the march serves the same purpose. For me now, as someone who is really involved in volunteering and advocacy work, the march serves the purpose of gathering people who can work together on a lot of issues. I don’t see the march itself as forcing progress; I see the march as bringing people together.”
While the Women’s March is evolving every year, there is also a much greater history of women’s marches bringing about change.
“The idea of women being present as engaged citizens in public spaces is, in itself, a political act,” said Dr. Rose Stremlau, an assistant professor in the History Department and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Davidson.
“In the United States, since our inception, the idea that citizenship has been reserved predominantly for men was an idea that needed to be challenged and contested, and I think we still see that legacy today […] Women as political agents,[…] engaging as active citizens but also representing themselves as a collective force, has repeatedly been a powerful agent of change,” said Stremlau.
Pointing to movements in history like the Montgomery bus boycott, Stremlau argues that women’s marches ensured the demand for women’s rights was at the center of public debate.
“[Women in the early 20th century] very intentionally picked parades and marched publicly, and part of that was to show their collective strength, but also to place themselves in public spaces where they would have to be reckoned with […] both the message is powerful, but the act of gathering en masse is powerful in itself,” said Stremlau.
Lily Acton ‘20, the Davidson campus leader for NARAL Pro-Choice America, ran a table for NARAL at the event and also felt the power in a large group coming together for change. “The gathering of a bunch of people together, and listening to these speakers, and getting to engage with local organizations is productive, because it gives people the chance to know what’s going on in their communities and opportunities to get involved,” she said.
Similarly, Ben Sempowski ‘23, enjoyed attending the march and added the importance of men becoming allies to the movement. “It’s really important for women to go to the Women’s March and support other women, but I also think it’s […] important for men to go as well, just to be an ally and show that everyone is here fighting for women’s rights,” he said.
If students are interested in getting involved within the Charlotte Women’s Movement, Meier said to start by leaving a comment on their website about where they are interested in helping. The movement is always looking for more programs to work with.
“We’re open to all kinds of new programming, so volunteer, and if you have a program, bring it to us,” Meier said.