Why Hundreds of Thousands Are Joining the Women's March Saturday

Organizer Linda Sarsour discusses how the march came together and its broad, intersectional platform

Women's March organizers say the upcoming action is not about Donald Trump, but rather about addressing the systemic inequities he highlights with every decision he makes. Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

A few weeks before the Women's March on Washington, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, two of the four national co-chairs of this weekend's planned demonstration, appeared on CNN Newsroom. "There are signs that [Donald Trump] is listening, right? He has nominated four women out of 23 positions to serve in his administration," said host Carol Costello. "Ivanka Trump supposedly is going to have this big role in the Trump administration, as far as promoting women's issues like child care. So does that give you hope that he is listening?"

This premise – that women, who represent 51 percent of the population, should be grateful for 17 percent representation in Trump's cabinet – gets to the heart of why hundreds of thousands of women and men are poised to descend on Washington, D.C., and cities around the world, in protest Saturday.

Those who plan to march are not grateful; they are not satisfied. They're rightfully insulted by the election of an unrepentant misogynist who's filling his administration with more of the same – and, to Costello's point, they're insulted that in August, when Trump was asked which women he'd invite to help him run the country, the single name he could come up with was his daughter's. Leaving aside the anti-nepotism laws Ivanka would violate by joining her father's administration (laws her husband may already be in violation of), many women also recognize that she's no hero to them, as evidenced by her woefully inadequate child care plan, which does particularly little to address the needs of low-income mothers.

What the organizers of the Women's March will tell you is that the upcoming action is not about Trump; it is about addressing the systemic inequities he highlights with every decision he makes.

The march, the organizers declared via an ambitious platform released last week, is for gender equality, racial equality, LGBTQIA equality, economic justice and reproductive freedom; for equal pay, paid family leave, labor protections, clean water and air and access to public lands; and for an end to violence against women, police brutality and racial profiling. If that seems like a lot, well, that's the point.

Sarsour, who serves as executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, tells Rolling Stone that the message the marchers want to send is that "from climate justice to racial justice to immigrant rights, reproductive rights, Native rights, we are united. We are committing to work together.

"We think that that hasn't happened in a very clear way in a long time – bringing all the movements together and ... saying, 'We are watching you. We are ready. We are fired up. And we're ready to fight back and protect our communities,'" she says.

Sarsour did on-air election-night commentary for a handful of networks, and recalls what that experience was like. "I was watching the results unfold as I was having to comment on them on national television," she says. "I remember having an interview with BBC, and I started crying on television because my kids were so devastated."

The next day, an invitation popped up in her Facebook newsfeed to the Million Woman March on Washington – an event created on election night by a retired grandmother in Hawaii named Teresa Shook. After it was shared on Pantsuit Nation, the popular Facebook group for Hillary Clinton supporters, some 200,000 people RSVPed, but Sarsour didn't know that when she left a note on the event's wall.

"I posted a comment on the page that said, 'This is a great effort. I hope that you are thinking of including Muslim women in Muslim communities. Thank you.' The comment went viral and people were very supportive," she says. And as interest in the event grew, so did the criticism, of the name – which many people felt co-opted the 1997 black women's march in Philadelphia – and of the fact that Shook and the first set of women she recruited to help were all white.

Shook ultimately handed the reigns over to a group of more experienced activists, including Sarsour, Perez, Bob Bland and Tamika Mallory, who helped organize the 50th anniversary of the original March on Washington. Since then, there's been a fair amount of attention paid to the infighting around the march, but that doesn't bother Sarsour much. Whether in Trump's cabinet or the women's march, representation matters, she says.

"When you're trying to inspire individuals across the country, you have to have a reflection that people can see themselves in. If you have a march that's entirely white women, or a march that maybe is entirely black women, it's going inspire those who look like them, which is fine. Our idea is that we want to inspire as diverse of a group of people as possible," Sarsour says. "We don't see inclusivity or the diversifying or the expansion of our national team as infighting. We see it as an intentional way to reflect the true diversity of our country."

To that end, the march's organizers have created a framework that's spawned, as of this writing, more than 600 sister marches around the world set to take place the same day. It's also drawn in hundreds of partner organizations, like Planned Parenthood, Amnesty International and the National Resources Defense Council, plus a long list of celebrity boosters and legendary activists including Gloria Steinem and Harry Belafonte as honorary co-chairs.

That's all while staying on top of the nitty-gritty details necessary to realize Shook's ultimate vision – everything from where the buses will park to where attendees will pee. "Keeping 200,000 people safe, making sure we have amenities like ... handicap-accessible port-a-potties, enough security, having jumbotrons to ensure that as far back as you are from the stage that you can actually engage and hear the program. Having sign-language interpreters so that march is as accessible as possible – these things are expensive." 

But the measure of their success, Sarsour says, won't be the event logistics unfolding smoothly, and rather the people who attend taking the message back to their communities. "Our website has a list of tons of partners that people can go visit and figure out, what is your issue? Do you care about climate justice? Are you about women's rights and women's reproductive rights? Do you care about civil liberties and the Voting Rights Act?" Sarsour says. "There are so many opportunities for people to go back and be inspired and plug into their own community."

Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler, Scarlett Johansson and more to participate in sister marches to send message that "women's rights are human rights."