Exuberant sign holders poured out of the crowded light rail train at Denver’s theater district station. When I say crowded, I mean Tokyo subway crowded. An estimated 100 to 200 thousand flocked to the Women’s March at Denver’s Civic Center the day after America inaugurated a new president, joining the voices of millions on every single continent, yes even Antarctica. The boisterous support of the president elect’s fans were in stark contrast to many voters who were gripped by feelings of anger, disbelief, and sadness, but the positivity and upbeat mood at the march was palpable. Seeing many of the same signs that protesters of the 60’s carried can raise some doubts that protests work and the voice of the people matters, but there have been clear indictors over the opening weeks of the new presidency that resistance doesn’t just trigger an infantile and ill-conceived Twitter rant, but it works. From rescuing refugees from immigration limbo in a terrifying airport ordeal, to getting businesses to distance themselves from the current administration, it’s working. If the turnout to the marches and protests of the past few weeks is any indication, the women of today’s movement are here to do more than just roar and this sure isn’t your mama’s women’s movement.
The power of the women’s movement of the 60’s is nothing compared to the might that female market and cultural influence wields today. Until 1974 women had to have a man cosign for any credit application, regardless of income. Until 1978 a woman could be legally terminated from any job for becoming pregnant. Other than purchasing items for the household, few financial decisions were in her power. Voting with her wallet, whether it was a Gucci bag, or worn plastic folder stuffed with coupons, exerted very little influence. Yes, there is still an income gap, but not only are there more women in the workplace, there are more women business owners, and more women in executive positions than ever before. The power of the female spending dollar cannot be overstated.
Why are department stores, one by one, distancing themselves from brands associate with the White House? Because women weren’t supporting them. Why did the Uber CEO back out of the financial council after just a week of heat? Because Uber has been steadily losing market share to their, not nearly as well funded competitor, Lyft. Their slowed growth is due in part to their tone deaf response to women’s safety concerns dating back to 2014. Their misguided frat-bro culture cultivation and “boys will be boys” attitude resulted in their app being deleted from many female customers’ phones and Uber can ill afford to face the long-term ire of women riders again.
A focused campaign of voting with their collective wallets will have tremendous sway over the marketplace worldwide. It is estimated that women control 65% of global spending and as much as 80% of spending in the U.S. This probably isn’t what the right had in mind when they composed their oft repeated mantra, “Let the market decide”, but as weekends of protesting and marching turns into a business climate of holding companies accountable for financially supporting the trampling of civil rights by indirectly funding divisive and unfair policies and candidates, corporations will have no choice but to listen. Go to https://grabyourwallet.org/ for a growing list of companies with questionable ties.
Sifting through the sea of images from the Denver march there were several clever signs calling attention to a variety of valid and serious issues but two really cut into what embodies the collective mood as this administration steps into power. A sign reading “Our daughters are watching” was especially poignant, considering the outcry against the current administration from virtually every corner of the globe. Our sons and daughters, not just in this country, but around the world are watching how we react to this challenge to the social progress we’ve made over the past decades. They will witness what it means to our standing as the example of democracy other countries have been encourage to follow. They will watch us fight for what the very definition of being American means. What is it that we want these young eyes to see as we struggle to find our footing again? We can’t let the actions of the right become the recruiting materials of the hate groups of the future.
If our sons and daughters become angry years down the road because they remember saying, “We just want a fair shot”, and some sneered and said, “All you want is a hand out,” we have to make sure that they have predominant memories of many that offered a hand up. If someone tries to recruit them to do harm to this country, reminding them that they cried out for aid and sanctuary during times of war or natural disaster and some slammed the door in their faces and said, “We’re taking care of our own”, they’ll remember that they were heard, and offered assistance. If they are tempted to become bitter because unfair laws and sanctions were levied against people like them, and some said they weren’t welcome because of where their parents were born, or because of the religion they practiced, they’ll look back and recall that many embraced their differences and stood by them.
Another photo depicts what will be the seminal message of our path forward. It shows an Asian gentleman holding a sign that says, “We don’t want your discrimination.” Next to him someone is holding one that says, “We all belong here and we will defend each other.” No matter where anyone fits in the broad spectrum of colors, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, or political affiliations that make up the American populous, disenfranchisement is likely the biggest fear and most widespread complaint of our society today. Some would argue that is how the current leaders got into power. A large segment of our population felt ignored and belittled and turned to a candidate with little affiliation with the current political establishment and promised to put them first. The details of what that would mean and how it would happen seemed to matter very little. This silver spoon, billionaire descended from his gilded penthouse cast himself as a man of the people. He did it sometimes by stoking fears and by sometimes bringing the socially unacceptable out of the woodwork and shining a bright spotlight on the festering wounds that most believed had healed decades ago, but were only driven into the shadows of political correctness, and begrudgingly suppressed by stiffer anti-discrimination laws.
Dr. King taught us that it’s impossible to have any influential power over those who can feel your contempt. It’s impossible not to feel contempt for the variety of discriminatory policies and various unqualified, anti-equality, and anti-diversity government appointees that have been recently put forth. Our only recourse is to resist when we can, and fight when we must. But especially for the next two years when the Republicans have control over both the house and senate, we are going to have to be our brother’s keepers.
We may not be able to coerce the government to do what is right for all citizens of this country so our only recourse is not to try to persuade, but to neutralize and take matters into our own hands. In the days ahead there will be plenty to resist but we must change the battle cry of this movement from resist to assist. Assist organizations that help, assist allies in local and federal government, and assist those in need around the world and around the corner. The silver lining to any dark clouds that amass in the days ahead will be a newly solidified and well informed citizen base that will be more empowered and educated in the ways of effecting change. If the goal of the right is to stack the deck for the 1% we must ensure that they feel the power and hear the voices of the other 99% at every turn and every stroke of the pen that seeks to discriminate or do harm.
Lisa Burkhart is a photojournalist based out of Denver, Colorado. She largely covers travel related subjects as well as matters of social justice.