Aside from the large crowds at Saturday’s Women’s March in Washington D.C., perhaps the most memorable aspect of the event were the homemade signs carried by protestors. They contained a myriad of messages: slogans supporting well-known activist movements, jokes about the newly inaugurated President, and messages calling for unity and empowerment. But another subset of signage focused on concerns that President Trump, and those in his cabinet, would increase existing economic inequality, particularly for women.
“I am deeply concerned that Donald Trump is in a lot of ways threatening everything I hold dear in terms of civil rights, civil liberties, in terms of focusing on issues of economic inequality,” said Melanie DeSilva of Shutesbury, Massachusetts. She noted Trump’s pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his order to suspend the FHA mortgage interest rate cut—his first official order as president—as causes for concern, despite his pledge to help all Americans, particularly those struggling to find their financial footing.
“There’s no indication—besides his rhetoric—that he’s really interested in helping low-income people. He’s against raising the minimum wage which is something that is absolutely vital when it comes to dealing with income inequality. I think all indications are that people are going to get poorer under the Trump administration,” she told me.
The protestors I spoke with seemed unconvinced that Trump’s plans of cutting taxes for individuals and corporations would actually work as promised—resulting in more and better jobs that would help put more Americans to work and raise their wages. “How many times do we have to have an administration attempt trickle-down strategies? It doesn’t work,” DeSilva said.
She wasn’t alone in this assessment. “It hasn’t worked in the past—when taxes are cut nothing happens. The wealthy get wealthier and lower income people get hurt worse,” said Sarah Taber of Silver Spring, Maryland.
Taber’s friend, Emily Wrubel, who joined her from New Hampshire for the march, is also dubious that Trump’s economic platform will actually help. She’s especially concerned about his plans to halt and repeal federal initiatives to strengthen safety net programs in favor of state-specific laws.
“When they talk about handing things back to the state—I don’t live in a state that will do much for anybody,” Wrubel said.
Members of unions representing female-dominated industries including nursing, teaching, and domestic workers were also numerous. Bethany Clerico, a member of the United University Professions union—a group that represents faculty working in the State University of New York system—told me that she and her colleagues came to D.C. to, in part, speak up for women’s rights including equal pay.
“I work in a department full of women in a field where we are largely contingent, we don’t have secure jobs, we don’t have permanent contracts, and we are paid lower than anyone else at the University,” Clerico said. “So economic equality is a huge issue for us.”
But even as the many protestors gathered near the Washington Monument coalesced around calls for equality of all kinds, there were reminders of just how complex the task can actually be.
Keemi Ereme, who lives in the area, held up a sign saying, “My Feminism Is Intersectional.” I asked her about the concerns some women have voiced about the lack of solidarity and awareness about intersectionality when it comes to race, economic class, and gender identity, among other characteristics. “They have a good point,” Ereme told me. “First of all it takes money to get here—a lot of people work on Saturdays. It’s not a march that was as inclusive as it could be.”
But Ereme was optimistic that despite those flaws, there was still a way to help bridge the gap and include the voices and viewpoints of more women in Saturday’s protest and beyond.
“You advocate for a livable minimum wage, you advocate for a better working policies, for maternity leave for everybody,” she said. “Some of those things are sometimes pushed aside for things that only benefit a few.”