They came in cars, trains, and buses. Others biked or hitchhiked. Many wore pink “pussy hats” while flooding the streets of Washington DC.
On Saturday, January 21, 2017, hundreds of thousands of protesters descended onto the United States’ capital for the Women’s March on Washington. Across the world, more than fifty countries also participated in this human rights movement. The sea of protesters consisted of every age, color, and race. Women connected and complimented each other on their clever “I’ve seen better cabinets at Ikea” and “Grab America Back” signs. There was fist pumping about “sisterhood” alongside shouts and discussions about public education funding, immigration rights, climate change concerns, gun control, and Planned Parenthood funding. Women, men, and children optimistically stood together in solidarity, ready to be heard. 500,000 marched together, tired of relentlessly demanding for equality, and yet ready to fight even harder as a united front. Feminism was no longer a thing of the past, but a hopeful force for the future.
Among the half million protestors, stood Donna Carpenter and a group of her employees from Burton Snowboard. In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, the 53-year-old CEO and co-owner of Burton Snowboards detailed how she offered to pay for two nights in hotel rooms and subsidized flights up to $250 for anyone on her staff who wanted to walk in the historic Women’s March on Washington.
Carpenter has long been a supporter of gender equality and has made it a priority of hers and her company’s. She strongly believes there is a deep connection between a solid economy and a woman’s ability to contribute to that economy. Because of this, she wanted to ensure the Women’s March would be successful. Carpenter explained that she believed in order to make a drastic impact, “It’s all about numbers. What they need are numbers to make a point.”
In her company, the leadership positions are currently half occupied by women, a large increase from a decade prior in which it was less than ten percent. “When you address women’s issues, you address work life balance and quality of life . . . we can have an impact on our own workplaces if we double down on our efforts . . . going to the march felt like a natural extension of this philosophy so I’m going to put my money where my mouth is,” she said in the magazine interview.
It is truly amazing to see a CEO lead by example. Providing her employees with the opportunity to be a part of this march goes far beyond just protesting President Donald Trump or a free trip. Lending their bodies, being part of the half a million marching down the streets helped amplify the statement that women around the country were concerned, wouldn’t be silenced, and were ready to fight for their rights. It is easy to ignore the one person going against the mold, it is much harder to quiet the sea of roars and chants that was the Women’s March. Though each individual had his or her own reason for joining, there was a general recognition and celebration of the vibrant and diverse communities that make up the strength of our country. Each protester represented the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent racism, misogyny, and capitalist exploitation from rising again. Citizens marched together for the moral core of the nation. The size and participation in the march was a reminder of the resilience, the comfort, and the safety in numbers that allows for true freedom of speech.
Carpenter helped twenty-five of her employees take part in this historic event. It was so important for the Burton employees to have this opportunity, to gather with other citizens not only for numbers, but also to be inspired. It is near impossible to be amongst the masses, listening to the speeches, and marching with fellow Americans fighting for human rights, to not be uplifted to do more. Activists can use the energy from the march to continue the momentum and effect change in their own communities. Hopefully participants newer to the movement will join organizations and continue their advocacy. The surge of empowerment they felt in Washington, D.C. will reinvigorate the need to continue the fight.
The Women’s March of 2017 was just the beginning and there is no turning back. People are now starting to realize that this isn’t just a women’s thing, it is an everybody thing. A protester commented, “Women are multi-taskers… stubborn to the core when it comes to protecting their children and family. If the energy and momentum is harnessed into a women-led movement, it is unstoppable.” As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Many are skeptical that these advocates will continue to show up en masse. We can not simply celebrate the success of the Women’s March and hang up our pussy hats. The Trump administration is threatening to strip away our basic rights and we must remember how emboldened we felt that Saturday. For the sake of the nation, we must continue to rally, continue to make calls to Congress, and continue to be heard. As is the mission behind the Women’s March, together we stand and recognize that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.
Jung, Helin. The CEO of Burton Is Literally Paying for Employees to Go to the Women’s March. Cosmopolitan. January 19, 2017.