Why We March: 15 Women Leaders Offer Strategies to Advance the Movement

"If ever there was a time when we needed all hands on deck, it’s now."

02/01/2017 10:03 am ET | Updated Feb 01, 2017
Jenny Warburg

I am still energized from the experience of marching with thousands at the historic Women’s March in Washington, D.C. The organization I run, Feminist.com, was an official partner, and I marched along in my pussyhat with women from another partnering organization, The Representation Project. According to reports, over 3 million people gathered in cities and towns across the country and around the world, making the Women’s March the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history. And if you were at one of those locations, you could feel we were birthing something new with all our collective energy. There was a galvanizing force and feeling of solidarity between causes and organizations and an understanding that we will need to work together to protect each other’s rights and freedoms, including women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, civil rights, racial justice, immigrant rights, religious freedom, environmental justice and more. Now, more than ever, there is no question that intersectionality is integral to the success of this grassroots movement.

But how do we harness the energy and transformative power of the millions who marched in the U.S. and around the world to keep this movement going? As the events of the past weeks reveal, women must continue to lead and we must all come together to ensure that all of our rights are protected. We will need to continue to stand together for each other in the common cause of equality, freedom, and love.

Following the march, I decided to reach out to some of the prominent activists and leaders I know to get their thoughts and guidance on where to go from here. In their inspiring answers, you’ll find ways in which you can continue to take action every day and help shape this movement. As Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising, a speaker at the D.C. March told me, we need to “keep our marching shoes on.”

Jenny Warburg
Leaders of the Women’s March on Washington on stage.

In alphabetical order: Julie Burton, Tiffany Dufu, Kristin Rowe Finkbeiner, Jane Fonda, Alicia Garza, Kirsten Gillibrand, Pat Mitchell, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Ai-jen Poo, Amy Richards, Rhea Suh, Gloria Steinem, Susannah Wellford, Jamia Wilson, Teresa Younger

Where did you march and what were you marching for?

“I marched in Los Angeles. I learned afterwards there were between 600,000 and 750,000 people. It certainly felt that way. I marched and spoke to encourage people to never normalize or legitimize this man whom I choose to call ‘The Predator-in-Chief”; to go on the defense at the national level by blocking and disrupting every move he makes to take away our rights, our freedoms, our democracy, our protections. BUT on a local and statewide level we must go on the offense: fund, join and grow the community-based organizations that are critical to our lives and our democracy; help support more organizers at the community level; identify and groom fierce women to run for office. Every office is important—school board, city council, board of supervisors, state legislature. Taking back power at this level needs to happen with urgency.” —Jane Fonda, actress, author, activist, co-founder Women’s Media Center

“I marched in Washington, D.C., and I marched to register my opposition to this regime. I marched for domestic workers, for my mama, for me, for the children I hope to have, and for the world I believe we deserve.” —Alicia Garza, special projects director National Domestic Workers Alliance; Co-founder Black Lives Matter

“I marched because women’s voices need to be heard in Washington. We still have only 20% of women in Congress. If women represented half of Congress, issues like access to birth control and paid family leave wouldn’t be up for debate, they would be forgone conclusions.” —Kirsten Gillibrand, New York State Senator, founder of Off the Sidelines

“I marched in Washington, D.C., with domestic workers, family caregivers and home care workers from around the country who believe in the promise of a multi-racial democracy where we all have a voice, jobs that allow us to take pride in our work and take care of our families, and a sense of belonging in this place we call home.”—Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, and Co-Founder of Make It Work

“I marched in Washington, D.C., and personally I was marching for my rights as an American citizen who fears that current administration will prioritize the few at the expense of the many. I was also marching for those who can’t—being vocal in the streets is a privilege that not everyone can access. I was also marching against Donald Trump and specifically the naivete and grandiosity he seems to be bringing to Washington.” —Amy Richards, author, activist, co-founder Soapbox Inc.

“I marched in Washington, D.C. where I was honored to also be a speaker. But, to be clear, the over 600 Women’s Marches were just the starting line. We’re still marching. We’re still marching because the unfair treatment of any one of us hurts us all. Because silence in the face of injustice is not an option. Because our freedoms are intertwined. And we’re still marching because democracy and justice aren’t about one day, one person, one march day, or one election. The arc of justice bends only when we act. So we march.” —Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director/CEO & Co-Founder of MomsRising.org

“I marched on the nation’s capitol for respect and decency, and equality and justice for all.” —Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, Founder and CEO of The Representation Project

“I was in Washington D.C., and this was the first time in my life at a march so big there was no room to march! I was a co-chair along with Harry Belafonte, Delores Huerta, LaDonna Harris and Angela Davis. If there is a name there you don’t know, do Google away. This was a group of veteran activists who were proud to be invited to speak by the hard-working and diverse collective of march organizers.

For myself, I was there to show that Donald Trump is not the president of the huge majority of Americans. Ten million of us voted for someone else, and many who voted for him were just voting against Washington in general, not for what Trump actually will do. He won because of the Electoral College, itself one of the many remnants of slavery, since it was only written into the Constitution at the insistence of slave states. He also came up through a sealed tube of inherited wealth, mass media and lies—for instance, praising himself and demonizing Hillary Clinton. That’s the bad and dangerous news. The good and unifying news is that the majority of people are unified against him, from our beliefs in human rights to environmental survival, from simple respectful behavior to truth-telling. And there were unprecedented marches in hundreds of cities on six continents.” —Gloria Steinem, writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Co-founder of Women’s Media Center

“I marched in our nation’s capital, amid a shining sea of people sharing solidarity and hope. I had the honor of speaking before hundreds of thousands who came out to defend our fundamental rights—and for NRDC that includes defending Americans’ rights to clean air, safe water and healthy communities. We are committed to standing up against polluters and their apologists who put profits before people.” —Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

“I marched in Washington, D.C., with my twin teenage sons, my mother, my sister and some of my oldest friends. It was one of the most moving days of my life. I was marching for women’s equity and to show that women are a powerful force that cannot be ignored. I was also marching for my sons. I think the key to creating a better world for them and for all of us is increasing women’s leadership and parity. I also wanted them to see how many men stood with us at the march and how ordinary people can take action to fight for what is right.” —Susannah Wellford, co-founder Running Start

“I marched in Washington, D.C. I marched for all those could not march. For the women and men who did not have the ability to travel to Washington, D.C., to have their voices heard. Those that are fighting every single day for a more equal society and for those who are systematically oppressed by our current social structure. I marched for the legacy of rights for women, the achievements that we have made toward equality and to ensure that my voice was heard—that we won’t go back.” —Teresa C. Younger, President & CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women

What will make the Women’s March more than just a march? How does this become the next big movement?

“Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.’ We have the power of the vote—we need to register those who did not vote and make sure they get to the polls next election day. We have the power of the ballot box—we need to recruit and support diverse, progressive women candidates to run for office at the local, state and federal levels. We have the power of our voices and the media—we need to call out ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ and make sure stories of diverse women’s lives, and the politics and policies that affect them, are not sidelined in the news. We have the power to organize opposition to the dangerous and regressive laws and regulations pledged by those now running our government. We have the power, and the hope, to hang in there for the long haul. Change does not happen overnight, but building trusted media platforms, strategic political and policy campaigns, diverse communities and leadership is the crucial work necessary now.” —Julie Burton, President, Women’s Media Center

“Just one week after the Women’s March, thousands of people descended on airports to protest the appalling executive order on immigration that unjustly targets Muslims. It’s already a movement.” —Tiffany Dufu, Author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, Chief Leadership Officer, Levo

“It MUST become a movement of movements. We activists have to get out of our silos and begin to work across race, gender and class. We have to become greater than the sum of our parts. It’s called intersectionality. It will mean developing a vision of a new way forward in which EVERYONE can see themselves reflected. This vision must be a unifying one and we must slide it into the Democratic party so that neo-liberals no longer control what is supposed to be the party of the people. We need to groom candidates at the grassroots who can move on to Congress, people who won’t take people of color for granted or ignore the working class because the candidates themselves will be women of color and working class. The left mustn’t ignore the working class or demonize those who voted for the ‘Predator-in-Chief’ because many of them will soon have buyer’s remorse and we must be ready with a credible new vision for them about how to create safe, healthy, sustainable jobs.” —Jane Fonda, actress, author, activist, co-founder Women’s Media Center

“The only thing that will make this march more than just a march is organizing, and doing so beyond the choir. If ever there was a time when we needed all hands on deck, it’s now. This is the time to make sure that everyone is connected to an effort of resistance. I’m not sure we need this march to become the next big movement, since there is already a movement that exists. But how this mobilization gets channeled into long-term power building is by each and every person refusing to accept the status quo, and by groups of people putting forward proposals for what we want to see instead—and then organizing people to support and fight for those alternatives.” —Alicia Garza, special projects director National Domestic Workers Alliance; Co-founder Black Lives Matter

“This march is just the beginning of a broad-based revival of the women’s movement. Whether we’re fighting for affordable healthcare, equal pay for equal work, affordable child care, and a more serious response to sexual assault, among many other issues that affect women. We all have to keep raising our voices about the issues that matter most to us.” —Kirsten Gillibrand, New York State Senator, founder of Off the Sidelines

“All the marches—from London to LA, NY to Park City and hundreds of cities and countries—sent a signal that there are millions of people committed to the ideals of freedom and of equality and to ensuring that the U.S. continue to be a global leader in protecting those rights for everyone. There will be many steps to follow as strategies are shaped across social justice organizations everywhere.” —Pat Mitchell, Former media executive, Current Chair, Sundance Board and Women’s Media Center, Curator, host TEDWomen

“I don’t think a march can become a movement, but a march —and this march in particular—can fuel an already present and often vibrant movement. The work to be done now has to be done at a more local level—we have to run for office, we have to create city and state laws that offer protections for those who might be missed with federal laws, we have to change our own behaviors and patterns, we have to look to companies for innovation.” —Amy Richards, author, activist, co-founder Soapbox Inc.

“At MomsRising, we’re already seeing that the Women’s March is more than just a march and is about more than a single day. Our evidence? People are getting increasingly engaged, raising their voices, making phone calls, meeting with elected leaders, sending in and signing onto letters, sharing their personal experiences with leaders, attending gatherings, organizing their communities, and so much more. While the glass ceiling didn’t shatter on election night, something else cracked open: a movement was born.” —Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director/CEO & Co-Founder of MomsRising.org

“We have to keep organizing and take the joy and inspiration and sense of community from the march forward with us as we set about improving the lives of women and under-represented people and communities. To be the biggest and most successful and inclusive movement, we also need to acknowledge and address the mistakes and shortfalls of the past. None of us can do this on our own. We are in this together and have to unite across gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation to achieve our goals. And that means that we need to center our work on advocating for the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized, so that we know we are truly including everyone under our umbrella.” —Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, Founder and CEO of The Representation Project

“It already is a mega-movement because it was a march composed of existing majority movements, plus new supporters due to outrage, contagion and the Internet. Most marches are about one movement or even one upcoming vote. This one covered everything from women’s reproductive freedom to immigrant and refugee rights, from naming racism to opposing sex trafficking and the Standing Rock Pipeline. Altogether, it was supporting a mega-democracy on this Spaceship Earth.” —Gloria Steinem, writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Co-founder of Women’s Media Center

“This wonderful march made clear the power of our democracy and its citizenry. One woman turned into one march turned into an entire movement, and that can make all the difference in the world. I have every confidence the profound and palpable energy I felt—and so many others felt in marches everywhere—is just the beginning. People left energized, they left united, and they left wanting to know how to do more. Some estimates suggest that 1 in 100 Americans took to the streets across our land to defend our rights. If just a fraction of those continue to engage in town halls, public meetings and calls to lawmakers, that’s a momentous shift in civic engagement for this country. Our elected representatives will have no choice but to respond accordingly. And here’s the thing: that 1 in 100 is the number of people who engaged on Day 1 of Trump’s presidency. As his assault against our democratic rights—including our bedrock environmental safeguards—takes full effect, that number will only grow.” —Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

“The march clearly tapped into intense emotions for so many people. I think we need to find ways to harness the power we felt when we were all together. One way to do this is to look to the excellent groups already out there working on women’s empowerment. In addition to my group, Running Start, you should check out She Should Run, Emerge, the New American Leaders Project, the Women’s Campaign School at Yale, AAUW, Ignite, Higher Heights, All in Together and Representation 2020, to name a few of the excellent groups working to change the face of leadership in America.” —Susannah Wellford, co-founder Running Start

“We must sustain the momentum of the march and make sure that the resistance is strong and enlivened in every city, every state, and every continent. The Women’s March launched a 10 Actions in 100 Days campaign to keep up the fight on a local and national level. Many other organizations and citizens have created tools to help make direct action organizing, civic engagement, and storytelling more efficient and accessible like Swing Left , Civic Nation and 5 Calls. The march inspired a surge of local and national engagement including upcoming marches to protest attacks on immigrants and to promote climate change and fact-based science. If public reactions to threats to democracy that were made in the incoming president’s first week of office are indicative of the future, collective action will be a consistent part of our present and future.” —Jamia Wilson, Executive Director of Women, Action, and the Media, writer

“The Women’s Marches are just the beginning. Over the next four years, we must show up for ourselves and for others, on the federal level but also in cities and states around the country. This is about solidarity. If we’re going to build on the success of the march, we need to double down on our work and investment in our communities. We have already seen in the first week how critical investment in grassroots movements will be in securing and protecting progress toward equality but also the need for our movements to work together because this is more than a single movement. From reproductive health to economic justice and criminal justice to immigration rights and environmental advocacy, our solutions are all connected. If we fight together, we win together.” —Teresa C. Younger, President & CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women

What are some concrete actions that people can take and what do you plan to do to keep the momentum going?

“Four-hundred organizations were official Women’s March partners. Look at the list and find the groups and issues that inspire you. Join their lists, social media platforms and campaigns. The Women’s Media Center welcomes all Women’s March participants to join our WMC News Mailing List—we will send you weekly feminist news that you can use, written by, for, and about diverse women. Sign up here: buff.ly/2fPiiSu. Apply for the Women’s Media Center Progressive Women’s Voices 2017 leadership program. You can apply here: buff.ly/2ki0DI2 . Join our Social Media Community on Twitter @womensmediacntr and on Facebook.” —Julie Burton, President, Women’s Media Center

“There are many next steps: Join organizations like your local Urban League or Planned Parenthood, send women to VoteRunLead and Ready to Run to launch their own political campaigns, and get action reminders through Calls for Change. But the most important thing I encourage each of us to do is to keep marching.” —Tiffany Dufu, Author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, Chief Leadership Officer, Levo

“Several concrete actions that people can take right now include going to your favorite bookstore and reading up on a history you’re not familiar with or an experience that is not your own; calling your legislator and telling them exactly what you want and what you care about; or organizing a forum in your community to have your legislator hear what your concerns are and how you want them to show up for you in Congress (the more the merrier and the more likely that your representative will actually show up). What I am doing to keep the momentum going is creating space for women of color to share their experiences but also to run for local and state elected office, educating myself on issues I’m unfamiliar with, and creating space for innovative and bold organizing to occur.” —Alicia Garza, special projects director National Domestic Workers Alliance; Co-founder Black Lives Matter

“Call your representatives and Senators and make sure they support women’s rights, and if they aren’t clear about it, then support women candidates who do. Or better yet, get off the sidelines and run for office yourself!” —Kirsten Gillibrand, New York State Senator, founder of Off the Sidelines

“A balance of power in government—from city to state to national—is essential for a democracy and starting now to put forward candidates at every level (more women for sure) and supporting campaigns for every seat of influence and power for the next election cycle. And organizing the 89 million plus millennials to get engaged in this process and become the leaders we need them to be.” —Pat Mitchell, Former media executive, Current Chair, Sundance Board and Women’s Media Center, Curator, host TEDWomen

“Protests are happening every Tuesday, to demonstrate opposition to the Trump Administration and our solidarity with one another. Plan to join those actions. , and make a time to call your member of Congress every single day to express concern about the communities that are under siege by the Trump Administration. We will be organizing an #Unpresidential day of action and solidarity on President’s Day. Children and families around the country will be showing their unity with immigrant and Muslim communities on that day. For more information, visit We Belong Together.” —Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, and Co-Founder of Make It Work

“If everyone sets aside 5 seconds, 5 minutes, or even 5 hours a week, then mountains will move. Together, we are a powerful force wherever and however we march — and that includes marching from our home computers, from our phones while sitting on a bus on the way to work, or elsewhere. The most important thing: keep your marching shoes on. MomsRising invites you to sign on with us and we’ll bring you at least three high impact ways to #KeepMarching each week. In fact, here are three of the most urgent campaigns where your marching shoes are needed right this very second: 1- Protect Healthcare 2- Tell Your U.S. Senators NOT to Advance A Cabinet of Hate 3- Send A Statue of Liberty to Trump Towers.” —Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director/CEO & Co-Founder MomsRising.org

“First, we need to talk to each other and find common ground and cause. Then, it’s about picking something we can rally around and change. We’re more powerful than we realize. Together people create culture, and so we can recreate it.

With The Representation Project, we’re urging lawmakers to address women’s issues through our #RepresentHer campaign and calling out leaders who fall short with our #BeAModelMan campaign. Visit our website or follow the hashtags for instructions on how to get involved in advancing things like equal pay and paid family leave. And we’re not stopping there. We’ve created a collective of like-minded organizations to inspire and train more girls and women to become civically engaged and give them the language and tools to hold current leaders accountable. The end goal is getting more women in public office, and having more leaders who champion the issues that are most important to women and girls.”—Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, Founder and CEO of The Representation Project

“First, there are populist powers: how we treat each other, how we spend our money, how we vote, and how we speak to, object or support our political representatives, from School Board to the Senate. Then there are particular powers: how we use our knowledge, expertise, access and time.

In the first instance, we can make a lot of organic change by, say, listening as much as we speak (if we have more power than the people we’re with), and speaking as much as we listen (if we have less power than the people we’re with). We can tell each other our salaries at work, uncover unfairness, and strategize together on how to create fairness. We can devote a few hours each week to lobbying our representatives, from City Council to state legislature to Congress.

In the second instance, we can, say, download the app that tells us how to boycott everything benefitting Trump’s self-serving interests, or send some of our tax payment to Planned Parenthood and inform the IRS that you’ve done so, or conduct a Saturday University class where high school kids learn about government and activism, or withdraw our funds from any bank invested in the Standing Rock Pipeline that invades Indian Country and endangers the water supply. Or strengthen Black Lives Matter marches with at least as many white as black supporters… and the list goes on and on. Instead of looking up at Trump, look at each other. Instead of worrying about what you should do, just do whatever you can every day.

For a lot more ideas, from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on getting rid of banks too big to fail to George Lakoff on what the media can do, see the hot-off-the-presses book What We Do Now from Melville House.” —Gloria Steinem, writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Co-founder of Women’s Media Center

“People need to keep organizing. They should sign up to support groups like Gathering for Justice, Planned Parenthood, ACLU and NRDC, and start spreading the word and engaging friends and family in the conversation and community building. Our nation was created by the people, for the people and of the people. It’s never been more important than right now to fulfill our role, and duty, in maintaining our democracy. We must continue marching forward to a more perfect union.”—Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

“If we really want to fix so many of the issues that I saw reflected on signs at the Women’s March, we need more women in power at the highest levels. I am a big advocate of protesting, writing op-eds, and lobbying Congress, but I think we sometimes overlook the most direct way to influence policy: by becoming a policy maker. If we get more women into the corridors of power, we will have real muscle to make the country were equitable for all women. So I urge all women to get involved in politics and to consider running for office yourself so that by the time my sons are grown we won’t need to be marching in the streets for women’s rights.” —Susannah Wellford, co-founder Running Start

“In addition to calling and writing elected officials to make my voice heard, I plan to resist by refusing to normalize threats to democracy and human decency. I will intervene, document, and report bigotry, discrimination, and harassment in public spaces. I will continue to amplify diverse women and gender nonconforming people’s voices in the media. I commit to fighting for press freedom and bringing truth to light in an era of fake news and so-called ‘alternative facts.’ I also pledge to donate to my local abortion fund, Planned Parenthood and Groundswell Fund to ensure that safe, comprehensive, and accessible reproductive health care is available to all in need.” —Jamia Wilson, Executive Director of Women, Action, and the Media, writer

“We must all reassess how each of us is using our time, treasures and talents to support the issues most important to us. This means giving money and showing up! We all must recommit to standing up for the most vulnerable communities, listening closely to what they need, and offering our support. For philanthropy, that means ensuring that we are investing in grassroots organizations, centering marginalized communities—in particular women of color—and putting our money, time, and energy where our mouths are. With only 7% of philanthropic dollars being directed toward women and girls, there is nothing more impactful than ensuring that we are investing where it is needed the most.” —Teresa C. Younger, President & CEO Ms. Foundation for Women

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For more information on the Women’s March, you can sign up for their mailing list at their site, read about their Unity Principles, and take part in their latest campaign: 10 Actions for the First 100 Days.

Note: I received so many great responses from such a wide variety of women that the above is just a partial selection. For the full, unedited version of each person’s responses, click here.

Photos by Jenny Warburg.

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, CNN.com, AOL Build, the Women’s Media Center and The Huffington Post. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women’s website and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice and What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power. You can visit her website at www.marianneschnall.com.

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