the view

Turnout for women’s marches means uptick in political action, UB expert predicts

Scene from Women's March in St. Petersburg, Fla. Features sign that says Save the NEA

Kari Winter was expecting about 200 people to flock to downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, on Saturday for the city’s Women’s March. In the end, city police reported more than 20,000 marchers. Photo: Kari Winter

By RACHEL STERN

Published January 26, 2017

Kari Winter
“People thought having Hillary Clinton elected as president would incentivize women, but I think Trump winning is proving to be an even greater incentive.”
Kari Winter, director
Gender Institute

Kari Winter was expecting about 200 people to flock to downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, on Saturday for the city’s Women’s March.

But then, in the days leading up to the march, the emails started coming in. Winter, professor of transnational studies and director of the Gender Institute, started receiving emails from the march’s organizers saying about 11,000 people were expected to march. Then, another popped into her inbox, indicating 17,255 people. In the end, city police reported more than 20,000 marchers.

“Everybody was surprised by the amazing turnout,” Winter says. “There was such a happy atmosphere full of positive energy. Peaceful, collective action, as we saw all over the world on Saturday, transformed rage and despair into a fierce determination to fight for what is good, true and just.”

Right after Donald Trump won the election on Nov. 9, Winter bought a plane ticket to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Women’s March there. But as Saturday approached, she felt she would have a bigger impact locally, so she decided to attend the march in St. Petersburg, where she was vacationing with her husband, fellow UB professor Don Grinde, director of graduate studies in the Department of Transnational Studies.

Like marchers all over the world on Saturday, Winter says she and Grinde witnessed pink hats, T-shirts, flags and signs representing a vast array of issues — reproductive rights, climate change, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, health care and education, to name a few.

So after more than a million people took part in women’s marches all over the world, the question becomes: What now?

Winter, who has researched protest movements, says this is a historical moment.

“This is going to be the biggest movement the world has ever seen because when Trump says ‘America first,’ he evokes the far-right forces that are trying to push the world back to the forms of nationalism that led to incredibly catastrophic world wars,” she says. “There’s a reason we are seeing other parts of the world protesting, too.”

Winter thinks there will be an uptick in participation when it comes to school boards, city councils, mayoral races, and races for state legislatures and county commissions. This election, she says, will serve as sort of a wake-up call and will spark participation at every level.

“We cannot allow our fate to be determined by whatever individual ends up in the White House,” Winter says. “I believe a lot more women are going to come forward and put themselves up for elections at all levels. People thought having Hillary Clinton elected as president would incentivize women, but I think Trump winning is proving to be an even greater incentive.

“Trump has provided a really, really powerful, galvanizing force for political engagement among people who thought they had the luxury of being disengaged.”

That urgency, Winter says, is what everyone was seeing on Saturday — from Paris to Antarctica. She knows people who marched in Washington, Los Angeles, Seneca Falls, Boston and Buffalo.

And if you ask her, Saturday’s events signaled a powerful resurgence of a centuries-long movement.