November 9th 2016 marked the ballot drop heard round the world. For Americans living abroad, homesick took on a whole new meaning as a President who fought for justice, dignity and unity was replaced by a fear-mongering, divisive, truth-denying plutocrat. But on the heels of Brexit and other displays of nationalistic protectionism across Europe, the victory of vitriol wasn’t an affront to Americans alone – the world suddenly felt like a less safe space for anyone who believes in the power of diversity, the need for unity, and the imperative to protect our planet and each other.
On January 21st, Geneva hosted one of over 600 Women’s Marches for Dignity across the world, and the only one in Switzerland. The Genevateur marched alongside about 2000 global citizens and spoke to one of the event’s organizers, Karen Olson. A professional community organizer, Karen knows a thing or two about mobilizing warriors. The event was run by a force of volunteers and organizers in neon vests, as well as the energy of a crowd that’s been waiting for just such a display of hope and solidarity.
The story of the Women’s March started the moment U S election results were revealed. Teresa Shook of Hawaii, frustrated by the outcome, created a Facebook event of protest in Washington. The event went viral, making it clear that there was a need to heal and to organize. Shook was joined by Bob Bland, fashion designer and producer of the “Nasty Woman” branded tees in support of Planned Parenthood. Soon more women had joined the organizing committee, including Linda Sarsour (executive director of the Arab American Association of New York), Tamika Mallory (community organizer and activist), Carmen Perez (executive director of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice), and Vanessa Wruble (founder and editor of OkayAfrica). With a small but diverse leadership team of impassioned women, Women’s March was born. And it grew. Out horizontally. As news came of cabinet member choices, it grew faster, first across community organizers in the Divided United States, then crossing oceans to sister organizers around the world.
Karen describes the coalition of women and men of all ages she’s been working with over the past few months as a group of people who understand one another’s principles and values and who leveraged one other’s strengths and networks to make the January 21st marches happen in such a powerful way. But it’s only the beginning. Recognizing the need for activism, empowerment and energy in unity, the 198 coalitions in 80 countries that helped organize the Women’s Marches are examining the possibility of creating Women’s March Global, an NGO rooted in the idea of citizenship and the mantra “mobilize global, organize local.” Moving forward, Women’s March Global would serve as a resource in the coordination of future campaigns and action across the network of local coalitions as they identify and act upon 3 local policy priorities in their communities. These efforts would be marked by days of action for locally-relevant causes. It started with mobilizing and now it’s all about organizing, making sure that the power of citizenship is used effectively and efficiently to bring about real action.
Geneva can sometimes feel like a disjointed community, so an initiative like Women’s March Global is a welcome way for Geneva’s global residents to come together to not only contribute to improving the local landscape, but also to feel part of the global fabric, connected through a commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion with principles rooted in human rights and environmental stewardship. The atmosphere around the march made it clear that our city is more than ready to band together. Here are some words from fellow marchers/nasty women:
For me, one of the hardest parts about being an American living abroad after this latest US election has been feeling so utterly helpless. The Geneva Women’s March was the first time since November 9th that I haven’t felt that way. It was great to be part of such a supportive (and big) crowd even on a freezing cold Saturday morning, and I was thrilled to hear that more events are planned for people to take action.
I liked it because it was about everything and everyone, not just about being a feminist. There were a lot of things being talked about in the crowd; about human rights, about Trump, about being black, about fear and hope and lots more.
I went because I believe in equal rights for women. Also, because I’m Mexican so I had to protest against Trump and all his insults against my country. But mainly, I wanted to protest against the rhetoric being heard in many countries fomenting hate, intolerance and violence.
If you didn’t make it to this march, more action is planned for the near future. Women’s March US has launched the 10 days/100 actions campaign. And Geneva’s local Women’s March organizers have created une association – called Women’s March Geneva – to assist them in their coordination of the January 21st march and of future events, campaigns and initiatives. This includes providing a forum for the growing number of Women’s March volunteers to gather and interact. Across Switzerland, marchers from Bern and Zurich are also meeting to discuss the creation of local organizing groups around their community priorities. The next day of action is scheduled for March 8th! Stay tuned and check out their Facebook page for updates and opportunities to contribute. We are so excited to have a group devoted to more active citizenship right here in Geneva.
(This article is cross-posted from The genevateur where it was first published)