Hat Knitting, Poster Painting, Choir Singing: Independent Initiatives in the 2017 Women’s March
The feminist protest movement which has been gaining momentum since Trump's inauguration is a critical mass of independent initiatives, creativity, digital activism and a lot of rage. Guest post by Ma'ayan Alexander.
Guest post by: Ma'ayan Alexander
A day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, millions of women took to the streets, to town squares and to city centers all over the world, protesting the election of Trump as president.
They had about two months to organize and the results were moving and impressive: a massive showup, collaboration between groups and organizations, a complex production that went without violence or disturbance. Much of this organizing happened online: Facebook groups and Facebook Events started popping up a day or two after the elections. Calls to action were published on social channels and countless emails probably went back and forth. While the central march was happening in D.C., demonstrations were taking place all over the US and the world. The central website for the march was created at womensmarch.com and is still active, as a website for a social movement rather than a single event.
Here are the movement’s principles, as listed on the website: ending violence against women, women’s right over their own bodies and freedom of choice, LGBTQ rights, labor rights, human rights and civil rights, the rights of people with disabilities and environmental justice. The website also lists partner organizations and funders – this should be a great example for organizations worldwide. That includes Israel, especially when one is endeavoring to grow a protest movement “that looks like a grassroots movement”. Be transparent about funding resources and who your supporters are.
Alongside major organizations’ marketing efforts, many independent initiatives sprang up. They all harness creativity and digital activism, starting discussions with large crowds. Here are three initiatives that stood out:
Pussy Hats, We The People posters and #icantkeepquiet Choir
The Pussy Hat Project: the pink knitted hats are starring in (almost) every photo from the march: in selfies and as a pink shade dominating photos that captured tens of thousands of demonstrators. The hats were initiated by two friends who are also knitting aficionados, Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman. With the goal of reclaiming the term “pussy” and connecting women across America, they published knitting and sewing guides on the project’s website and invited women to send their knitted pussy hats to other women. They also suggested dedicating the mailed hats to causes close to the knitter’s heart. In this way, women who knit could express themselves creatively and women who couldn’t/didn’t want to march were still able to participate in the protest. As the knitting pattern was so simple, variations quickly started popping up: in pattern, color and materials. Knitting patterns were published on Ravelry, the social network for knitters, and hats were sold independently on Etsy.
The pussy hats, which started as an entirely independent initiative, became the march’s visual branding element. Hundreds of thousands of women and men wore hats to the march. Photos from this march will be clearly identifiable, and it will be impossible to confuse or switch them with photos from other events.
We The People protest posters: Shepard Fairey rose to prominence as the artist who created the Hope poster, which became Obama’s 2008 campaign symbol. In preparation of Trump’s inauguration and as part of a public campaign launched by Amplifier Foundation, Fairey created 3 new posters of American women: a Muslim Arab, a woman of color and a woman from the South American community. 23 artists took part in the campaign, which was supported by crowd funding. The posters were published for free none-commercial use, inviting people to print share and distribute them on inauguration day, during the march and of course on social channels.
Creating the posters was also a means of expression for artists. The crowd funding and support from the foundation ensured fair reward for the artists’ professional work. Distribution through a free license helped make the posters go viral and turn them into another symbol of protest against Trump.
Protesters waved their own home-made posters in many of the marches. Some of them sported familiar slogans, some new and personal. Some were textual and some painted. Many of them were photographed and shared online, on social channels and news websites.
#icantkeepquiet Choir: MILCK is a Los-Angeles based singer songwriter. In the weeks before the march, she invited women planning to attend the D.C. march to join her choir and sing a song she had written (in collaboration with AG). The participants got singing roles, learned them at home, practiced remotely and met in Washington D.C. for the first time two days before the march. They sang it a capella in the march, wearing pussy hats. Thus, the song was transformed from personal to communal: a community of women singing and a community of listeners, in the event and on social media.
Call to Action and entering the physical public sphere
These three initiatives started out as a personal, independent creation, got shared and published on social channels and attained great publicity. The two things that contributed to their success are: personal call to action and moving from a virtual environment to a “real-world” sphere.
In each of the initiatives, the creators are calling others to some kind of action: knit, print, sing. Each of these initiatives allows for personal variations: knitting patters, ways to use a poster, singing with your own voice. These variations make it possible for people to connect to the action and create something new, bringing some of themselves into it.
But the greatest success has to do with the fact that the activity is taking place in the physical world, offline, outside of one’s computer, in the public, urban, global sphere. As did the women’s march – after much organizing and preparation online, it happened for real, in the physical world and gained a lot of press and public attention. Social change happens between people, citizens and governing institutions, in collaboration and long term planning – and not with a Like or Share online.
After the march and celebrating the great success, the website underwent some freshening up and now has a call to action: 10 actions for Trump’s first 100 days in office. The first action is reaching out to members of congress and the CTA includes guidelines. Other actions will be published over the next few days. Other calls to action can be found on websites of other organizations and initiatives, like My 100 Day Plans. These CTA’s also consist of opportunities for personal variation, room for creativity and taking the action offline into the “real world”.
The march was probably the largest demonstration ever to be held in Washington D.C. and it is estimated that marches throughout the world included between 2 to 4.8 million women and men. We can only assume how many new conversations and acquaintances were started there and how many future collaborations were planted in those marches. Maybe future United States presidents were among these participants. The first woman president and those who will follow.
Ma’ayan Alexander is an expert on utilizing internet and technology for social change and social programming in the digital sphere. Ma’ayan is a project manager, a consultant and a lecturer. “Internet, Technology and Social Change” is her blog, written in Hebrew.