Over the weekend, protesters and activists gathered in Madrid’s Plaza de Isabel II for a Women’s Rally in solidarity with the Women’s March that took place in cities all over the world.
The original Women’s March, which took place on January 21st, 2017, was centered in Washington D.C., where nearly 500,000 people showed up a day after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. In New York City, where I was fortunate enough to be among the crowd last year, hundreds of thousands of people marched, in part to demonstrate against the new administration, but mostly, and more profoundly, to proclaim solidarity with one another. It was a remarkable moment.
I’ll admit, this year, as I saw the images from the anniversary marches on Saturday popping up all over social media, I was a little jealous and wistful for my time back in New York. There is much in the United States to be dismayed about these days, but the gathering and amplification of marginalized voices is a wonderful salve.
Here in Spain, the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement are not as prominent, for reasons both obvious (the March was organized, in large part, as a response to Donald Trump) and cultural (in a culture where physical touch is the norm, even among strangers, certain notions of sexual misconduct aren’t shared).
Madrid is fairly “liberal” by American standards. While unquestionably a Catholic city (with all the conflicting implications that would suggest), gay couples walk hand-in-hand most everywhere without a second thought and the younger population, at least, tends to express sympathy for refugees. There is also a large expat population here.
On Sunday, a day after the marches in the US, a Women’s March was held in the heart of Madrid. Billed as a “march,” it was, in fact, a rally, contained to the one plaza, with various speakers addressing the crowd of, perhaps, a couple thousand (my estimate is based purely on my view and no scientific analysis).
Speakers came up in pairs, with one person speaking in English and the other interpreting to Spanish (or vice versa). The speakers addressed various topics from many backgrounds, including poets and comedians, both women young and old, and even one man, a representative of the United States’ Democratic Party who was there to encourage Americans to register to vote and vote from abroad.
At times, chants would break out in the middle of the speeches, in pauses between interpretations. Usually those chants were in Spanish, sometimes in English. Mostly, though, the crowd expressed themselves with their signs, again, in a mix of both languages.
Even from a distance of 3,800 miles (or 6.100 kilometers for my Spaniards), there was one man who featured heavily on the signage and in the chants. Can you guess who?
In Spain, where U.S. President Trump is more a curiosity (“por que?”) than a direct or existential (or nuclear) threat, his outsized reputation in both the media and on social networks keeps him at the forefront of the conversation about equality, racism, and sexual misconduct. An abundance of signs with expressions like “Impeach Trump” suggest that most in the crowd were Americans making their voices heard from abroad (it’s yet to be seen if those same voices will vote this year).
Despite the tendency of America (and Americans) to take center stage, there were other issues on the minds of those gathered, as represented by some of the signs.
There were two or three different signs (in Spanish) regarding abortion laws in Ireland. I’ll admit my ignorance on the specifics (I didn’t ask her), but I am, of course, aware that Ireland is staunchly Catholic, and abortion rights are always a hotly contested issue.
The crowd was definitely heavily weighted towards Americans and English speakers, but plenty of Spanish women (and men) were in the mix. Like the marches in the United States, people came for different reasons and with individual purposes, but they were unified under a cause of furthering equality, challenging unjust systems, and holding those who abuse their power accountable.
Most broadly, they were there to show unity, as women, as feminists, as LGBT, as Spaniards and Americans, and as global citizens. And as the march in 2017 had been, being among the many impassioned and dedicated women at the rally in Madrid was invigorating and affirming. I was happy to be there, and grateful to be there with many of my friends.
For those who would question the purpose or efficacy of the marches, I have to ask, “Have you been paying attention?” The #MeToo movement was represented by Time’s Person of the Year selection of “The Silence Breakers” while 2017 was awash in conversation about sexual misconduct and assault. Now, in 2018, a record number of women are running for political office in the United States. It’s not a coincidence that last year began with a massive unification of women.
What lies ahead for this political movement and moment is uncertain, but it’s hard to imagine these voices suddenly going silent. If 2017 was the year women finally said, “Enough,” it seems pretty much inevitable 2018 is the year they say, “Now it’s my turn.”
From my vantage point, it’s clear they mean business.