Just 24 hours after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, students from the University of St Andrews made their voices heard at the Women’s March on Washington and other “sister” marches held around the United States and across the globe.
Numerous US media outlets have called the women’s marches held in Washington and cities and towns across the United States the largest series of political protests in American history. The US Consulate General on the historic Regent Terrace in Edinburgh was the site of the Edinburgh Women’s March, one of dozens held from London to Paris, Cape Town, Sydney, Seattle, and Los Angeles, among others.
Masters student Danielle Golds was one of many who attended the Edinburgh march on the doorstep of the US Consulate. Originally from New York, Ms Golds said that after watching Trump’s inauguration the day before, she felt that “she had to do something.”
Ms Golds said, “The day before when we were watching the inauguration, I was making my sign.”
At the march, Ms Golds encountered droves of people wearing the now iconic pink “pussy hats” that became symbolic of the Women’s March in Washington and elsewhere. The rally that followed outside the consulate featured speakers from the Scottish Green Party and other organisations opposed to the new administration.
The demonstrations also caught the attention of Scottish National Party Leader and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. The day of the marches, Ms Sturgeon tweeted that “the #WomensMarch pictures from around the world are truly inspiring. Let’s keep working for a better world for women and girls everywhere.”
Third year sustainable development student Emilie Kulesa, who is from the state of New York, attended the Edinburgh Women’s March. Prior to the 8 November presidential election, she worked on the committee of the Democrats Overseas of St Andrews Society.
Ms Kulesa said, “I felt that I needed to act. I’m very vocal on social media about my concerns about the new administration, but I needed to translate my frustrations into positive actions.
“I had a feeling that this was going to be something really special, and I wanted to be a part of it.” At the Edinburgh march, Ms Kulesa was struck by which groups of people had decided to brave the early morning city rush and join the rally.
She said, “What stands out to me about the March […] was seeing parents with children attending.”
Ms Kulesa was especially moved by a conversation she overheard between a family of American expats and their fellow marchers.
“I had a feeling that this was going to be something really special, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
“[The expats] wanted their young son and daughter to see how people around the world would fight for their rights and that their voice matters. That made me so hopeful for the future. Seeing people from all over the world, from the UK, the US, Australia, Germany, France, and all backgrounds, standing together to promote equality and respect made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” she said.
“The U.S. has always prided itself on its democracy and its inclusivity, and we need to hold true to these values. There has to be a dialogue, and we have to come up with real solutions and alternatives. This is more than just protest. It is about our desire to contribute and be the change we want to see.”
3,500 miles and an ocean away in the American capital, fourth-year history student Maria Reis gathered on the National Mall with hundreds of thousands of fellow protesters just hours before boarding a flight to the United Kingdom to start her last semester at University.
Although the logistics of attending the march just days before the start of the new semester were difficult, Ms Reis believed that exercising her First Amendment right to protest was critical to demonstrating that the new administration cannot have free reign to impose its agenda on the American people.
Ms Reis said that she wanted to “peacefully protest almost everything in the Trump-Pence agenda that has to do with civil rights, reproductive rights, and immigration.”
“With Congress [being] completely Republican and [Supreme Court Justice] Scalia’s place most likely being taken by a conservative, we have to be the checks and balances,” she said. “It’s up to us to contact our local senators and representatives; donate to environmental groups [and] Planned Parenthood; and peacefully protest.”
Fourth-year Elizabeth Stockton also attended the march.
“Participating in Saturday’s Women’s March in Washington, DC was awe-inspiring and motivating as many Americans struggle[d] to grapple with how we will fight for the values and ideals we believe in as the new administration comes to power,” Ms Stockton said. “Men and women marched for a variety of causes, from disability rights to criminal justice reform, but the energy to organise and make our voices heard was kinetic throughout downtown.”
Back in Scotland, Ms Golds reflected on her motivations for joining the Edinburgh Women’s March.
“It’s really not about me at all,” she said. “It’s really about these other women that I know are going to suffer much more than I ever would.
“I’m going to lose my health insurance probably […], but it’s not the same as women that aren’t going to be able to have birth control, not going to be able to get cancer treatment […] it affects all people.”
At the end of the march in Washington, Edinburgh, and cities across the globe, many protesters and political pundits alike asked the same question: now what?
Ms Reis sees the protests and the movement behind them as a powerful part of opposing a new administration that controls the White House and both chambers of the US Congress: the Senate and House of Representatives.
“Attending the march was definitely the first time that I was optimistic in a while. [I] felt like protesters can be the checks and balances that Congress won’t be,” Ms Reis said.
Ms Kulesa said that she wants people to stay involved as much as they can, adding, “I think that there is a history of support and action deteriorating after such successful turnouts, people think that the work is done but it has only just started. The Women’s March was an incredible occasion, but now we all have to do our part to ensure the concerns it raised are met.”
As for hopes for the future, Ms Golds concluded that she “want[s] to see people’s continued motivation to fight for what they believe in and what they think is right.”
“People need to stand up. If someone says something to you and you think it’s sexist or you don’t agree with it, you have to say something. If you don’t, you’re just part of the problem,” Ms Golds said.
Ms Kulesa has written and called all of her higher-level elected representatives.
She said, “I want people to stay interested, stay passionate, stay hopeful, and keep putting in the determined effort they did for the march.
Aside from the Women’s March, several other political protest movements have sprung up in response to the Trump administration’s recent moves to curtail US federal agencies, including the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, from receiving funding grants and releasing information on climate change via their social media and press offices.
“There are plans to hold a Scientist’s March in Washington in response to the media blackout on the EPA, USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture], and National Park Service and the purge of critical climate change info on government websites,” Ms Kulesa said. “I’d like to try to help organise a march here, or at least attend one. We have so many wonderful academics who are passionate about these issues and their voice would make a real difference. This presidency is not normal, and I think we need to keep reminding ourselves of this.”
Ms Kulesa came away from the Edinburgh Women’s March with a renewed sense of hope and a clear call to action for her fellow Americans and people around the world.
“I have so much faith that decency is still a trait people value. I think that while I’m so disappointed in the US for a number of reasons, I know that if we all make our voices heard, change can happen,” she said. “The atmosphere was incredible, like this was the start of something much bigger. I am proud that if my children ever ask me about it, I can say I took part.”
Ms Kulesa added, “Watching the international community come together also made me hopeful that the rest of the world will hold Trump accountable for his actions.”
Ms Kulesa is focused on a more hopeful future. She concluded that her main hope is that “there is a little boy or girl out there who watched the world stand for equality and is inspired to go out and change the world. If at least one person is given the courage to speak up and make a difference, then I think we succeeded.”