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Marching Forward as a Movement

On Saturday, I joined hundreds of thousands of people in Washington, DC, to march for women’s rights, human rights, and to represent the strong resistance against the bigotry and disrespect of the new administration. I’ve participated in many marches before, but this one felt unique: the largest, most peaceful, most loving and fired up gathering I’ve ever experienced. The Women’s March was both a balm and an outlet for the fear and disillusionment of the recent months, and I hope just a warm-up for the organizing and resistance to come.

Even as we celebrate the solidarity of millions enacted around the globe, the insistent question that emerges is: What comes next? How do we maintain our energy and build on this momentum? How do we work together across lines of difference to confront the many issues that will demand our attention over the coming months and years?

I don’t have an answer yet. But my experience at the march gave me some hopeful images and symbols from which I’m taking guidance. The strongest memories I will take with me are those of my ten-year-old daughter marching, holding her hand-made sign high, leading chants with her friends. Their obvious pride and delight—as well as the future they represent—will give me a wellspring of energy for a long time to come. Those of us who are tired or frustrated need to allow those with optimism and strength to buoy us.

The other image that has stayed in my mind and sparked my imagination is this: a thin but strong chain, made of colored Rainbow Loom elastics, that one of my fellow marchers brought to keep our kids connected in the crush of the crowd. Like pre-schoolers, we each held onto the stretchy rope as we moved through throngs of people, and I was struck by the kindness of those around us, who stopped and let us pass by and commented on what a clever idea it was. They could have been annoyed by having to wait, but they were patient. And for our part, we navigated the crowd and assessed when we needed to stop and wait, or raise up our chain to let someone pass under it.

It occurs to me that the skills that went into this process—staying alert, staying connected, reading the people around us, sticking together while making space for others—are exactly those that we will need to function well as a movement going forward. We need to know when to tie our causes together, but to do so with flexibility; we need to know when to be patient and wait, and when it’s our moment to press through the crowd. The functioning of a mass gathering is much like the functioning of a movement—you need to work as one organism, with coordinated systems. If you don’t, people get trampled and hurt, literally and figuratively.

Though the Rainbow Loom chain went home with the friend who brought it, I’m keeping it symbolically close, carrying it with me into the days ahead, stretching from the Women’s March in DC into my daily life in Boston. What images are you taking with you from the marches? What story will you tell future generations about this historic moment?

As a scholar of women and social movements, I’ve drawn strength and inspiration from so many personal accounts of activism throughout history: letters and diaries from young people participating in Freedom Summer during the civil rights movement; from labor organizers around the country; from peace activists and suffragists. In today’s social media world, it’s harder to come by the more intimate, private reflections of people’s engagement in social change. At the Jewish Women’s Archive, we’re making sure that we capture history as it is unfolding in our own time, through our new collecting project #JWAmegaphone. We invite you to share your stories, reflections, and photos with us. Together, we’re all making history.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

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Judith Rosenbaum and daughter march on Washington
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JWA Executive Director Judith Rosenbaum, with her daughter, as they march with friends at the Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017.
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How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Marching Forward as a Movement ." 23 January 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 15, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/marching-forward-as-movement>.

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