Experts: Women's March provides 'shot of adrenaline' for broader movement

  • The Women's March on Washington a year ago provided a sense of community and collectivity, says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "And I think that's just been building and building and building over the course of this year," she said.

    The Women's March on Washington a year ago provided a sense of community and collectivity, says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "And I think that's just been building and building and building over the course of this year," she said. Photo by Oliver Contreras for The Washington Post

 
 

Women who returned home after marching on Washington, D.C., and in cities across the country a year ago inevitably faced questions about momentum.

They had mobilized to join one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. But would they stay engaged? What political and social change would come of it?

"It energized women and made them feel like they weren't alone," said Debbie Walsh, who heads the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "It gave a sense of community and collectivity, and I think that's just been building and building and building over the course of this year."

So much so that some participants are responding to march organizers and speakers who urged them to seek elected office and leadership roles. Others have formed groups to stage their own protests and pressure local leaders. And after a year in which the #MeToo movement sparked national discussions about sexual harassment and gender inequality, some women say they're energized to march again Saturday.

"Women are looking for ways to voice their displeasure and to assert their rights and speak up," Walsh said. "It's really valuable and important in sustaining this movement for women to have a chance to come together collectively."

The march, she said, is "part of a whole, which is this motivation and mobilization of women."

She points to the surge in what the center calls "likely" women political candidates. Filing deadlines have passed in only two states -- Illinois and Texas -- but the center has identified 314 Democratic and 76 Republican women as potential U.S. House candidates based on a review of newspapers and other sources. For Senate races, the center projects 31 Democratic and 18 Republican women.

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Does that mean there's real potential for change?

Julie Webber, professor of politics and government at Illinois State University, notes women have to campaign harder against male counterparts to get elected -- a task made more difficult by incumbency, a lack of term limits and sexism.

"It's to the point for women institutionally where we can't not run because everything is pointing against you if you want to have kids and a career at the same time," she said, citing issues of affordable child-care and the gender wage gap. "Unless women run and get those issues into the state House and Senate, and Congress, there's never going to be any action. Women are usually the ones who sponsor these bills, write these bills and improve the lives of women overall."

Debbie Walsh
Debbie Walsh

Walsh initially urged caution when the center noticed more women signing up for its nonpartisan campaign training in New Jersey and partner "Ready to Run" programs in Illinois and other states in November 2016.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"When we were first starting to see this surge of women who were participating in campaign trainings, one of the things I would talk about was hoping that women would stay motivated, that this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint, that they had to be in it for the long haul if they wanted to see real social change," Walsh said.

But she's optimistic after Virginia's state legislative elections in November, when 30 percent of the women who challenged incumbents won.

Marches in Chicago and elsewhere will provide a "shot of adrenaline" to keep women motivated, Walsh said.

"I think the other piece is feeling that ... you want to send a message to the opinion leaders and to the elected officials around the country: We're here. We haven't gone away. We're running for office. We're marching in the streets. We're sending you postcards. We're writing you letters. We're calling your office. It all helps to build and maintain that momentum."

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