Janet Martin was despondent and dejected after Donald Trump was elected president. She lost faith in the country, thinking she was alone in what she believed American values to be.
But then came the Women’s March. On Jan. 21, Martin dragged herself to the Mall and joined millions who protested around the world in a rebuke of the president on his first full day in the White House. It affirmed her belief that the progress she wanted for the country still was possible. It motivated her to get to work.
Martin, 58, a retired software engineer who had never been involved in activism, has attended community meetings and volunteered for Virginia political campaigns with the hope of turning the swing state blue.
Friday marks the six-month anniversary of a march hailed as giving birth to a new and reenergized feminist movement. While no Washington demonstration this year has matched the size of the Women’s March, organizers say they have sustained momentum in less visible ways. And people such as Martin have converted the spirit of the march into something more tangible through volunteering and activism.
Still, supporters will have to wait until the 2018 midterms to see whether their movement can translate into electoral victories.
“January made me think that I am not alone,” Martin said. “We were all marching with a purpose to prove that democracy is not dead in this country, that the country I believe in, in terms of progress, is still alive and intact.”
Bob Bland, one of the movement’s organizers, said that since the Women’s March, its leaders have morphed it into an advocacy organization with plans to become a nonprofit group. They have directed supporters to organize local “huddle” groups around the country to push progressive agendas in their own communities.
They also have staged demonstrations such as the “Day Without a Woman” strike in March and a protest earlier this month outside the National Rifle Association offices in suburban Washington.
The planning of January’s Women’s March exposed long-existing racial, socioeconomic and political rifts within the feminist movement. Bland said the focus of the Women’s March continues to be elevating women, particularly women of color, in politics and society, while training the next generation of activists.
“The immediate question we got after the march is, how do you take the moment and make it into something sustainable?” she said. “That takes time, and it takes tenacity, and over the last six months we have continued building together on an intersectional basis.”
People who say they were inspired by the march also have initiated actions of their own.
Jennifer Taub, a law professor who had the idea for the April 15 Tax March in Washington, credited the Women’s March for making her feel optimistic about the power of organized resistance. Stephanie Hansen, a Democrat who won a special election in February to become a Delaware state senator, noted a swell of support after the January protest.
The Women’s March kicked off a string of protests on the Mall during the Trump presidency, including the March for Science and March for Truth. The National Park Service says it processed 388 permits to host demonstrations on federal land between January and the end of June, a nearly 30 percent increase over the same period last year.
Bland said these actions, while unaffiliated with the Women’s March, are a boon for the movement they are working to build.
“These are ripple effects that are difficult to quantify, but you can absolutely feel it when you are on the ground and in organizing spaces,” she said. “We are inspiring women to seek social changes on their own terms.”
But even if the Women’s March helped to build a resistance to Trump and his policies, leaders face an uphill challenge in translating it into widespread electoral victories.
A Washington Post-ABC poll released Wednesday shows that Republicans hold an advantage in enthusiasm for the 2018 campaign cycle. Sixty-five percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents say they are certain to vote next year, compared with 57 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
The Women’s March also cannot claim any national legislative victories, particularly considering that Trump’s budget proposal aims to cut federal funds to Planned Parenthood. Bland said such victories take time and organizers are still laying a groundwork.
Dianne Fergusson, 72, attended a Women’s March in her home town of Oxford, Miss., and decided to start a local chapter of the League of Women Voters — a 100-year-old bipartisan group that often supports left-leaning positions and has seen a resurgence in the Trump era.
Emily’s List, an organization that encourages and supports women seeking elected offices, says thousands of women have contacted the group about running for office. In response, the organization launched a specialized campaign to help more women run at the local, state and national levels.
“The march and election galvanized me, and I wanted to do something positive,” said Fergusson, a retired English teacher. “We attempt to fight apathy, and I think apathy is the worst thing going on in our country.”
Over the next six months, Bland said, the Women’s March will continue work to motivate supporters to engage with their local community and to help eliminate an “us vs. them” mentality. Organizers also plan to host a national Women’s March conference in the fall.
“The best organizations are the ones that are working toward their own extinction,” she said. “We are not concentrating this as a lasting movement but as a lasting course to bringing women, particularly women of color, into this work and into the center of leadership.