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Five years after the first Women's March, the fight for equality goes on

Crowd of people seen from above. The crowd fills the whole frame. Most of the people wear bright pink hats. Some hold signs.
Voice of America
View of the Women's March on Washington, D.C. which drew 470,000 people to the capital with millions more taking part around the world on January 21, 2017

The 2017 protest galvanized a new generation to become engaged in activism and politics.

On January 21, 2017, 2.6 million people worldwide took part in the Women’s March. Sister protests were held in all 50 states and 32 countries, including one in Kansas City.

Political scientist Candis Watts Smith was hesitant to attend the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. The professor at Duke University had seen the lineup of organizers which at first was all white and only after public outcry included women of color.

She says, “I had a sense that Black women and women of color were going to be on the sidelines. It is only with inclusion on the backside of more women of color as organizers did the issues that Black women and other women of color’s issues become central.” Smith ended up going to D.C. to survey Black women for an academic paper.

Emily Weber was in the crowd at the Kansas City’s Women’s March that year. Although Weber describes herself as “an activist since I could talk,” she had never thought to work on a political campaign.

In the whirlwind surrounding the march that year, Weber felt a push to become politically engaged. That led to her volunteering on campaigns and eventually becoming Missouri State Representative Emily Weber (D-Kansas City) in 2020.

This is not unusual. Prof. Smith points out that protests like the Women’s March can spur attendees into action. They help people make connections with like-minded activists and begin to articulate their values.

Prof. Smith notes that after the Women’s March, “Many people did take the inspiration, the guidance back to their state and local political arenas.” There they advocated for employment benefits, gun laws and reproductive health as Rep. Weber has done in the Missouri statehouse.

In 2017, the Women’s March was largely focused on issues important to white women. Since then, feminists have responded to criticism and broadened the spotlight to shine on women of color and other marginalized groups.

Rep. Weber remembers that there was not a lot of talk about Black Lives Matter and racial inequalities at that first march in Kansas City. She says, “As the five years have passed, especially this last year [with the murder of George Floyd], we’ve had more of these conversations about Black Lives Matter in Kansas City.”

The 2017 Women’s March and the 2020 Black Lives Matter are not in competition, the two built on each other to advance equal rights. Prof. Smith says, “They were attacking different parts of a larger set of systems of inequality.”

Five years after that first Women’s March, Rep. Weber says of her and her colleagues in the Missouri legislature, “We are trying to make sure that our voices are heard and women’s voices are heard.”

  • Professor Candis Watts Smith, associate professor of political science at Duke University
  • Emily Weber, (D-Kansas City) Missouri state representative
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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
Eleanor Nash is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. You can reach her at enash@kcur.org
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