With the women’s march coming up this weekend in Calgary, I thought it worth taking a minute to share about another type of march I recently learned about.
On a recent visit to Buenos Aires, I became fascinated by the story of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. In the late 1970s and early 80s, Argentina was governed by a military dictatorship, which had a habit of arresting, torturing, and killing people who disagreed with the dictatorship. (Reminding me, as I said in a blog post after Christmas, that some people face much higher risks in disagreement than I have ever had to deal with.)
Sometimes, the government found it easiest to drop people out of planes into the river – a less messy way of doing murder, I guess. More than 30,000 people were “disappeared”; victims were often in their late teens or 20s. As a way of protesting – and begging for their children to be returned – mothers of some of these people began walking the plaza in front of the president’s building, holding photos of missing sons and daughters. Protests and gatherings of more than two people were illegal at the time, so the women walked in circles around the plaza and did not speak much to each other (i.e., not quite gathering or staging a protest). Partly as a result of their actions, international attention began to be directed more closely toward Argentina and its government.
Even after the military government fell and democratic elections resumed, the mothers never stopped. They continue to walk the plaza each week, wearing the white scarves that have become a standard way of identifying them. They’re still showing up to the plaza partly because they continue to search for their grandchildren (some of the detainees were pregnant or had small children at the time of arrest; these kids were often given to families of the dictatorship). In addition to wanting reunification with their grandchildren, some of the mothers have also become go-to sources for comment on current events and politics. The day I saw the women, there was an older lady with a lot to say: reporters, visitors, and members of the public crowded around her to listen and ask questions. Other madres stood respectfully beside her.
All of this seems fairly remarkable to me, but there’s one more thing that stands out: none of the women had been politically-involved before their children went missing. But when they came together and became active, they had an effect. I can’t help but wonder what might have been different if they or others had come together before people started falling out of planes into a river. Perhaps not coincidentally, I was told Argentinians these days are fairly quick to speak up when they feel the government is behaving inappropriately or unjustly.
A week after visiting Buenos Aires, I was in another part of Argentina and ended up having dinner with a guy from France. Partly because of what we’d seen in Argentina, and partly because of the current situation in France, we spoke at length about the willingness (or lack thereof) that exists in various countries when it comes to speaking out. We eventually agreed that perhaps the French are too quick to protest, and perhaps Canadians are too slow.
There are lots of reasons to participate in a women’s march – including, of course, for this year’s theme of ending violence against women. And it doesn’t have to be an act of protest, if that’s not your thing. Much like the madres in Buenos Aires today, it could be for reasons of solidarity or remembrance. So, while some people will equate the upcoming march to an event that began after the inauguration of a lying, ill-considered narcissist in the U.S., there are many other reasons to be involved – or at least supportive – of a gathering closer to home.
Maybe we don’t need to wait for the worst before exercising our voices about issues we care about, or exercising our ears in listening to one another.
7 thoughts on “Another kind of women’s march”
It’s a long bow to draw to equate Trump with the murderous military junta of Argentina. Not least as the Calgary march is, I hesitate to mention it for fear of staying the bleedin’ obvious, in neither country.
Also, I’d like to ask those planning to march, “on balance, do you think Calgary in 2019 is a better or worse place for women than 99.99% of cities in the world today and, supplemental question, anywhere in the world at any time in human history prior to say, 1950 (to pick a random date)?”
I would also like to ask those marchers what they are doing to reduce female genital mutilation everywhere (pretty sure it’s happened in Canadia), child marriages, rural poverty in Africa and Asia resulting in terrible choices for parents of girls, and gender-based abortion?
Lastly, for those who dislike Trump (and I can understand why), please explain how his lies are any different to those that resulted in drone strikes in 70+ countries under the previous administration and, of his *implemented* policies, which one is most egregious and why?
All of the above is written in good faith, by the way, genuinely not trying to troll.
Thanks for your comment, and your concern about several important issues.
I wasn’t trying to equate Trump and the dictatorship in Argentina. Nor was I trying to deny there are many important issues to be concerned about around the world. I was, however, trying to point out that it can be powerful when people decide to voice their views publicly (including as you have done here), and/or show support for one another.
So, while annual women’s marches have only existed (in Calgary) for the past two years, I appreciate what it might mean to see more people involved in this or other ways.
Thanks for taking my comment in good faith.
A word of advice to those living in working democracies; a good rule of thumb (ie not completely true all the time) is that, if you have to march, you’ve probably lost/don’t have your society with you.
Probably the last time a march was on the right side of history in a country that isn’t a dictatorship was Stonewall.
Finally, Pareto is our friend; ask yourself, of all thing issues to be marched against/for, is this the biggest bag for buck?
Come visit my place, there’s some good banter.
Thanks for such an excellent and erudite post, Kelli. Some very interesting points from William of O, too. There’s no doubt we’re extremely fortunate to live in such a relatively free and safe society. I suppose one could say however that the freedom to express opinions, including via protest marches, is an important part of that free society (and in response to W of O’s question, the Calgary Women’s March participants are probably hoping to have an impact on all the things you mention).
As for Mr. Trump, we could talk about him forever, but just for discussion’s sake, I’d suggest that his removal of several important environmental safety regulations would be his most egregious policy. One strangely positive result from the Trump presidency (and I find both his persona and his policies reprehensible in general) is that there has been a new awareness of the responsibilities of living in a democracy; specifically, we can’t afford to take it for granted, and anyone who is not participating in the political process is, I think, less entitled to criticize it.
Which brings us back to marching; if everyone followed William’s rule of thumb there would’ve been no Stonewall. Or March on Washington. Or Vietnam War protests. Or to give an example off the top of my head since Stonewall, the Love Canal activism. If society was with you, there’d be no need to protest.
Anyway, thanks to both of you for a thoughtful discussion!
Hi Cdr Guyn,
“….I’d suggest that his removal of several important environmental safety regulations would be his most egregious policy.”
If you are referring to the Parian Agreement, I’ll have to disagree. I’ve written about it at my place (follow the link and use the search function). It’s a legal Dutch cheese with lots of holes for the net recipients and none for the net contributors. Like many UN initiatives, it seems to be more about pursuing a political ideology than a quality discussion about outcomes.
But, if that’s the worst Trump has produced, it’s a million miles from the Godwin-esque rhetoric many have used.
Paris. Damn iPhone autobahn.