Before hundreds of thousands of women marched in Washington to protest for women's rights, women, men and children in "pussy hats" took over downtown Frankfurt. DW reports from Frankfurt.
It was a crisp and sunny Saturday afternoon downtown Frankfurt. Rhythmic chants echoed off shopping centers and historic buildings as a sea of people punctuated by bright pink knit hats, rainbow flags and signs declaring "#WhyIMarch", "Girls just want to have fun-damental human rights” and "Women's Rights Matter” moved through the heart of Europe's financial capital. Walking at the very front of the march were three little girls bundled up in winter coats and knitwear. "Hey hey ho ho discrimination has to go” and "No means no” they shouted, as the protest moved forward.
"Men, women, children, elderly, gays, not gays, transgender – everybody is here. It's defitinely the place to be if you wanna feel solidarity," rejoiced Dorsey Bushnell, an American living in Frankfurt who co-organized the Women's March in Frankfurt with two German women and another American.
Frankfurt, Germany's fifth biggest city and home to the European central bank, saw over 2,000 women and men participate in just one of over 600 sister events held across the globe in solidarity with a large protest march in Washington, DC. On the first day of Donald Trump's presidency, Germans, Americans living in Germany, and international visitors showed up to protest for a broad progressive platform ranging from women's rights and minority rights to climate protection.
There were older women like Dee and Jean, two Americans dressed in matching scarves and hats of bright blue to show their affiliation with Democrats Abroad, an organization for party members living outside the United States. They worry that Trump and a Republican Congress could "bring things back that I thought we overcame years ago". There were young students like 20-year-old German Claire Schmitt, who came with eight friends from a queer activists' group from nearby Fulda, decked in rainbow gear and makeup, and 20-year-old Frankfurt native Linda Lukaschek, who came with two friends "to fight for women's rights".
Families in "pussy hats"
Many protesters marched with their children. Megan O‘Sullivan, an opera singer from Baton Rouge, brought her two daughters, four and one year old, and her husband. She said she was "standing for women, standing for the environment, those are my two big ones". Casey Burhardt came to the March with her nine-year-old son Holden, who carried an "I'm with her" sign, echoing Hillary Clinton's campaign slogan. Burhardt said that the election campaign had emotionally drained her. "I just long to be surrounded by like-minded people," she said when asked why she came to the march.
Stephanie Skalak, originally from Oregon, made the two-hour trip from Stuttgart with her husband and two children. "I think that the election in the United States and also elections around Europe right now are swinging to the right in a way that threatens human rights, among them women's rights, and it's important to let the powers that be know that there are a lot of people that are not going to stand for that." Like many others at the protest, the Skalaks were sporting bright pink hats with knobs meant to resemble cat ears. Activists introduced the so-called "pussy hats” with the intent to make a strong visual statement at the marches. The idea plays on Donald Trump's remarks on a leaked tape that he could "grab [any women] by the pussy" because he was famous.
Not (just) against Trump?
The organizers in Frankfurt were keen to point out that while the Women's March was created in response to Trump's election, they do not consider it an anti-Trump event, but rather an event for women's rights, minority rights, climate protection, and a wide-ranging list of other progressive causes. "There is no use in protesting against just one person. Because if that person is gone – who knows if Trump will make it through four years – then you no longer have any goal and the movement dies. But if you fight for a cause, you're going to continue the fight, regardless of who's in power," said Micaela Leon, one of the organizers.
At the march, not all participants seem to have fully embraced this credo – there were plenty of signs mocking Trump, including the ever popular "We shall overcomb", a pun on the protest slogan "we shall overcome" and Trump's oft-ridiculed hairstyle.
The fear of a rising far-right
Germans and Americans at the protest alike said the march was an opportunity to send a signal against right-wing populism worldwide.
Liza Murphy, an American in her fifties, came from Bonn, about two hours northwest of Frankfurt. She is worried that Trump's election could empower other right-wing populists. She listed the success of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Brexit as part of a trend that worries her. "It's strange that we're relieved that the far-right party in Austria only got 46 percent of the vote – 46 percent is an unacceptable level for that kind of hate to be normalized."
Makda Isak, a 23-year old Afro-German college student and activist, came for a similar reason. "The signal I want to send to people is that they should get involved and organize because the rise of right-wing populism is not just happening in the US, but also right on our doorstep in Europe."