Aktueller SchwerpunktGeschichten der Gegenwart

The next day, the “pussy hat” was alre­ady an icon. Ever­yone I met as I left my hotel room that morning gave me a smile, and within minu­tes we were enga­ged in conver­sa­tion. Mabel and Bert from Miami said good­bye with a long, emotio­nal embrace, as if we had been old friends. Amy, Kris­ten, and Ian from Port­land (whom I had met on the street the day before the March ) did the same, as did Melissa from Wiscon­sin, who stood by me for a while in the crowd of huma­nity. And then there was the little old lady who simply put her arm around my waist and steadied me (or herself ) after I said that I had come from Zurich, Switz­er­land. Abso­lutely ever­yone I met said: “Thank you for coming. Thank you for being with us.” We had touched each other. I had to think about the line from the Natio­nal Anthem of Europe (and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”): “All people will become brothers” – and sisters.

Born in 1960, I was too young to have perso­nally expe­ri­en­ced Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. My know­ledge of the huge Viet­nam anti-war protests came only from films I’d seen. And as a news­wri­ter at Radio Züri­see in Novem­ber 1989, I knew that history was being made in Berlin, but I didn’t think of going there myself to parti­ci­pate. I still reget that today.

Donald, that’s enough. Stop it, sit down!

Clin­ton vs. Trump. second dabate; source: dw.com

I follo­wed the Ameri­can elec­tion with great inte­rest from the moment Donald Trump became an offi­cial candi­date. The furt­her he progres­sed, the more inten­sely I follo­wed the procee­dings. My perso­nal low came with the second TV debate against Hillary Clin­ton. Watching him stalk her, sniff­ling and scuf­fling uncom­for­ta­bly close behind her back, I wanted to protect her. Ha! And the way he stood humping an empty chair obli­viously as Hillary spoke about poli­tics: this was someone who simply took whate­ver he thought was his. It was unbe­ara­ble. And nobody said anything, not even Hillary Clin­ton. She should have trea­ted him like a spoi­led child or a small dog and said: “Donald, that’s enough. Stop it, sit down!” But who could have actually done that in such a situation?

Michelle Obama, 13.10.2016; source: esquire.com

A tran­script of this debate became avail­able later on the inter­net. This was a tragic docu­ment full of inter­rup­ti­ons, asser­ti­ons, mans­plai­ning and manter­rupt­ing, contempt and inde­c­ency. I felt sick reading it. Much more of the same was to follow, on a nearly daily basis, leading to the infa­mous  “grab them by the pussy” scan­dal. Michelle Obama’s speech in response to that news thril­led me, moved me to tears, and made me thank­ful that some­body finally spoke for me too.

I had been invi­ted to an election-night party at the home of the then-U.S. Ambassa­dor to Switz­er­land, Suzi LeVine. I brought a female friend with me, as a gesture of female empower­ment at what we expec­ted to be a histo­ri­cal moment. But rather than rejoi­cing toge­ther as part­ners in crime, we became part­ners in tears.

source: womensmarch.com

Four days later, on the after­noon of Sunday, Novem­ber 13, I bought my plane ticket. The idea of the Women’s March had surfa­ced on Face­book after the elec­tion. It was exactly what I needed to help heal my soul. No one expec­ted it to grow to such dimen­si­ons. Throug­hout the elec­tion period and after the elec­tion I asked myself why I was so perso­nally affec­ted by Trump’s sexism and mistre­at­ment of women. After all, I am not and have never been an Ameri­can citi­zen. Now I know why. And I know I am not the only one.

Switz­er­land, 1971

Women's Vote: No! Switz­er­land, 1971; source: fm1today.ch

I was alre­ady born when women were gran­ted the right to vote in Switz­er­land in 1971. In Febru­ary 2016, shortly before Switz­er­land held a refe­ren­dum on the enforced depor­ta­tion of foreign law-breakers, I watched the movie “Suffra­gette.” The story pulled me in within the first 40 minu­tes, as I saw how the female figh­ters for women’s suffrage were mistrea­ted and humi­lia­ted. At some point during the movie it occur­red to me that in Switz­er­land a simi­lar struggle had taken place not that long ago. If it were 45 years earlier, I myself would not be allo­wed to cast my ballot in the upco­m­ing refe­ren­dum, while all my male colleagues, friends and rela­ti­ves exer­cised their right to vote. I cried tears of anger, because there had been a time when women were offi­ci­ally less valued than men, and because I had perso­nally lived though that time as a young girl. I left the movie thea­ter without watching the end of the film. But the idea of “only a girl” stayed on my mind. My pater­nal grand­mo­ther had expres­sed her disap­point­ment when I, the first grand­child, was born a girl. My father (thank you Jules!) had always fought for me. Luck­ily I was brought up with the phrase “You can do it too”: my own perso­nal “Yes we can!”

This perso­nal expe­ri­ence reso­na­ted within me during the US elec­tion season. Donald Trump versus Hillary Clin­ton. What did people accuse her of and attack her with? Likea­bi­lity! Stamina! Her husband, because she’d stayed with him. Her voice. Her ambi­tion. And not least, her compe­tence. Throug­hout the campaign and after the elec­tion, all of these were trig­gers remin­ding me of my own so-called “birth defect,” the short­co­m­ing I had not chosen, my gender as female.

That’s why I wanted to be there. This was my subject. It was the theme of my era. I espe­ci­ally did not want to look back in old age and say: “I saw it coming, but I missed the chance to react.” I grew up in the know­ledge that our demo­cracy is as self-evident and as inde­st­ruc­tible as the Matter­horn. A given. Or, if you prefer, God-given. But I had seen recently that, even in Switz­er­land, we need to keep an eye on our demo­cracy (with a nod to the histo­rian Jakob Tanner). And that “we” also means “me.”

Among hund­reds of thousands

Women's March, Washing­ton, Janu­ary 21, 2017

Women's March, Washing­ton, 21.1.2017; Photo: Chris­tine Loriol

Between elec­tion night and Inau­gu­ra­tion day, Trump conti­nued to cross the line. As the Women’s March approa­ched, more and more people, and espe­ci­ally more and more women, must have deci­ded: “Enough is enough.” I follo­wed the news on Face­book. The Women’s March had quickly became a professionally-organized event. It got bigger and bigger. Then I disco­ve­red the “pussy hat” project. I found it clever and conspi­ra­to­rial: poli­ti­cal knit­ting! And it began exactly as the March itself had begun, as an idea by two women which quickly spread through social media. A sea of pink pussy hats was their dream, and it caught hold of me too. For the first time in about 30 years, I bought wool and knit­ting need­les. The result was as stupen­dous as the March itself; pictures of “a sea of pink hats” were beamed around the world.

Women's March, Washing­ton, 21.1.2016; source: theglobeandmail.com

Hund­reds of thousands, perhaps up to a half a million women toge­ther with their male comra­des surged in the direc­tion of the Natio­nal Mall. Diffe­rent gene­ra­ti­ons, genders, ethnic back­grounds, natio­na­li­ties, reli­gi­ons. They were worried, angry, and all very deter­mi­ned. And yet: they were all peace­ful and friendly to each other. And funny! They were angry at the subjects that they were addres­sing, but they were always cons­i­de­rate and atten­tive. They excu­sed them­sel­ves when they colli­ded with someone in the crush, and lent a hand when someone wanted to step up onto the curb. The police offi­cers moving through the crowd were applau­ded and told: “Thank you for your service!” The crowd whist­led and booed when a speaker mentio­ned Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Cabi­net pick for the Depart­ment of Educa­tion. It was stir­red up and inspi­red by America Ferrara and Ashley Judd. But the marchers looked out for the people that stood next to them. The list of speakers was very long, and the rally lasted more than four hours. The spee­ches were emotio­nal, angry, intel­lec­tual, poli­ti­cal, biting, moving. A 12-year-old Mexi­can girl spoke more eloquently than Trump; the promi­nent femi­nist Gloria Stei­nem and the bril­li­ant activist Angela Davis deli­ve­red high-quality food for thought. Docu­men­tary filmma­ker Michael Moore presen­ted his “resis­tance plan” for conti­nuing to the oppo­si­tion move­ment after the March was over. The lineup on stage was impressive:

In Los Ange­les 750,000 people were esti­ma­ted to have demons­tra­ted, and not one person was arrested. It was the same in Washing­ton. The only aggres­sion that I perso­nally exeri­en­ced was on the inter­net, in the user comments on the media coverage of the March – writ­ten by people who had not been there. From people who found the pussy hats “pathetic” or dismis­sed the March as an unde­mo­cra­tic temper tantrum. “Get over it,” was their message. “Trump was demo­cra­ti­cally elec­ted.”  “Get over us” was the impres­sive response in Washing­ton. “This is what demo­cracy looks like,” chan­ted the crowd, along with shouts of “Yes we can!”

pussy hat; Photo: Chris­tine Loriol

At the end, I joyfully wore my pink pusssy hat to the Capi­tol Buil­ding for one last photo oppor­tu­nity, happy that I came here, and thank­ful as well. The most beau­ti­ful thing was probably the sense of belon­ging. To be shown that I am not alone in the world and not a member of a mere fringe group – and to docu­ment this expe­ri­ence in unfor­gett­able photos. To have the feeling of being right, and at the right place. In Washing­ton I expe­ri­en­ced and lear­ned a lot, and was given many gifts. And I may have been able to give some­thing back, because I went there. I had perso­nal reasons for doing so, but it went far beyond my own indi­vi­dual moti­va­tion. I know that I am a privi­le­ged woman: it was important for me to support a move­ment that supports all women. Who will do this, if not us? When, if not now? Sister­hood. We women have writ­ten history. And we made a good start. “And now, let’s get shit done!” as one of my friends likes to say. Not only in Washington.

When I am back home, I will knit pussy hats for Clau­dia, Marcy, and Fran­ziska. Now I remem­ber how.

Trans­la­tion: Chris­to­pher Hux, Editing: Marcy Goldberg

About the author: Chris­tine Loriol was a radio jour­na­list in Zurich, Switz­er­land when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. She has worked as a free­lance jour­na­list for nume­rous maga­zi­nes and news­pa­pers, and for the past 20 years has been a copy­wri­ter, commu­ni­ca­ti­ons consul­tant, and coach.

Von Christine Loriol

Christine Loriol war Lokal­radio­journalistin, als in Berlin die Mauer fiel. Sie hat später jahre­lang als freie Journa­listin für zahlreiche Print­medien geschrieben und ist seit 20 Jahren als Texterin , Kommunikations­beraterin und Coach selbständig.