Story, photos and video by Bill Harby
In spite of freezing temperatures in Geneva on Saturday, an estimated 3,000 people or more took part in the Women’s March for Dignity in support of human rights. The event was one of hundreds around the United States and the world on this day – not coincidentally on the day after the inauguration of U.S. president Donald Trump.
“I used to march in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and it looks like I’m going to start again”, said one woman speaking in French with an English accent.
Geneva’s marchers were from around the globe, as you might expect in this international city famous for being home to many human rights organizations.
Marchers included many American expats, including Karen Olson, chief organizer of the march and a former interpreter at the United Nations. Days earlier, she’d said that she wasn’t participating as just an American, nor simply to protest the Trump presidency, but because as a “global citizen” who has also lived in Russia, France and Italy over the last 25 years, she is “concerned about the rising tide of populism on both sides of the Atlantic, which represents a potential threat to the rights that we hold dear”.
As marchers gathered at the Jardin Anglais while recorded songs like “This Girl is on Fire” played, Olson, who was a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the U.S. Democratic Party National Convention, announced that on this day there would be an estimated 547 similar marches in 61 countries with some two million marchers projected. She recommended to the sign-waving crowd that they should “organize globally and mobilize locally.”
The few thousand mobilized in Geneva came with lots of hand-made signs expressing their motivations for coming out on the cold, grey day. “Hate never makes great”, said one. “My pussy grabs back”, said another.
No counter-protestors were present, leaving the few police officers there with easy duty.
As marchers flooded in a continuous stream across Mont-Blanc bridge, they joined chants offered by organizers. “Eyes open wide, arms open wide”! “This is what a family looks like. This is what democracy looks like”!
Many Americans took part, including students from the Zürich International School who were part of a project modeling the United Nations. Why did they come from so many kilometres away? “I want to grow up in a world where women have the same rights as men”, said Abigail Tovar, 14.
Another American, Robert Powell, was marching with his wife and children. He said he was there especially to defend women’s reproductive rights and the women’s health organization, Planned Parenthood, which the U.S. Republican Party has vowed to defund. “Instead of fear, we want hope and inclusiveness”, said Powell, adding that he was not there just to protest the election of Donald Trump. “Trump is just the point of the spear. We need to ask these people who voted for him, what do they need”? Later that afternoon, Powell was one of the scheduled speakers at the Solidarity for Humanity Rally outside the United Nations campus.
Echoing Powell was Antonella Notari, director of the Womanity Foundation in Switzerland. “We’re here in a positive spirit, but we’ll be vigilant against anyone who tries to take our rights”, she said.
Notari was one of many Swiss citizens at the march, as could be heard by conversations in French. Geneva resident Valerie Piguet said she was there in support of “health care for everyone”.
Her friend, Marie-France Hamou told how they had just met an elderly woman making her way across the bridge with the aid of a walker. “She said she had to be here. So there is hope”.
At the conclusion of the peaceful march, more speakers and musicians shared different versions of the message supporting human rights for women – and everyone. “I want to thank all the men here today”, said Karen Olson. “You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist”.
She also announced that today’s march was just the beginning of a series of events in Geneva and beyond, the next being on March 8, International Women’s Day.
The last speaker of the day, from Amnesty International Switzerland, punctuated that message with her affirmation, “Nous marchons!”
None of the speakers mentioned the new U.S. president by name.
According to the Women’s March website, an estimated 4.8 million marched in 673 locations across the world.