A protest movement that began with a grandmother in Hawaii and manufacturing entrepreneur in New York City meeting on Facebook the night after Donald Trump’s surprise election hit the ground Jan. 21, fueled by more than 2 million people around the globe marching for a broad array of progressive causes, including no small number of people of faith.
Amy Butler, pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, was photographed on Facebook at Saturday’s march in Washington, D.C., wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “nasty woman,” a phrase Trump used to refer to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton during their final presidential debate last October.
“Sometimes being nasty is the same as being holy, and protest can be prayer,” Butler opened her sermon Jan. 22 at the interdenominational congregation affiliated with both the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.
Originally dubbed the Women’s March on Washington, the grassroots protest movement embraced feminist issues such as reproductive choice, equal work for equal pay and the long dormant Equal Rights Amendment passed by Congress in 1972 but falling three states short of the 38 needed for ratification.
Over time the platform expanded to include Black Lives Matter, LGBT equality, Native American rights, immigration reform, the environment and other socially progressive ideals viewed as taking a back seat in the Trump administration.
Butler, who previously served as pastor of Baptist churches in the nation’s capital and in Texas, described the current political climate as America’s version of “now a new king arose over Egypt,” quoting a Bible verse in Exodus.
“We are living in a critical time in the history of our country and our world,” Butler said. “Maybe some of us are waking up for the first time to what has been going on for far too long.”
Kathy Fitzsimmons, a member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C. — who made a sign for the march reading “My Gay Son is a Gift from God” — said she intends to be more engaged in civic matters than she did when Barack Obama was president
“I feel like I’ve put my feet up on the couch and went ‘my guy’s in the White House, I can take a vacay,’ and that’s not right,” she told Religion News Service.
While the day belonged to women, some of the protestors were men. Larry Greenfield, 75-year-old executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and former executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, told the Huffington Post his faith played a huge role in his decision to join the march.
“I believe in the importance of freedom and equality in both religious and civic life,” Greenfield said, adding that what bothers him most about Trump “is his commitment to degradation — of women, Muslims, anybody who isn’t in his camp.”
“It’s a whole mentality of degradation for his elevation,” Greenfield said. “It is the exact opposite of what we need in a democracy in terms of leadership.”
Steven Harmon, visiting associate professor of historical theology at the Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, said he had never before participated in a public demonstration, but he joined his wife and son in the women’s march in Charlotte, N.C., which drew a crowd estimated larger than 10,000.
“I did so because I’m trying to follow Jesus in a culture in which patriarchy is still a thing — a thing that has manifested itself in truly nasty ways recently,” Harmon wrote on his blog Jan. 21. He said he marched both “to show solidarity with my wife and all women who have been demeaned by this nastiness” and “because I want my son to grow up to regard women as equals and treat them with respect.”
Butler admitted to feeling tired after a long Saturday and late arrival that came on the heels of a busy week at church.
“I felt like my family should make the trip, because it was clear to me that my children, now young adults, needed some help remembering the promise of our country,” she told the congregation. “At least that’s what I told myself — the truth is that I did, too.”
Butler said when she stepped off mass transit to see the large crowd gathered in Washington she “began to feel something that I have not felt in some time: hope.”
“I didn’t feel so alone or despairing anymore,” she said. “I didn’t feel that our community is in the minority in our calls for the church to speak up. I started to believe a little bit, again, that change might actually be a possibility; that pushing back the darkness becomes reality when all of us hold up our lights together.”
Organizers of the Women’s March say it is just the first step toward effecting social change. After the march the group urged supporters to write postcards to their senators in the first of “10 Actions for the first 100 Days” seeking to build momentum for the coming months.