WASHINGTON, D.C. – Their signs spoke of support for abortion rights, immigrants, Black Lives Matter and science — and of their disgust with newly inaugurated President Donald Trump.
Politics drew hundreds of thousands to the Women’s March on Washington Saturday (Jan. 21). But many said they were also compelled by their faith.
Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, they rejected the notion that the conservative religious people successfully courted by Trump — out in force on the National Mall for his inauguration Friday — represent the only voice of religious America.
Marcher Kathy Fitzsimmons, a congregant at the progressive First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., chided herself for not being more active in civic matters when Barack Obama was president. Like many others at the march, she pledged to be more engaged in the future.
“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.”
The sign she made for the march — “My Gay Son is a Gift from God” — needed to reference God, she said. “I wanted to be a voice for the faith community.”
Andy Miller said his Judaism brought him to Washington Saturday.
“We’re here because we have to be here, and everything in our religious texts tell us to stand up for justice, for human rights, for equality,” said Miller, past president of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Baltimore.
“Obviously this is a women’s march but it’s about a lot more than women’s rights only because it’s about communities of color, it’s about protection of populations that are at risk. It’s about protection of First Amendment rights. It’s about everything we hold dear.”
Miller’s views mesh with those of the religious left, a portion of the electorate that has long taken a back seat in politics to the religious right, which is now watching Trump fill the upper echelons of the federal government with members from its ranks.
But some of those who study religion and politics say more left-leaning people of faith, with a clear foe in the White House, may be motivated to better organize and deploy their members during the next four years, and may even hope to regain the clout of its Civil Rights Era days.
“The church is involved,” said Kathryn Harris, of Washington, D.C., who attends services at Howard University’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel and who came to the Mall after a pre-march gathering at a nearby Congregational church.
“Being a part of the political process has always been a part of the African-American tradition,” she said. “That was where Dr. Martin Luther King and so many others came from.”
The immense turnout at the women’s march — which by some estimates rose beyond half a million people and eclipsed the crowd that showed up for Trump’s inauguration — may be one indication that the religious left is gaining strength.
Another possible sign: the recent spike in the number of congregations that have designated themselves sanctuaries for immigrants. Trump has threatened to deport millions.
The causes embraced on the Mall — on signs and in speeches — embodied more liberal points of view on issues ranging from LBGT rights to climate change. Abortion rights was part of the march’s platform, and organizers denied “partnership” status to a Texas group opposed to abortion. However, there were pro-life Catholics and others in attendance at the march. Individual Catholic nuns also joined in some of the marches around the world.
Other marches on the same themes held Saturday, around the nation and around the world, attracted larger crowds than organizers had anticipated. Marchers took to the streets in, among other cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Oakland, Paris, London, Berlin, Bangkok, Amsterdam, Cape Town, Tel Aviv, Mexico City and Sydney.
At some marches, small groups of religious conservatives pushed back, chanting against homosexuality and equating support for abortion rights with support for murder.
At the Washington rally, a man wearing a bright red T-shirt that said “Homosexuals and homosexual supporters will go to hell,” prophesied doom through a megaphone.
Marchers chanted back: “Jesus doesn’t hate!”
Many carried a poster of a Muslim woman in an American flag hijab by the artist Shepard Fairey, who created the 2008 “Hope” poster of Barack Obama.
Humera, a Muslim-American woman from Washington, D.C. who preferred not to use her last name, said her faith brought her to the march.
“The idea that women’s rights are human rights are very much a part of Islam, so yes, we are here,” she said.
(RNS Editor-in-Chief Jerome Socolovsky contributed to this story)