WASHINGTON — When Marin Alsop was 9 years old, her father took her to see Leonard Bernstein direct the New York Philharmonic. The next day, she got a bracing response when she told her violin teacher she wanted to be a conductor. She couldn’t. She was a girl.
Today, Alsop is music director and conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Yet despite her own ability to break through that glass ceiling, the 2016 election showed her that one crucial one remains in place.
“We thought we had achieved things, but they weren’t sustained,” she said.
“Some young women probably didn’t realize how stacked the deck is against women in our world,” Alsop pointed out. “This is how it’s been historically. We think, ‘Oh, here’s a breakthrough,’ and then the door slams shut even harder.”
Not only did the first female presidential nominee of a major political party lose after her victory was taken for granted, but she lost to a man caught on tape boasting about groping women. Now the sadness, alarm and ensuing determination that many young American women felt after the door-slam of the 2016 election have become catalysts for a resurging women’s movement.
“We all assumed that it was time for a woman to have this opportunity, and that it was obvious,” added Alsop. “It’s galvanized people.”
The Women’s March on Washington is bringing some women together around America, where they meet in state and local chapters to prepare for the march and to share experiences. In Key West, Fla., women are participating together in late-night yoga. In Orlando, they meet at a Fuddruckers restaurant. Women in Washington state are knitting special hats for the march. Women in Texas gather in living rooms to create signs.
The day after the election, Planned Parenthood received roughly 40 times the average number of donations. Appointments for contraceptives such as intrauterine devices at Planned Parenthood centers increased tenfold. The website of the National Organization for Women was so overwhelmed with the number of visitors it crashed.
“It was horror,” said Terry O’Neill, president of NOW.
“A lot of people woke up to the day after the election … feeling very scared,” said Emma Collum, 32, one of the Florida organizers for the Women’s March on Washington. “You woke up not knowing if your neighbor had voted for an administration that was basically going to take away your rights.”
Activists and organizers interviewed for this article all reported that in dozens of conversations with women they have come in contact with since Election Day, there has been a sense of fear or panic.
The tenfold increase in IUD appointments post-election reported by Planned Parenthood can be attributed to the fear of changes being made to the Affordable Care Act, something President-Elect Donald Trump has promised will happen. According to Gallup, concern over health care jumped from 4 percent in October to 10 percent in November. The same polling also saw a spike in concern over elections and election revisions.
“The best way I can sum up the feeling … is that we saw the earthquake up in the ocean and we know the tsunami is coming,” O’Neill said of her conversations with activists and the leaders of organizations that partner with NOW.
Women’s march organizers such as Collum, Amber Keith and Meghan Brokaw reported having a hard time waking up the morning after the election, or sleeping at all. Brokaw described it as “a despair.”
But they also spoke of that fear, and the root cause of that fear, as having a silver lining.
“I think ‘scared’ could be categorized as one of the top emotions in the formation of this organization,” Collum explained. “Now I felt empowered by this organization and I felt safe.”
“I wish that we had this before the election, this sisterhood and this community,” added Brokaw, 31. “But I’m excited that it’s happening now.”
Would this community of women have formed had Hillary Clinton won the election? The activists and organizers interviewed for this article said probably not.
“I would have just celebrated and then gone on with my life,” said Keith, 41. “It definitely lit a fire in me.”
The number of volunteer applications at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which manages centers primarily in the Carolinas, increased from five to 10 a week to hundreds in the immediate aftermath of the election, and now is still more than double what it was before Trump’s win.
The Women’s March on Washington, for which Brokaw and Keith help lead the Kansas chapter, has registered nearly 300,000 attendees since Election Day. Organizers estimate the number will be even higher in Washington on Saturday.
For many, the march is not the culmination but a beginning.
“We’re using this march as a launching pad,” Keith explained. The Kansas contingent plans on having a platform outlined before heading to Washington that will likely focus on education and increased female and moderate representation in the state Legislature.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Collum said the new community of female activists was inspired by Florida’s status as a swing state.
“We can turn the head of the country if we can turn the head of the state,” she said. “That’s a lofty goal, but, dammit, it’s a goal.”
Dr. Alexa Canady, the first female African-American neurosurgeon, has faced discrimination throughout her life. The post-election determination and the quick organization of events such as the women’s march have reminded her of the civil rights era in the 1960s.
“People organize when they’re ready, when they have something that galvanizes them,” she explained. “I think, in fact, it may open the eyes of many women to how tenuous things are.”