The Vienna chapter of the Women’s March on Washington was a flashback to 1960s activism

by Caroline Stevenson & Dardis McNamee

It was Saturday, January 21, the day after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. In Vienna, as in Washington DC, Paris, London and some 50 cities around the world, women (and men) were on the march in protest.

A crowd was already gathering when American student Carolyn van der Velde arrived at the Karlskirche. It was cold, but clear, no wind; a stunning day for a march.

By 12:15, it was “a massive swarm,” and the mood became contagious, as people laughed and talked together. It was a relief, van der Velde remembered. “A small thing, you might say, but I really felt better, being with all those people.”

The popular front

The marchers were young and old, local and expat, men and women, parents with children on their shoulders. And everywhere, the pink woolly “pussy hats,” reclaiming Trump’s contempt for women as a symbol of strength.

Organiser Caroline Kirkpatrick, too, was “thrilled” with the turnout (later confirmed at 2,500); riding a wave of energy, she had secured the permits in just one week, unheard of in Vienna. The momentum seemed to carry them along.

People had many reasons for being there: Women’s rights were certainly part of it.  But it was a lot larger than that, as the posters made clear.

“Build Bridges, Not Walls”; “Hell no! We won’t go… backwards!” Brigitte Hornyik, with the Austrian women’s group “Frauenring,” shouldered a huge Transparent: Menschenrechte gelten für alle (Human rights apply to everyone). And so followed minorities and activists of every stripe, religious and sexual, civil liberties and -climate change.

Laura Rockwood, Executive Director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, addressed the masses. “Congratulations, Austria!” she called. Electing Alexander van der Bellen as Bundespräsident, “you pulled us back from the brink!”  The crowd roared.  Austria did indeed feel – at least for now – like “an island of -the blessed.”

The crowd streamed off past the Wien Museum, onto Lothringerstraße past the Konzerthaus, then along Johannesgasse, as marchers paused to show off their signs and smile for photos, with chants echoing in the streets: “Love, not hate, makes the world great!” Van der Velde’s personal favorite: “Hey hey! Ho ho! Donald Trump has got to go!” – the same one her family would be chanting in Chicago.

At the Stadtpark, the now-huge crowd surrounded a stage by the statue of Johann Strauss. First the dance troupe, One Billion Rising, and then local blues legend Danny LoCascio singing Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, with the crowd joining in.

The end of the beginning

“It was a real flashback to the ’60s,” LoCascio said later. “We’re fighting again for the things we already fought for. That’s the sad part. But it’s so important – so cathartic – just to be together.”

Some have been sceptical of the marches – well-intentioned, but ultimately inconsequential. But for those who were there, it was something else entirely.  It had been a long and bitter campaign, full of ugly prejudice and casual lying. Today, things felt possible again. It’s trickier to deny something thousands have seen for themselves, thought Van der Velde.

“Keep the momentum!” Rockwood had exhorted the crowd. “Ten actions, in 30 days, starting with calls to your congressmen!”  Van der Velde came away elated, ready to set to work.

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This was written by the Metropole editorial Team. Sometimes its an expat, sometimes a native, most of the time the lines are blurred, and sometimes we're sharing someone else's content, but we always say so. Oh yeah, and buy our magazine! Thanks.