A dense crowd of reporters surrounded the women on the damp pavement across the street from the criminal courthouse in lower Manhattan. It was the first day of Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial, and some of his most famous accusers had come outside to address the cameras. In the scrum, iPhones were extended upwards to record the women’s statements; boom mics hung overhead. Rosanna Arquette stepped up to the microphone. She has accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her in a meeting. ‘These abusers make it unsafe for women to go to work every morning, to take a business meeting, to report a crime without retaliation,’ she said. ‘We are here to ensure that the focus of the criminal case is on the perpetrator – the perpetrator’s actions and not his victims.’ She was interrupted by a shout from the back of the crowd: a brief fistfight had broken out, as two cameramen jostled for the same shot of Arquette.
Jimmy Bennett can’t drive, so a family member dropped him off at Asia Argento’s hotel in May 2013. Legal documents leaked to the New York Times allege that Argento gave him alcohol and sexually assaulted him. Bennett was 17, Argento 37. They had met when Bennett was seven, and cast as Argento’s child in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, which she also directed. They seem to have had an unnerving habit of referring to one another as mother and son. Bennett brought a lawsuit against Argento, who denies his claims,
Cynthia Nixon stood in the middle of a crowd of several hundred onlookers, holding a wire coat hanger. Donald Trump had nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and the likelihood was that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion across the US, would soon be struck down. Nixon, a former actress and now a candidate for governor of New York State, wanted to emphasise the significance of the appointment. ‘This is something that women in this state and this country were driven to use out of fear and desperation,’ she said, brandishing the coat hanger. ‘Performing abortions on themselves, often with devastating effects on their health and sometimes their life.’ Nixon described the ‘awful and scary’ abortion her mother had had in New York in the days before legalisation. ‘She wanted to make sure that I knew her history, so I can fully value how crucial reproductive freedom is.’
It was snowing heavily, in New York’s first real snowstorm of the winter, and the women leading the demonstration at Columbus Circle had to cover their microphones with plastic bags to keep them from getting wet, muffling their chants. There were roughly 150 protesters standing with hunched shoulders while fat snowflakes dampened their caps. Their signs had pictures of growling pussycats and the ♀ symbol with a clenched fist in the centre. A woman with facial piercings had draped a large sheet over her shoulders: on the back, it was embroidered with the words ‘CUNT QUILT’, along with a diagram of a uterus made from pink and red underwear.
Everyone was wearing the same T-shirt: black, with a pink triangle near the neck and white letters underneath, SILENCE = DEATH. The crowd was about three hundred strong, filling a side street in New York’s West Village, and many were carrying the same image on signs. An elderly man in a leather jacket spoke into a microphone. ‘In 1989 we shut down trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the only time trading has ever been stopped by a mass demonstration!’ There were cheers. ‘In 1992 we held the Ashes Action, where we dumped the ashes of Aids victims onto the White House lawn – right in George Bush’s backyard!’
This time, the colour was red. At the Women’s Marches in January, we wore pink: pink pussy hats, pink scarves and pink T-shirts with slogans like ‘Pussy Grabs Back’. But on International Women’s Day, 8 March, when women worldwide were asked to strike – both for women’s rights specifically, and more broadly against the globally ascendant far right – women wore red. On the sidewalk in New York it was easy to see who was striking or in solidarity with the strikers. There were red blouses and bags, red jumpers, red dresses, and many, many red hijabs. Red was dense downtown in the afternoon during a rally in Washington Square Park. There were red hats, coats and scarves crowding around the fountain; fathers toted daughters in red pullovers towards the playground; dogs with red leads sniffed the fire hydrants.
Last year, an organisation called Protest Planned Parenthood, or #ProtestPP, put out a call to people opposed to abortion to demonstrate outside Planned Parenthood clinics across the US. The message went out through pro-life networks, conservative social media, churches and local Republican Party organisations; by 11 February, the scheduled day of the protests, more than 120 anti-abortion demonstrations had been organised in 45 states – no clinic left behind. Pro-choice Americans vowed to turn out too. On Saturday, many thousands of people went out to do in person what they typically only do online: argue with strangers about politics.
The queue to get onto the train at Howard University subway station stretched all the way up the stairs and onto the street. As I approached, women began to turn around, looking at us and shaking their heads: ‘Don’t bother.’ I decided to walk the two miles to the National Mall. Washington DC is hard to navigate; it is laid out in a series of pinwheels designed to be difficult to invade, and many areas are geoblocked, turning the map on my phone into a blank. But there was only one direction that anyone was walking. Protesters held signs and wore ‘pussy hats’; pink, mostly handmade, with points on the top like cat ears. A lot of us were carrying clear plastic backpacks with granola bars and bottles of water; fabric bags weren’t allowed because they are too easy to hide a bomb in.
In the subway station at Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street you start seeing people holding signs. They move in clusters up or down the stairs to the train, clutching their flaps of cardboard: ‘No Racism’; ‘Immigrants Make America’. Above ground, this strip of Fifth Avenue is empty. Metal fences have been set up by the police along the edge of the pavement, and by 55th street the barriers are concrete. You walk in the middle of the street. Police are everywhere, chests bulging under their blue jackets, making eye contact with one another and giving assessing glances to passersby. The police stand outside Giorgio Armani; the pen of protesters in front of them is separated by the barricades from Dolce & Gabbana: Gucci is in Trump Tower itself. Most of the time now the boutiques are closed.
The Polish government says there were 24,000 protesters on Warsaw’s streets last Monday; the protest organisers say there were 116,000. Whatever the number, the ‘Black Monday’ demonstrations in support of abortion rights were an uncommon display. The protesters, most of them women, were on strike from work, school, housework and their children to oppose a law that would have banned all abortions in Poland, and imposed jail sentences of up to five years for both doctors and patients. The protesters wore black and held signs showing diagrams of uteruses. Schools, universities and government offices were forced to close in at least sixty cities, and sympathetic employers gave their workers the day off to participate. In the capital, where it was raining, they bumped umbrellas and chanted: ‘We want doctors, not missionaries.’