WASHINGTON, DC-- Last Saturday, an estimated 500,000 people descended upon the nation's capital at the Women's March in Washington DC. While official estimates of the attendance rates were released periodically throughout the day, it did not require a crowd scientist for both DC residents and visitors to know that attendance at the March far outweighed attendance at the Presidential Inauguration of the day before. For many, these numbers pointed to the power of the millions who stand in opposition to this new administration and they feel that the success of this moment will be a harbinger for a sociopolitical revolution. Others however, remain skeptical if not outright disappointed in the event, fueled by the controversy surrounding the March’s inception and the racial homogeneity of its demographics. Regardless of where one stands or whether they marched at all, it is an undeniable fact that this particular call for women and their allies to stand up against the Trump administration unearthed deeply heated debates surrounding feminism, race and privilege; and posed the uneasy questions of whether female ¨solidarity¨ across racial lines is feasible and what revelations and sacrifices must be made in order for such solidarity to come to fruition.
Like so many social movements of today, the impetus for the March began on the internet when a single Facebook post suggesting a Women led March in Washington morphed into an event page that has now been shared to over one million users. It was on this page where would-be attendees shared their frustrations and fears of the upcoming administration and swiftly began to coordinate a collective action. However, even in these early stages, a storm of controversy was already brewing. The group of March coordinators, all of whom were white, decided to name event the Million Woman March, garnering enthusiasm from some but concern from others- most especially Black women who noted that scores of African American women had already planned and executed a Million Woman March on Washington in 1997, in an effort to raise awareness about the unique struggles facing their community. Detractors of this 2017 March often cite this decision of the early coordinators as an example of how Black women's work is often co opted by white feminists and yet their history is given little credit or recognition.
As racial tensions surrounding the March began to increase, March organizers attempted to quell concerns by stepping down and instating 3 women of color, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez as the
new leaders of the effort. Under the leadership of these 3 women, logistical issues such as event permits, mass transit plans and safety protocols, as well as a policy platform that was fairly inclusive and intersectional in its demands, were secured and released to the public. However, what the March itself revealed was that in an era of mass mobilization via social media and decentralized leadership, the intentions of those who spearhead and conceptualize a movement may not be well disseminated to, or even accepted by, those who choose to follow along.
In interviews and press releases held prior to the March, organizers spoke directly to the racial divides that were brewing since the event's inception and were unapologetic in their commitment to an intersectional platform. Tamika Mallory in particular, noted that at this moment, an issue need not directly impact you for you to have concern and take action against it. If this idea was heeded, then the fact that the majority of attendees were older white women would not impact which type of issues were highlighted during the March. In fact, it would logically be assumed that a collective of people who had similar concern over the state of women's rights would be inspired to speak out against the social ills that had been highlighted during the presidential campaign and which could potentially be exacerbated through this new administration. However, what was mostly on display last Saturday were a sea of pink hats, signs with either sassy catch phrases about retaliatory female genitalia (¨pussy grabs back!¨) or direct retorts against President Trump-- the most eery in my estimation being a slightly mutilated effigy of his head attached to a stick hovering ominously over the crowd.
It is important to note that what is outlined here surely only represents a fraction of what was on display last Saturday. As many can attest, there were a range of individuals speaking out about causes as diverse as the Flint Water Crisis, Police brutality against WOC, sexual violence prevention and reproductive health. However, the overwhelming focus on anti-Trump rhetoric and narrowly articulated declarations of female sexual autonomy drowned out so much else and it made it painfully clear that the issue that motivated so many of the March's white attendees was the direct threat to their autonomy, their voices and their privilege, that our new President has posed. While Donald Trump is undoubtedly a part of and continues to be fueled and supported by a society that is steeped in patriarchy, the obsession with him and him alone as the root of all evil suggests that too many people truly do believe that his rise to power emerged out of thin air and occurred independently of all other systems of hate that thrive in our country. This ignores the reality that we have always lived in a society that has the capacity to breed someone like Trump and eventually elect him into the highest office of the land. Making that ideological leap from who Trump is and the racist, misogynistic and islamophobic culture that he mirrors isn't particularly difficult, but understandably requires that white women assume a level of personal responsibility, given that 53% of them cast their vote in his favor.
Despite some of the unfavorable motivations behind much of what I personally witnessed, I do know that the one thing shared amongst everyone who attended, and anyone who has concerns and fears around this new administration, is the desire for some semblance of social change- although the vision of what change looks like may vary from community to community. In order to manifest any real change however, actual issues must be highlighted and effort must be taken to dismantle inequity, rather than just figureheads. Special attention must be taken therefore to listen to the communities who have the most intimate and immediate experiences with inequity and to allow them to lead.
In that way, the true measure of success of any collective movement, especially one that strives to be racially inclusive, will not be how cooperative law enforcement is with protesters-- or even the number of people in attendance. Instead, it will be successful when and if those who hold the most power & access intentionally prioritize the issues of the most vulnerable and allow them to speak their truths-- even if those truths bring about personal discomfort and force some communities to relinquish sizeable amounts of personal privilege. Because if we truly believe just as I heard reiterated all last weekend that ¨women’s rights are human rights¨, then the issues that impact any woman should be of grave concern to every woman. Realizing a truly intersectional feminist movement, requires that we take on the difficult task of seeing ourselves in one another without assuming that we can ever understand the entirety of another person's situation. We can take the first step in doing that by actively listening to the problems of those whom we deem to be sisters. That type of solidarity, while distant, is not just feasible but it's necessary for us to bring to life. Without it, the struggles of today will continue to plague us...for the next four years and beyond.