Keep Moving Forward: The Women’s March on D.C.

On January 21 I joined three million of my closest friends in Women’s Marches across the nation. I came to the decision to attend back in December, sitting alone in the COOP, slaving over a final paper. The updates and articles popping up on my computer regarding Trump’s impending inauguration, his plans, and what it meant for women, for racial minorities, for religious minorities, for immigrants, for the LGBTQ community and for the environment made my skin crawl and my ears burn. I have long felt that American student activism needed a renaissance, and anything felt better than the paralyzing fear that started to settle over me. If not me, then who, if not now, then when – I decided that I would take my stand in D.C. and channel my fear, anger and confusion into something productive.

 The march itself was a glorious, imperfect mess of chanting, speeches and pink beanies. The main motto of the march, “women’s rights are human rights,” was a constant hum through an estimated crowd of 500,000 people in D.C. During my metro ride I met an older woman who had marched for civil rights in the 1960s. I was in the presence of seasoned warriors in civilian dress. I was starstruck.

While I revelled in the beauty of standing for four hours to hear Gloria Steinem, Tamika Mallory, Kamala Harris and countless other leaders and organizers speak to the crowd leading up to the march to the White House, I reflected on the criticisms of the march. In its early days, the march received harsh criticism for being led by a largely white group of women, continuing a historical trend of white feminism. Realizing the error, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour became the three primary organizers and faces of the Women’s March.

The night before the march, I sat in bed watching interviews of the three women. In one radio interview, when asked about the issue of race with the march and the criticisms it had received, Mallory responded, “We’ve been protesting a long time, we would’ve been going to Washington Trump, no Trump, Hillary Clinton – it didn’t matter to us.” She was inferring that women of color have a lot more on the line no matter who sits in the Oval Office, and alluding to the idea that perhaps the march would not have received the same support and the turnout that it did if Hillary Clinton had been elected. 

Mallory continued, saying, “A lot of people should be concerned about Donald Trump; he is an issue, but there are other people and other elements that need to be addressed.” The issues of sexism, racism, bigotry and xenophobia are not new phenomena only to have appeared in the wake of Trump’s election. The reality of these ‘isms’ is that they are easy for white people to ignore and or diminish in severity. The reality is that until Trump’s election, white people didn’t show up to fight for equality, and now that they are, the Women’s March movement is at risk of being whitewashed.

While on the surface level it may play into the white feminist stereotype, participating in the march for me was about coming to terms with the lack of intersectionality in my feminism up until that point, and making the first steps in the direction towards inclusivity. The chilling image of Angela Peoples holding a sign saying, “Don’t Forget: White Women Voted for Trump,” in front of three white women in pussyhats staring at their phones tells an unsettling story: women of color are all too familiar with the trials of protest, while white women find it to be a novel weekend activity.

The issues of race and gender should not interfere with the battle for human rights. The criticisms of white feminists should not offend; they should inspire a desire to learn and strive towards intersectionality. The longevity of the movement depends on the ability of people from all different backgrounds to acknowledge how individual liberation is dependent upon total liberation.