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Thinking Out Loud: The Women’s March

Amidst the success of the Women’s March is the critical question of intersectionality.

By News

Illustration by Sophie Lucido Johnson.

Thinking Out Loud is a monthly column about politics and the world around us through a critical lens.

The 3 to 5 million person Women’s March on Saturday January 21 was a sea of pink … and white. Pink because of the knit “pussy” hats that took to the streets, worn, for the most part, by white women.

After all, some researchers said that more than 1 in 100 Americans attended the Women’s March, making it one of — if not the — biggest congregations of people in the United States’ history. While this is a fabulous and historic feat, another number looms in the shadows: About 52 percent of white women voted for Donald J. Trump. So in this sea of pink-embellished white, how many of the marchers knew someone that voted for Trump? Or even voted for Trump themselves?

Statistics overwhelmingly show that it was white America that elected President Trump, and yet racial issues, and how they intersect with gender, were largely absent from many of the conversations and protest art at the women’s marches. The protest art largely consisted of a biology-centered feminism that assumed all pussies are pink. From the massive touting of pink “pussy” hats to the pictures on posters of vulvas and ovaries, there wasn’t a lot of intersection around issues other than myopic feminism. There was little inclusion of women who do not have or weren’t born with female parts.

One sign held high and proud by a person perched above the crowd read “Suffragette City.”  Did this protester know about the racism rampant within the suffragette movement? Have they ever taken the online quiz that challenges one to distinguish KKK quotes from suffragette quotes realizing what a hard task it is? Did the marchers wonder about the collaboration between the organizers and the police force — a force that has historically been oppressive to people of color? Did they stop and question why policemen were showing off their very own pussy hats? Did the marchers that held up bedazzled, glittery vulvas consider what trans women, femmes, or non-binary individuals might feel in the equation of feminism to a body part they don’t have and may not feel connected to?

Even though Janet Mock, a trans woman-writer-activist-revolutionary of color, was a speaker for the Washington, D.C. Women’s March, one of the populations she advocates so strongly for — sex workers — was taken out of the march’s “Unity Principles.” The statement had been changed from claiming to “stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements” to “all those exploited for sex and labor” until outcry came to the attention of Janet Mock and she made sure sex-work inclusivity was returned to the platform. So the question arises as to what kind of woman the Women’s March represents.

There was a valiant effort by the original white organizers of the march to include and uplift women with intersecting identities to help organize the march going forward. While this inclusion was an important step for the Women’s March, it can be perceived as just that; a step, and not a fundamental change. In the end, many of the women that showed up to this march may have used this moment as a box to check off their bucket list. There’s an image of a poster circulating the internet that sums up an important question: “Will all these nice white ladies show up to the next Black Lives Matter protest?”

On the other hand, there is the argument from people like Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, who poses the challenge to people who think the Women’s March wasn’t radical enough to “do something about it”. She wrote that criticizing from the sidelines, on social media and elsewhere, doesn’t help anyone. Taylor celebrates the fact that the march included those that lean more liberal as opposed to progressive, arguing that the movement to resist Trump must be a mass movement as opposed to a homogeneously progressive movement. In order to have an effective movement, she wrote, “We need to open up our organizations, planning meetings, marches and much more to them” — “them” being the newcomers to the movement.

So what should these white, liberal newcomers be taught rather than merely criticized for not doing?  Who should do the teaching? What will they do if prompted in the right direction? Will they continue organizing in a way that follows the leadership of those most impacted by this administration — women of color, poor women, refugee women, women with disabilities, immigrant women, undocumented women, women of the LGBTQ+ community and non-binary individuals? Will they stand with Native resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline? Will they fight the ripping apart of families resulting from deportations and detentions? Will they intervene when Islamophobic legislation is in the process of being passed? Will they protest the funneling of American tax-payer money to the bombing and occupation of the Middle East? Will they challenge the prison-industrial complex and police brutality when people of color are disproportionately targeted by the police?

Hopefully most of these women will not leave the world of dissent after accomplishing their selfie photo-op. As Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef said, “A revolution is not an event. It’s a process. And it takes time.” The question is whether the marchers, a majority of whom were white women, will dedicate the time and critical, intersectional thinking it takes to contribute to a revolution.

As legendary activist Angela Davis said at the Women’s March, “The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance.”

Several sentiments reflected a disdain for the white women who merely showed up at this moment in history when their rights were under immediate attack, while being absent from movements for more vulnerable communities in the past.

Will most of the marchers contribute to the resistance for the next 1,459 days it might take to bring about meaningful change for all people? Will most of the marchers allow those with more intersecting oppressions take the lead in our collective liberation? There are 1,459 days to find out.

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