The Women’s March on Washington and related sister marches around the world happened this past weekend and honestly, I have some mixed feelings about it all. On one hand, it was incredibly amazing to see all the crowds that showed up in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, and more. Hell, there was even a (tiny) protest in Antarctica! And I’m not going to lie: seeing the dramatic contrast between the inauguration on Friday and the march in DC on Saturday was spectacular.
Seeing so many of the signs, all the people, and many of the speeches and performances was a reminder that while the next four years are going to be long, we are not alone in this fight. There was a part of me that was encouraged by all the people at the marches but at the same time, I kept waiting all day for the other shoe to drop. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting but there was a part of me that was waiting for something bad to happen.
That sense of unease in part comes from repeatedly seeing protests around the country being tear gassed, pepper sprayed, and other forms of excessive force from police being used. There’s that iconic photo from Ferguson in 2014 of a protestor throwing a tear gas canister away from others; another photo from the Occupy movement in which a line of protestors at UC Davis were pepper sprayed at close range.
Then, there’s the time in which #NoDAPL protesters were shot with a water cannon during the middle of a winter night in North Dakota and one #NoDAPL protester had a severe arm injury caused by a concussion grenade last November. Even during a protest over the inauguration on January 20th, 2017, peaceful protestors in Portland, OR were corralled while trying to leave and then subsequently tear gassed and rubber bullets were shot into the crowd. This move earned the Portland Police criticism from many, including the ACLU, who called the response wrong and illegal.
But while I waited for the other shoe to drop on Saturday, it never did. The Women’s Marches seemed, at least on face value, peaceful but at the end of the day, that made me feel even more unsettled. Was the lack of arrests, tear gas, pepper spray, etc actually because the marches were peaceful? Or was it because a much larger issue? (Hint: it’s the much larger issue at play.)
It’s really important that we talk about why there were no arrests or violence from the police on Saturday because the underlying issue at play here is in fact racism and white privilege. Ijeoma Oluo wrote about what bragging about the lack of arrests at the women’s marches really says and asks pointed questions about the difference between how police treat white women and black and brown folks. Similarly, Jess Zimmerman wrote about the myths of the well-behaved march, saying in particular that:
This is not the French Revolution. Effective protest does not require anyone having their head cut off. But it does require recognizing that this zero-arrest protest wasn’t something a largely white and female crowd earned. It was given to us, whether we asked for it or not, because of our frailty. Because we are something to be protected, not a serious threat. Because our safety has been the engine of our oppression and the oppression of others. We owe it to ourselves, and to those others, to use this gift wisely. If the police stay their hand with you, white women, it is not a compliment. It is condescension. But it is also an opportunity. How will you use it?
At the same time, there is more stuff to critique about the women’s marches. These marches are a product of humans and often organized by teams of individuals, meaning that like us, they’re not perfect. Critiquing them and talking about the ways in which we, especially we as white women, can be better is in no way a deflection of the work that’s already been done. I don’t think that bringing up the problems and calling people out is divisive but rather, provides a way in which we can all strive to be better and to do better in the future. Margaret Corvid wrote a great piece on why they critique the marches. But like we’ve always done, white women are blaming women of color for being divisive for bringing up critiques and mentions of intersectionality.
- Read Janet Mock’s Empowering Speech on Trans Women of Color and Sex Workers – Catie L’Heureux, The Cut
Intersectionality, a theory introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s, is the way in which to talk about how issues like racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc come together at an intersection to impact people’s lived experiences. Back in the fall of 2015, Crenshaw wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post about why intersectionality cannot wait and that sentiment remains true today, especially in the context of the Women’s March and any sort of ongoing fight.
Knowing what intersectionality is and fully embracing and putting it into action are two different things though. Portland’s Women’s March, for example, had a bit of a leadership changeup after the local NAACP chapter pulled its support before the march. The president of Portland’s NAACP chapter explained to one local paper that the reason for the pull came down to, in large part, not wanting to potentially be a part of a white woman kumbaya march and after being told by previous organizers that issues of immigration, Black Lives Matter, and other intersectional issues would not be addressed.
People of color (and again, especially women of color), at the start of the march’s organization, were being shut out of the conversation, silenced, and effectively shoved to the side, despite also having a large stake in what’s happening. I definitely recommend reading through this interview with Margaret Jacobson, who eventually ended up being the lead organizer for the Portland march.
- Woman in Viral Photo From Women’s Mach to White Female Allies: ‘Listen to a Black Woman’ – Brooke Oble, The Root
And all of that doesn’t include other ways in which people are marginalized. For example, one trans woman wrote about how the ‘pussy hats’ initially made her feel excluded (but thanks to a kind stranger, ultimately welcomed) at a women’s march in Maine.
The Women’s March was important for many reasons but there’s still a lot of room for improvement and many ways that we, particularly we as white people, need to step up. There are many different next steps and many different ways in which to fight back and resist. One step forward, if you are white like me, is to critically and uncomfortably reflect on your own whiteness and the associated privilege and remember that good white people can be racist too. A part of this means listening to others, especially to women of color, and showing up at other protests, ones that probably won’t center you or the issues that affect you most.
- A Poem About the Women’s March – Johnetta Elzie, Teen Vogue
Another step forward is to call on your elected officials and voice your concerns over different policies. The official Women’s March website has a section on 10 actions for the first 100 days, including ways in which to get in touch with your senators and representatives. Similarly, Leslie Price has a list of ways in which to keep the momentum going and includes ways to contact elected officials and ways in which to volunteer or donate money.
Plus, there is a website called 5 Calls, in which there is all sorts of information about who you should call and scripts for different issues and there’s an app called Countable that provides similar resources. In addition to getting involved now, there will be midterm elections, in which it’ll be just as important to vote then.
I’ve written recently about some important organizations and community groups to support if you can and it’s going to be important now more than ever to do so. It’s also going to be important that in the midst of everything I’ve mentioned, to be present in your local community and help those who might need it. Maranda Elizabeth, for example, wrote about how to support your disabled friends in winter and beyond.
- A Non-Exhaustive Guide to Inclusive Resistance Under the Trump Administration – Rosemary Donahue, The Establishment
There’s a lot to do in the next four years and a lot is and will be at stake. For now, I’m hopeful because of all those who attended the women’s marches and because even with all the flaws, I believe in my community. There will be burn out and uncomfortable feelings around pushing back on privilege but I still believe in everyone fighting against ignorance and hatred.