What was truly wonderful about the Women’s March was that it bubbled up from the grassroots. Teresa Shook, a retired attorney in Hawaii was deeply dismayed by the election of Donald Trump; she turned to Facebook and asked: What if women marched on Washington around Inauguration Day en masse? The response was overwhelming. It appears that more than 2.5 million people participated in marches across the U.S. on January 21.
Established feminist organizations eventually signed on, but the initial impulse came from the grassroots. In response to numerous complaints that the organizers ignored women of color, the leadership team became more diverse and wrote an inclusive platform which placed the March in the context of a broad struggle for social justice. The platform acknowledges the specific ways women of color, low-income women, transgendered women experience gender discrimination. Some highlights from the platform:
We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights.
We believe Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice.
We believe in accountability and justice for police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color. Women of color are killed in police custody at greater rates than white women, and are more likely to be sexually assaulted by police.
We are also committed to disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline that prioritizes incarceration over education by systematically funneling our children—particularly children of color, queer and trans youth, foster care children, and girls—into the justice system.
We believe in Reproductive Freedom. … This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.
We must end the pay and hiring discrimination that women, particularly mothers, women of color, lesbian, queer and trans women still face each day in our nation.
We recognize that women of color carry the heaviest burden in the global and domestic economic landscape, particularly in the care economy.
We reject mass deportation, family detention, violations of due process and violence against queer and trans migrants.
The platform articulates an inclusive conception of feminism which will appeal to a younger generation of feminist men and women. According to a report in the New York Times, the organizers made “a deliberate decision to highlight the plight of minority and undocumented immigrant women and provoke uncomfortable discussions about race. 'This was an opportunity to take the conversation to the deep places,' said Linda Sarsour, a Muslim who heads the Arab American Association of New York and is one of four co-chairwomen of the national march. 'Sometimes you are going to upset people.'"
And some feminists who wanted to focus on women’s issues narrowly construed were indeed upset. This is a familiar divide in the feminist movement going back to 19th and early 20th century feminist movement when most white feminists wanted to exclude black women from “their” movement. This division surfaced again in the late 1960s and 70s when some feminists saw incorporating a commitment to racial justice as somehow diluting the feminist message. In my study of second wave feminism in Philadelphia, I quoted a committed NOW activist’s response to an African-American member’s plan to start a new chapter in Philadelphia, Germantown NOW, a chapter which would focus on racial justice as well as gender justice:
I remember people saying things, it’s not the NAACP, we represent all women and there was a certain group who wanted it all to be about race. ... We had to concentrate like a laser beam on women’s rights because it helps all women and we can’t be sidetracked with other issues. I remember there being disagreements on how we should go about that. They didn’t think [Germantown NOW] would last because it was founded for the wrong reasons. …People thought it was going to take us off track. ...the particular people involved seemed to be more interested in fighting racism rather than sexism. At the time, we had to focus on getting the ERA passed..
We have made progress. Young, 21st century feminists see the struggle for racial justice as integral to the struggle for gender justice. It's not an either/or. Most of the speakers at the Philadelphia March emphasized an inclusive feminism. Unfortunately, the audience was not as racially/ethnically diverse as I had hoped. The good news was that there were many young people, including young men. Both men and women responded enthusiastically to the call for an inclusive movement for gender justice.
There is much work to be done as African American feminist Jamilah Lemieux reminds us in her powerful essay, Why I'm Skipping The Women's March on Washington":
I’m not saying that I will never stand in solidarity with masses of White women under the umbrella of our gender, but it won’t be this weekend...It won’t serve my own mental health needs to put my body on the line (a body that I believe will invite more violence from Trump supporters than paler attendees) to feign solidarity with women who by and large didn’t have my back prior to November. Not yet. Eventually? Perhaps. But not now.
We are beginning to have honest conversations and the energy to resist the Trump agenda is clearly out there. For the first time since the election, I am feeling hopeful.