Isabella Daly explores the white feminist roots of the Women’s March on Washington and explains why tomorrow’s marches MUST champion intersectional voices.
This Saturday an expected 200,000 people will turn out to demonstrate in the Women’s March on Washington on the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, with similar marches being held in solidarity around the world, including ones in Bristol, London and Leeds. In the words of the organisers, ‘The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights’. But how representative will the march be and how will advocates of women’s rights proceed once demonstrators go home and Donald Trump is left to exert the power of the Presidency?
Following the election of Donald Trump, a number of women, led by Teresa Shook, unimaginatively dubbed the ‘Hawaiian Grandma’ by media outlets, created a Facebook event for a march in protest of the new President-Elect. The event subsequently gained support after it was shared to the not so private, private Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, named in homage to one Hilary Rodham Clinton. Overnight the Facebook event amassed thousands of attendees but the organisers had little experience in coordinating such a march and the Facebook event descended into arguments over the legitimacy of a march organised purely by white women.
So far, so white feminism? That was the conclusion of a number of women of colour activists and organisers who then took the reins from the original organisers. The new organisers felt the March, originally named the Million Women March, was at risk of marginalizing both the voices and issues of women of colour, in favour of a ‘we’re all in this together, this is not the time to be divisive with your intersectional feminism’ rhetoric. Susan Kolod, writing to the New York Times, described how she was ‘saddened to read that race issues are polarizing the Women’s March on Washington. If ever there was a time for unity, this is it. How offensive that a black activist ‘advised “white allies” to listen more and talk less’. But the policies enacted by Trump’s new administration will not affect women as a monolith. Women of colour as well as economically marginalised women, will be disproportionately affected by Trump’s plans to defund Planned Parenthood which provides basic healthcare for women and his plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act reportedly on his first day in office, to name a couple. The need for such a march to be inclusive of all women’s voices is especially important given that 53% of white women voted for Trump. The majority of white women in America voted in a man who not only bragged about sexually assaulting women but who has appointed white nationalist Steve Bannon as his chief strategist and whose immigration policy will result in the deportation of thousands of undocumented women. By way of comparison, no other demographic was more supportive of Hilary Clinton’s Presidency than black women, of whom 94% voted for her, along with 68% of Latino and Hispanic women. In conversation with The Washington Post, Bob Bland, one of the original instigators of the March argued organisers wanted to ensure that all the voices that were not given a platform in the election were heard. The March’s unifying principle echoes this, stating ‘We must create a society in which women – including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women – are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments’.
The resulting March will therefore be one characterized by a fragile alliance of activists from polar ends of the social and political spectrum with pro-life activists marching in the demonstration, sponsored by Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile London’s sister March will also be attended by a number of different groups including refugee rights demonstrators, disability rights groups and Irish pro-choice activists. However, the organisers of the march argue this is key to its success, stating- ‘we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore’.
Beyond the March, many argue that the success of the women’s activists lies in their ability to maintain momentum over the next four years. As Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin have argued, there is a risk that the March will exist as a tick box exercise where women and allies attend the March then go back to their daily lives, safe in the knowledge that they have done their bit for the next four years. In truth, in the US, the UK and worldwide, consistent activism is needed in the face of power that represents a threat to our fundamental rights across a spectrum of issues. While Trump’s election as President has likely fortified a Republican-led Congress to attack women’s rights in the US, on this side of the Atlantic, many seem to believe that the Brexit result provides them with a mandate to incite violence against minority groups, with hate crimes rising 41% post-Brexit. The LGBT community will also be left with fewer legal protections following the result as the most up-to-date legal protections derive from EU legislation.
However, what this March and this time in history have in their favour is the power social media lends to uniting and organising activists. Following Trump’s victory on 9th November, there was widespread circulation across social media platforms of a list of organisations to donate to, that protect and support those perceived to be most adversely affected by the future administration. Throughout the organisation of the Women’s March on Washington and its sister Marches, social media has been a key tool in facilitating the coordinating efforts. The Women’s March on Bristol is being held this Saturday in Queen’s Square at 10.15am; The Women’s March on London is being held this Saturday congregating at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square at 12:00pm.
To find out more information about the Bristol Women’s March, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1302467789841613/
To register: www.womensmarchbristol.eventbrite.co.uk
Image provided by Willa Bennett