Ebony

I am Ebony Washington, a resident of Alabama. I was born, raised, and educated right here in Alabama. I’m the founder of an international sisterhood called Sisters of Synergy, which concentrates on women’s empowerment. So, of course, the Women’s March on Washington — just the name itself — perked up my ears because it’s so important that we proactively fight for and preserve the rights of women — not just here, but on a human rights, global level.

As the founder of Sisters of Synergy, I am acting on behalf of the organization to participate and organize with the Women’s March on Washington.

Oh! So you’re one of the organizers?

I am. I am one of five state organizers for the state of Alabama. So I am organizing on the state level and coordinating for the Mobile area.

That is awesome. Good for you! So, that’s your public persona, but what about what’s important to you personally?

Oh, thank you for asking! I am a mother first and foremost. My most important task in life is being the mother to Miss Elise. She is my one and only kid, and that’s a full-time task with a five-year-old — a beautiful experience, of course!

So I’m a mother; I’m a poet; I’m a woman who partakes in a lot of quiet activities. I’m a yogi. I write — poetry, position papers for my activism. Those are all things I’m passionate about. Whenever I do a task, I always try to bring my talents and my gift. And my gifts are my deep compassion as an empath and my writing ability. As you know, I manage the social media profile for the Alabama Women’s March, so I bring my creative writing gift to that task.

So, you are an organizer for the Women’s March, and I’m guessing you have some strong feelings about the incoming administration. What are your fears?

As a self-proclaimed politico, I have strong feelings about ANY incoming administration — no matter the political party, no matter who the individual is. We always have to be proactive about protecting our rights. So President Obama — loved him! — but when he was elected our initial question (and what I mean by “our” is women in my community) our initial question was: Well, what about our concerns? Will they be top priority for your administration? And that same question goes for the incoming administration: Here are our priorities, and will they be priorities in your administration?

I believe that as women, we shouldn’t get so caught up in who is in office and what political party they are in so much as we should focus on preserving our rights as women. And we have to be careful of aligning our human rights, our global rights, with any political party. We must protect them no matter who is coming into office.

Now, aside from that, I do have deep concerns about the history of Trump in his political pre-election persona. There were a lot of things being said about women in general that just scared the heck out of me. There are a lot of things that are unknown about him and his position on women’s rights and the rights of African-Americans. So, as you can imagine, there’s a bit of uneasiness. More so than with the Obama administration because there’s no way in. I don’t see a way in to speak to Trump about my issues. I don’t see a way in to create a round table to discuss what’s important to me and my community. And that is unnerving.

So instead of sitting at the table or being invited to the table, we are going to have to be proactively loud as women, proactively loud as African-Americans, so that our concerns are being heard: We’re going to be here; we’re going to march here; we’re going to show up here; and we’re going to be heard. And our rights are going to be protected.

If you did have the chance to sit down with the president-elect, what would you say to him?

Well, the first question I would ask — and it would be a pointed question — would be: “How deep is your love for my people?”

I understand the politics of getting elected, the politics of rallying the base, the politics of being someone who wants to evoke deep feelings and create all of these dog whistle sound bites. That’s your thing, and it’s not my thing. It’s not the way I would have run my campaign. But let me understand who you are and let me understand your concerns for my people.

And I think it’s important that we ask those pointed questions because we get the chance to see who that person really is.

If he was just playing a game and he does care about women’s rights — because he has a daughter — and he does care about African-Americans — because he does have African-American friends — I would want to know that, face-to-face.

I remember looking on television and seeing President Barack Obama and President-Elect Trump having their first meeting in the White House, and it just seemed like the air was thick! I can only imagine what the conversation was like behind closed doors! Who are you and what do you truly believe? I truly believe a part of their conversation that day was exactly that.

So, that would be my question for President-elect Trump: “How deep is your love for my people?”

That is a great question! Thank you. [Pause] Did you, do you have any reservations about attending the Women’s March?

Oh, wow! Yes! In short, yes. So — feminists. Let’s just start there. This march is in theory an inclusive march. It’s a march where, at the very beginning, there were some issues because of co-opting of African-American women’s efforts. And we sort of got over that bump. And then the top — the leadership at the national coordinating level was changed. So that appeased a lot of people, but what I still have a deep concern about is the dog whistle politics — the words that only a certain community can align with. Things like reproductive rights — which every woman can align with — but just the phrasing of it, the way that the information is presented, sounds like everything is being centered around white feminist concerns.

“Right to life” or “right to choice” to a white, privileged middle class woman may be a little different than it is to a black, working-class American woman. The right to choose may be “I choose to be happy today as I drive down the street without being harassed by cops, walk into a store — a store of my choosing — without being harassed by people in the store. I choose to work in a workplace and get paid what a white woman gets paid. So not only am I not getting paid what a white man is getting paid — because a lot of what we talk about in the women’s march is equal pay. As a black woman, I’m not even getting paid as much as white woman, and I would love to go past that and get paid the same as a white man!

So “right to choose” and “equal pay” — all of those things are awesome on a global level, but we understand as black women that sometimes even if the feminist community gets what they want, we still don’t end up getting what we need. We still don’t get the equal pay.

I am one of the organizers, and I do not identify as a “feminist.” I identify as a “womanist.” And we just had this conversation in the state of Alabama about what it means to be an “intersectional feminist.” It means, of course, as a woman I want all of those things: I want equal pay; I want the right to make decisions about my own body. I want all of those things that are core feminist values. But in addition, I want the right as a black woman to not have the cops come to my house and arrest me and my minor daughter because my white neighbor choked my son. I want the right to just EXIST. As a black woman, as a womanist, I’m forced to fight for civil rights. Just get me to the level where my civil rights are protected, and then let’s talk about human rights, and then let’s talk about women’s rights.

That’s why “womanist” is the label that I choose to identify with. Because honestly in mainstream feminism the voices of the most oppressed just aren’t being heard. And the concerns of the most oppressed are just not being elevated. So as a womanist, I’m bringing that intersectional feminism to the march. And you’ll see me — if you’re a part of the private group where we do the national coordinating, you’ll see me pose questions and you’ll see me pose challenges. I’m asking: “Are we going to talk about this? Is this going to be a part of the platform?”

So as a womanist, it’s my job — my duty — to challenge the thinking and the platforms of the progressive white-centered feminist organizers.

Well, I thank you for doing that!

You’re welcome.

So you have these very well-articulated, deeply-considered reservations. Why are you marching anyway?

Because it’s my duty to march. It’s my duty to show up in spaces that have not considered my concerns as central to the conversation I can articulate my concerns. I have the ability to put myself in spaces and put our concerns center stage. So it is my duty, not just for me.

In Washington D.C. there is this saying that sometimes you find yourself with strange bedfellows in politics. You find yourself organizing with people who may have not even considered you as a person! But you have to organize with them to push the agenda that you need to push forward — for your own preservation.

It is important that I show up and that I make it so clear to the organizers that we’re here. Our concerns matter. I have to be present to bring the message! I think it was the New York Times that said this is going to be one of the biggest marches in inauguration history. I don’t get a chance to sit that out. It’s my job to bring my issues to the platform for my fellow womanists.

So you’re going to be marching in D.C.?

I am. I will be in D.C., and I will be there the same way I was for the Million Moms March. The Million Moms March was a march of mothers — it was Mother’s Day weekend — of police violence victims. I will be there in the same capacity — as a quiet organizer, as the voice who is saying we’re here, these are our concerns; we want these issues heard in Washington — to make sure that the womanist view is heard on that national platform!

Well, I look forward to marching with you! I probably won’t see you, but I’ll be there, too. So, this is my final question: What do you hope that the women’s march will achieve?

On a personal level, I hope that for the first time a progressive woman’s march takes on the issues of the most oppressed. Have the courage to take on the issues of the most oppressed! I’m looking forward to seeing the platform released and seeing some of the MOST oppressed groups represented.

As a country, I am so proud of women saying: You know what? You don’t get to silence us. You don’t get to speak so vile about us! You don’t get to dismiss us. We’re going to show up in Washington on your inauguration weekend and you are going to hear from us. You can’t silence us! You can’t grab us wherever you want to grab us! You will have to deal with us!

Do you realize how powerful and awesome this is? Women are saying: I’m coming from Hawaii, Alabama, California. I’m coming from some of the most conservative areas in the country — I see women organizing from states that Trump won by a landslide. We’re showing up and you will meet us and you will deal! That’s powerful!

Women around the world are watching us! We have solidarity marches in Sydney and London. Women around the world are turning their eyes to women in America and watching us. That’s powerful! Just being present on that day is going to say more than we could have ever said talking about this on social media.

My hope for after the march is that we mobilize, we take all of that momentum and really think about how to take that power and turn it into a political force. We have to be very swift — and I’ve said this word many times before because it’s so important — we have to proactively protect our rights.

Let’s not wait until Roe v Wade is overturned. Let’s not wait until more mothers are crying because their kids have been murdered by police. Let’s not wait until healthcare is taken away. Women who didn’t have the resources to take care of their own bodies are now faced with the one thing that they had to take care of themselves and their families — Obamacare — being ripped away because someone doesn’t like someone else politically.

My hope is that we take that power from the march and we turn it into political power and we get busy ASAP! We get busy locking down and buckling down every right that we have proactively so someone cannot take that away over the course of the next four years.

Yeah, think a lot of people are hearing that call to get really active and busy! [Pause] Well, I thank you so much for granting this interview. It’s an honor to talk to you. You’re so articulate and your opinions are so well thought out! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

And you also. And I want to say this: I so appreciate you taking this effort on. This is one of the things — I mean the recording of history — it doesn’t feel like it’s big now, but the recording of history and of the actions and mindset and words of people as they go through what they may not recognize as a historic moment is so important. The reason why we have the pictures from the civil rights movement or the pictures from the suffrage movement is because someone like you had the courage to capture it. You are filling a very important job. In West African tradition, actually, the person who can tell the stories and pass them along — the griot — had the most coveted position in the tribe. That’s the person who keeps the history. Thank you so much for what you are doing!

[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted by phone, transcribed, and edited for length.]

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