The Women’s March…. What have we learned and how do move forward in true solidarity?

by: Diane Cornman-Levy
Executive Director, WOMEN’S WAY

Baltimore Women’s March, but Elvert Barnes CC-BY-SA

Women across the United States and around the world came out in force on Saturday to take part in Women’s March demonstrations for the third year in a row. Originally spurred by the election of President Donald Trump, the Women’s March has become an annual event involving tens of thousands of women showing up to demonstrate over a range of issues, including calling for racial equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, health care access and protections for the environment, to name a few. The March has provided a larger platform for women and girls to speak about the injustices they experience as well as the changes that need to happen to realize our collective vision of gender equity for all. Since its launch in 2017, the influence of the Women’s March on American feminism — and on the left more broadly — is undeniable. And a groundswell of women’s activism in the wake of the 2016 election has led to an unprecedented number of women in the halls of political power; earlier this month, a record 117 women were sworn into Congress.

As we celebrate the impact the Women’s March has made over the past three years, we can’t ignore the challenges this movement has and continues to face. Like many social movements in the US, the organizers have faced challenges of not being inclusive and representing the voices and priorities of the more privileged. In 2017, women of color expressed their concerns that the leaders of the March were white; deepening the perception that the Women’s March was a “White Women’s March” and the issues they prioritized predominantly impact white, heterosexual women. Recently the leaders of the Women March Inc- one of the organizations that grew out of the original march, and the most visible public face of the march today were accused being anti-Semitic and are facing calls to step down. These accusations lead to several cities withdrawing from the March and are a threat to our collective power. Whether these accusations were based on hard facts, their perceptions are real and white women can’t ignore them if we are committed to gender equity for all.

The question is, do we truly want equity for all women and girls, and if so, how do we get there? If we want to build long-lasting bridges between all women and address the inequities for all women, then we must address the faulty foundation upon which the Women’s March is currently functioning.

The foundation begins with the Feminist movement in the 1920s when women mobilized to fight for the right to vote. The Suffrage Movement rendered nearly invisible the black women who labored in the suffragist vineyard. It took on a classic liberal racial flavor, acquiescing to white supremacy — and selling out the interests of African-American women — when it became politically expedient to do so. This betrayal of trust opened a rift between black and white feminists that persists to this day.

The feminist movement gained momentum during the 1960’s and 1970’s when women mobilized around reproductive rights issues, gender-based violence and equal pay for equal work. White women worked to protect our right to choose, and claimed that they were fighting for reproductive rights for all women, yet ignored the documented racial bias in the medical field that keeps many women of color from accessing reproductive healthcare, regardless of law. White women fought to break the corporate glass ceiling, but often ignored the racist practices of redlining by banks and government which perpetuates the cycle of poverty among women of color. As more white women climb up the corporate ladder and claim seats of power in the corporate world, the gender wealth gap for women of color has not improved for the past 50 years. At median, single white women own 32 cents on the dollar compared to men, Black and Latina women own less than a penny compared to white men.1

The modern Feminist movement gained momentum after the election of Donald Trump. Women across the country were outraged by a man who sexually assaulted women, spoke racist thoughts, and advocated against women’s right to choose. And yet, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump while 94% Black women voted for Hillary Clinton. These statistics deepened a sense of division between white women and women of color.

So how can the Women’s March build long-lasting bridges between all women? How do we build true solidarity among all women so that we move forward in a truly united wave? As a heterosexual white woman, how do I grapple with the fact that white women helped elect Donald Trump to office and his election spurred the first Women’s March in 2017? How do I march with my white sisters for gender equity if we do not fight for racial equity? How do I march with my heterosexual sisters if we do not fight for LGBTQ equity? How do I march with my able-bodied sisters if we do not fight for women with disabilities?

According to Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, we must examine our privilege and begin to dismantle it. Because our privilege is rarely examined, our social movements will tend to focus on the most privileged and most well represented people within those groups. The challenges of the Women’s March is forcing women, primarily white women, to examine our own motives, our own agendas that are based on a system of white privilege. The Women’s March and Feminist movement can no longer only be a call to men in power, but a call for a more inclusive form of feminism called intersectional feminism.

Intersectionality is a way to describe the experiences of identity that cross lines of gender, such as race, class, ability and sexual orientation, and come together to impact one’s experiences of moving through the world. The concept originates in black feminist theory and the word itself was coined by Dr. Kimberle Williams Crenshaw to describe the ways that black women are uniquely impacted by discrimination in the workplace, the criminal justice system, education and more. Today, Ijeoma Oluo and the leaders of the Women’s March are advocating for an expansive understanding of intersectionality when we fight for social and policy change.

by Mark Dixon, CC-BY-SA

This past year the Women’s March convened a policy table of over 50 women from diverse communities, who work on different issues to collectively identify priority legislation that can help our communities now. The result is the creation of the Women’s Agenda- the first intersectional feminist federal policy platform, and a unified declaration of what the women’s movement wants to see in 2019 and beyond. The platform includes priorities like: passing the Equal Rights Amendment, Medicare for All, investing in independent living and autonomy for women with disabilities, expanding the Violence Against Women Act to include Native women, campaign finance reform and restoration of the Voting Rights Act, the decriminalization of sex work, passing the Equality Act, reducing racial health disparities in maternal health, and repealing the Hyde Amendment. The importance of such a platform by a popular women’s organization should not be understated as mainstream feminism in the recent decades has tended towards capitulating to capitalistic inequality and white, masculine ideals of success rather than recognizing the importance of labor rights to equity for women and the harmful effects of male political conquests on women and children. If the over one million women who participated in the marches across the country this year are truly internalizing the message of the Women’s Agenda, it could spell the dawn of a new era for modern feminism. As of yet, it’s unclear if that will be the case.

The future of Women’s March Inc., and of women’s marches around the country, may be in doubt. But the impact of the Women’s March as a broader movement on building solidarity among all women endures. It is challenging each of us to examine our own privilege and begin the process of dismantling it. It is forcing us to think about women’s rights as part of a larger set of civil rights, including racial and economic justice. The Women’s March is changing the face of feminism across the country and it is about “time.”

  1. Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap Initiative-Data Repository, January 7, 2019