Guest Column

Women's march a march for all people

2017-01-23 10:48
Trump Women's March Washington

Trump Women's March Washington

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Jessica Anania

As I stood today in the crowd of marchers packing the streets of Washington DC on Saturday, a father standing next to me lifted his young daughter on top of his shoulders. "It's as far as the whole country," she yelled, pigtails bobbing as she twisted to take in the crowd stretching out behind her. 

Indeed, on January 21, 2017, women across the United States and across the globe wrote themselves into history. From Nashville to Nairobi, Boston to Barcelona, and Chicago to Cape Town, millions gathered to declare that women's rights are human rights, and human rights are women's rights. 

In Washington DC I stood among a crowd of more than half a million people of all races, all religions, all sexual orientations, and all gender identities, all marching for those very rights. As Gloria Steinem told the crowd during the pre-march rally: "Sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are." That was exactly what each one of the over 2.9 million estimated people around the world who marched, did.  

The original idea for the Women's March on Washington came from a post in a pro-Hillary Clinton Facebook group. As the post went viral, amassing tens of thousands of responses, experienced organisers and activists took up leadership positions. Co-chairs for the event included activist and Obama aid Tamika Mallory, CEO of Manufacture New York Bob Bland, and civil rights activists Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour. 

These women represented a diversity of backgrounds and communities. That diversity was reflected both in the march's participants and its deliberate and unapologetically intersectional platform, covering issues including but not limited to police brutality, mass incarceration, indigenous people's land rights and reproductive healthcare. 

Throughout the day, the march felt buoyed by a sense of inclusivity and respect, a welcome contrast to the funereal mood which permeated Washington DC during Friday's inauguration. 

However, for a brief moment, I felt that the sense of respect become strained. As the rally neared its fourth hour, people around me in the crowd began to grow restless, eager to stop standing and begin marching. Despite women such as Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance, still addressing the crowd, shouts of "march now" and "just march already" began to drown out her and others who took to the stage. 

Overwhelmingly, those shouting were white men and white women. Seeing this, I was reminded that Trump won this election by ignoring and by yelling over the voices of people of colour, particularly women of colour. When fighting back against Trump and everything hateful for which he stands, it is critical that we do not repeat his sins, lest we weaken our own movement. 

Going forward, those with the most privilege must listen to and amplify the voices of those with the least privilege, not shout over them. As a white woman, it's important to remember that while I proudly cast my vote for Clinton, more than half of white women in the United States cast their vote for Trump. In this last election, we let our sisters and brothers of colour down. We let our Muslim sisters and brothers down. We let our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers down. We let our immigrant sisters and brothers down. We let our sisters and brothers around the world, who counted on us to say no to xenophobia and nationalism, down. 

Now, more than ever, I feel it necessary to recognise my privilege, and to use that privilege to show up for those my demographic disappointed, not just today in Washington DC, but every day. However, we must remember that showing up means listening to and advocating for the issues which affect any and all of us, not just the rights that affect oneself. As transgender rights activist and author Janet Mock told the crowd of marchers gathered today: "Our approach to freedom may not be identical, but it must be inclusive and intersectional."

As political activist and author Angela Davis took to the stage, those around me in the crowd shouting to "just march already" eventually fell silent. Soon after, we turned together towards the White House and began to march. Chants of "this is what democracy looks like" and "you're orange, you're gross, you lost the popular vote" reverberated throughout downtown Washington DC. 

Parents pushed their babies in strollers, generations of mothers, daughters and granddaughters linked arms, and people pinned to their jackets photos of the women in whose name they marched. The day remained peaceful. In fact, no march related arrests occurred in Washington DC, despite more than 500 000 people demonstrating. Looking around, I felt the undeniable power of what women can achieve when they come together, work together, and listen to one another. 

Alex Kramer, a 32-year old marcher from Washington DC, explained how she saw this march as a day to reinforce commitment to fighting for equal rights for all. That commitment is not just for today, or for the next four years, but rather a lifelong commitment to fight for equal rights. While the march may be over, I believe it is critical that we continue to show up, to listen, and to continue to put our bodies where our beliefs are. 

For those in need of direction on just how to do that, take note of Sarsour's words: "If you want to know if you are going the right way, follow women of colour." 

- Jessica Anania is from Kansas City in the USA and has a MPhil in conflict resolution and reconciliation from Trinity College. She was at the march in Washington on Saturday. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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