Opinion

Washington D.C.’s Women’s March: A hub of pride and complexity

VOICES-women's march

On Jan. 21, all seven continents of the world held marches in solidarity to send a message to the new Presidential administration that women and their communities will expect leaders to protect them and they will hold them accountable for damaging policies.

I went to the heart of the gathering in Washington D.C. on Friday and Saturday.

On Friday night, I and the rest of my group got the iconic pussy hats. I searched for where I could get some and met a woman at the last seat of a bar who gave some out for free. They were made by people all over the country to be given out for people to wear at the march.

The night before the march was surreal. Washington, D.C. was a land of drizzle and fog. When I donned my pussy hat, friendly faces and allies approached me. A woman who just flew in from Florida asked me where I got mine.

Cosmic’s Pizza place, the same pizza place a shooter from North Carolina went to end a fictional prostitution ring due to fake news, had a hate group preach their homophobia to an angry crowd. The hate group was called Official Street Preachers and they held signs that read “God says you are male or female” and “There is no gay gene.”

I watched in distress from across the street. A woman noticed my pussy hat and said something along the lines of don’t worry, our time is tomorrow.

Half a million people took the streets of D.C. on Saturday. It was a sea of signs that read things like “Viva la Vulva,” “Keep your tiny hands off my rights,” “Don’t normalize hate” and “Weak men fear strong women.” I even saw a dog bearing a sign that read, “Even we know better.”

The streets were so crowded that I did not hear a single speaker, nor could I even get near. I knew it was an incredible line up of people like Michael Moore, Ai-jen Poo and Zahra Billoo. Unable to hear them, I instead listened to the people I was crushed up against.

Such people included D.C. law school students, Jekka Garner and Liz Pindini. Garner held a sign that pictured Ruth Ginsburg with a necklace that read “dissent.”

“Ruth Ginsburg has been quite outspoken about the fact that she does not appreciate a Trump presidency so I can’t say that I don’t disagree,” Garner told me. “Going to law school up here and being a woman, I think that’s all you need to realize: Donald Trump is not a good thing for this country.”

For Pindini, this was the first time she ever joined a protest.

“I think it’s extremely important to be here,” she said. “I’m trans and why is that a bad thing? According to the government, I should be ashamed of who I am and I find that absolutely unacceptable. There are just so many protections that we are on the cusp of losing. It’s terrifying.

“I just want to be able to exist, be happy and be who I am. I don’t think that should be something that is infuriating or frustrating for other people.”

Women certainly were not the only people marching. Men like Tony Fasolo marched as well.

“My daughter is an Air Force officer,” he said. “I’m a retired army officer. I worked in the Pentagon. I am a Vietnam Vet. I go down to the Vietnam Memorial, I volunteer there. I know that women serve honorably in the military. I believe in the word of the Pledge of Allegiance. I march because I just believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Fasolo was very worried about Donald Trump because he does not know what the new president really thinks. He fears for the freedom of the press and Muslims.

“I have a lot of friends who are Muslims,” he said. “I was in the Pentagon on 9/11. I know Muslims were the people who ran the plane into the Pentagon, but I know all Muslims are not terrorists. All I can say is we got to make sure we do defend our constitution and this is one way to do it right here.”

When the half million crowd marched, we chanted and sang. We shouted, “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands too small, can’t build a wall,” “This is what democracy looks like,” “Whose streets? Our streets” and “My body, my choice.”

While there was diversity and a lot of success, the Women’s March opened a long history of division in terms of feminism and race. Before the march, some writers came out as having mixed feelings about the march due to racial tension and a history of feminism usually being targeted to white people.

The Women’s March began with mostly white leaders. In the interest of inclusion, prominent figures emerged for women of color such as Linda Sarsour, Shishi Rose, Tamika D. Mallory and Carmen Perez. For many though, the idea of inclusion came too late.

Jamilah Lemieux, a writer for Color Lines, wrote an opinion piece that went viral about why she was not attending the women’s march.

“I’ve never felt anything remotely resembling sisterhood with white women,” Lemieux wrote. “The absence of that sisterhood never felt more real for me than it did when I learned that 53 percent of white female voters cast a ballot for a man whose bigotry was, perhaps, his greatest selling point.

“I’m really tired of black and brown women routinely being tasked with fixing white folks’ messes. I’m tired of being the moral compass of the United States. Many of the white women who will attend the march are committed activists, sure. But for those new-to-it white women who just decided that they care about social issues? I’m not invested in sharing space with them at this point in history.”

Naomi Madaras, an activist and Quaker, also had concerns about the issues of white ignorance.

“I went to the women’s march knowing that I needed to be there as a white woman to call attention to the racism in white women’s communities,” she wrote to me.

At the march Madaras held a sign that read “White Silence is Violence” on one side and “Quaker Femmes Against White Supremacy” on the other.

“I wanted to be there with an anti-racist sign to remind women that look like me that we can, and must, do better to tear down white supremacy especially, when it protects us. This was particularly clear in the police presence on Saturday.

“We know that police assault and murder women of color at alarming rates, yet on Saturday I saw white women giving police high-fives, and since Saturday I have seen photos on social media of cops donning the pink ‘pussy hats’ in support of the women’s march. The contrast between how cops respond to people of color versus white women is staggering.”

Like Madaras, I felt very conscious of this. In some photos of me in my pussy hat, I could see how uncomfortable I was. Half of me wanted to embrace the march but I was also haunted. On the other hand, I knew that discomfort is part of oppression awareness and should not be denied.

I just hope years from now I can smile and tell the younger generations that this was the beginning of something great. I hope I can say it was the beginning when women divided through race, religion, sexualities and gender decided to fight for each other.

Every day I’m going to try to keep that hope alive.

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