By Haley Barbour
Yesterday I attended the Women’s March on Washington. I had been looking forward to attending this march since it was first announced after the election, but I was especially excited after my experience at the inauguration. The experience was everything I wanted to be. I left my room and walked to the metro to find other marchers waiting at the station. This already brought me a sense of joy, but that was multiplied a hundred times when the train arrived and it was so packed with people wearing pink that we could not get on.
Once I finally got on a train we traveled through metro stop after metro stop that was so packed with people our train did not stop because there would be no possible way to fit any more bodies on the platform. Once I was off the train I traveled with the sea of people flooding the streets as I made my way towards the Capitol. I saw so many clever signs and like-minded women and men that I felt all of the sadness from the day before leave me. I made my way through the crowd as I chanted along to “love trumps hate” and “this is what democracy looks like.” I was struck with the incredibly diverse crowd I was surrounded by. There were women and men of all ages and ability levels. There were people of all races and religions. The crowd was a huge contrast to the one I stood in twelve hours earlier.
Among the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington are three women of color that wanted to ensure that the march was inclusive of all women and allies. Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour worked tirelessly alongside their national committee to put on this march the day after President Trump was inaugurated. Turn out to the march certainly indicates success. D.C. city officials estimate that over 500,000 people attended the march in Washington. Many news outlets also believe that more than 1 million people attended all of the women’s marches around the country and the world. While I personally found marching to be therapeutic, in the aftermath I have more questions than answers.
First of all, Washington’s march was inclusive. The event on Facebook said, “This is an INCLUSIVE march, is FREE to join and EVERYONE who supports women’s rights are welcome.” This is amazing, and it makes the message even more powerful the more people that support it. There is no doubt that the emphasis on diversity was intentional given the president’s statements towards specific marginalized groups. The feminist movement in this country however does not have a history of being inclusive. Certainly there have always been proponents of including more women and more ideas, but those ideas have regularly been shut down. Some of the exclusion is due to pure racism and prejudice towards other religions. But there is also a history of exclusion of ideas, something that the organizers of the march Saturday had to face. For example, the official platform of the march calls for “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people…” The event was also co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood and NARAL. But the march gained a lot of controversy when a few pro-life organizations were added to the list of official partners. The abortion question is one of many that has haunted the women’s movement in this country.
While I strongly support that march being pro-choice, it does bring up some important conflicts. Many pro-life women were just as outraged by President Trump’s comments during the campaign. The march organizers responded to public outrage by removing the pro-life groups from the list of official partners and assuring people that “from day one” the march has been pro-choice. How can we have intersectional feminism without diversity of ideas alongside diversity of people? How does a movement create a cohesive platform with such a range of issues affecting modern women? I do not have the answers to these questions, but moving forward it is important that they be considered.
As someone who worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and was told by democratic women and allies daily that they did not want to help the campaign, I also considered where all of this support was before the election. Perhaps the election was what many people needed to wake them up. If that is the case, I am going to ignore the fact that they are late to the party and embrace the fact that they are here now. That being said, for those of us that understand the sacrifice and literal blood, sweat, and tears that go into organizing it is concerning that this was many people’s first time participating. Moving forward what action steps will they take, if they couldn’t be bothered to take action during the election? Marching is one thing, working together as a network to lobby for issues we care about in a government in which the democrats are a minority is not easy. I also fear that many people view the goal of the march as getting allies elected in 2018 and 2020. That is a goal, but certainly not the first. We have to continue the momentum of the march tomorrow to fight for the programs we care about.
Many questions must be answered, but that is a problem that every movement has at its birth. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the people that attended the marches around the world that real action will come next.