Man oh man I had to put my head down on my desk and really think about this one. The next Women’s March is scheduled for this Saturday, January 19th. The main march is in DC and there are sister marches around the country, including one in St. Paul.
I was looking for an excuse not to go. The energy is different this year. I’m not feeling it. The weather doesn’t help – it’s going to be 8 degrees, maybe 12, in St. Paul. That’s cold, even for intrepid Minnesotans. So when the controversy surfaced around the leaders of the Women’s March national organization, specifically Tamika Mallory, I paused. And I thought, maybe this is the reason I’m looking for to just pass on the march this year. But then I kept pausing. I didn’t share the event on Facebook or encourage friends to attend. I just sat on it. And then I started to read up, and pondered and thought some more.
I am not an organizer, a professional, a leader, a journalist, not someone who is responsible for “official positions”. I’m a part-time activist with opinions. I try to do the right thing.
If you’re not a politics geek or activist, you may not have heard much about this controversy. You may not even be aware that the march is coming up again on Saturday.
If you are not aware yet, I’ll get to that.
I was in DC for the first Women’s March the day after Trump’s 2017 inauguration. And it’s not hyperbolic to say it was life-changing. Actually, Trump’s election was life-changing, but I don’t like to give him that weird and twisted credit.
I’ve decided that I will be marching in St. Paul this Saturday, January 19th.
I’m marching for the movement that still needs us to show up even though the crowds will be smaller and we will never recreate the January 17, 2017 march.
On a November day in 2016, post-election, I was in Chicago with my family having lunch, sitting at a long table probably discussing the state of the union. Because what else was there to talk about in November of 2016? One of the women-folk said “we should go to DC for the march”. One by one we all said “I’m in.”
And so we went. Three sisters-in-law, 3 nieces, two teenage friends, another grown-up friend. We rented a van and drove from St. Paul to Champaign, IL, where we picked up another group of friends and our little caravan took off for DC.
It was a sight to see, but to be there inside of the crowds of hundreds of thousands of women (mostly) marching, chanting, crying, laughing was empowering and amazing. And it was sad. I remember looking around saying to myself, or probably even out loud “WHERE HAVE WE BEEN?” We were there on that day because Trump got elected. We hadn’t been there in the months before helping to get Hillary elected. To be fair, some of you were. I wasn’t. I voted for her, of course. I didn’t do jack to help her win. Where had I been?
There probably wouldn’t have been a march, or an organization to go along with it, if Hillary had gotten elected. I wouldn’t have become a part-time activist or person with an abundance of political opinions, or subjects to write about, due to the abundance of “material” now presented to us.
My niece Franny, a senior in high school, recently asked If I would talk to her friend who was doing a research paper on protesting. I happily agreed, and imagined Franny saying to her friend “You can talk to my activist aunt!” I don’t think I was particularly profound in response to her questions, but when she asked me why I protest, part of my answer included:
“Sometimes people say that protests don’t really accomplish anything. I don’t agree. At a personal level, I participate because it makes me feel like I am part of something bigger, and that at a time when many of us feel helpless about the state of our country, it just feels good to be with people who have the same values and overall purpose in life. And I think even if you don’t attend protests, when you see on the news that a protest is happening, it can give you hope that you’re not alone. Sometimes you just need to show up.”
Maybe that sounds like a vanity reason. Or self-help. But we all could use some help these days.
Protesting can also be a way to propel people into other forms of activism, which happened to me and many women I know. The Women’s March was the first protest I had attended in a long time. I’ve always paid attention to the news, and always voted, but never considered myself an “activist”. I was a complaining, opinionated, often complacent reliable voter type, like many of us I dare say. That changed after Trump was elected. I guess I’m on a journey of realizing that our country has some really big issues to deal with right now, including what to do about a completely unfit president, and also realizing that I’ve been in a bubble, because many issues have been around for a long time, and I just didn’t know, or chose to stay in my bubble. Trump’s election was the kick in the pants I needed.
But the Women’s March organizations (national and local) didn’t stop after march day. They organized, mobilized, and worked to keep the momentum going by inspiring and recruiting activists, hosting the Detroit Women’s Convention in October 2017, spearheading efforts to save the ACA, and protesting Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. If you watched the women who were protesting in front of the Senate or Supreme Court, the Women’s March organization was a force behind those protests.
Tamika Mallory, one of the leaders of the national organization, is a supporter of the Nation of Islam organization, lead by Louis Farrakhan, a hateful anti-Semite. At a personal level, she has been impacted and helped by the work of the NOI. She has been asked to renounce him publicly, and has not done that. Some have asked for all four leaders of the Women’s March organization to step down. (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/nation-of-islam/555332/)
Some of the state Women’s March organizations have severed ties with the national organization. Women’s March Minnesota is distancing itself from it. Many have been grappling with this. Many thoughtful pieces have been written about the issue, and people have come down on both sides.
I am guessing that most people who will participate in the marches this Saturday don’t know who the leaders are, have never heard of Tamika Mallory, or have very little connection to the national or local organizations. In January of 2017 I didn’t know anything about the organization, which at the time was brand new. Most of us respond to movements that are in support of issues we care about. We don’t march for organizations.
Can we support a cause and a movement without supporting its leaders? Does participating in the movement automatically mean we are supportive of the organization, even unintentionally? Do the reasons that we marched in January of 2017 still exist today?
I’ve decided to march for the reasons I shared with Franny’s friend, and because “The Movement” is not the leaders of the Women’s March organization. The movement is the millions who showed up on January 17, 2017 and who continue to show up to protest, organize, support women candidates, get out the vote, call their members of congress, advocate for issues like healthcare, gun control, immigration rights and justice. I am supporting the Movement. I hope the Organization fixes itself. The Women’s March organization is lead by human, imperfect, maybe seriously flawed people. So in spite of an organization that is in trouble, far from perfect, and probably in need of some serious soul-searching, I am going to march. Because the reasons that propelled the movement in the first place still exist. In 2017 we suspected that we were in for some trouble. In 2019 we know it.
Louis Farrakhan, Mitch McConnell, or Donald Trump won’t get me to stay home.
On Saturday I’ll march in St. Paul and it will be 8 degrees, maybe 12, and we’ll be wearing our long johns and our warmest coats. We will wear hats (leave your pussy hats home, please) and scarves, so you may not even be able to see our faces, but we will be there in force. For the movement.
And I hope that for the sake of the movement, this ground-breaking organization can figure out how to fix itself.
©Rebecca Larson 2019