The Women’s March, in theory, should be a great way to bind together women of all backgrounds and enable opportunities for change.
Founded and run by individuals angered by the state of the world and the state of our country, the marches attempt to form connections and excite people to the point of making change. It seems that these goals have been lost in the past two years, as marches are created and held, people seem to be worked up about issues important to them, and then…nothing happens.
This is the paradox of the big, million-people events -- there is no guarantee that anything will come of them.
Sure, people show up and make it clear where their interests lie, but there is no proof that these people then return home to make change in their own communities. All told, marches are simply not the best way to change injustice or dismantle power. Some people are a step in this process, but in many ways the Women’s March organization seems to think that the process ends there.
Plus, Women’s March is, in many ways, a gilded organization as a whole. Although the organization has claimed to take steps in creating a more-inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds, time and time again people are disappointed by the lack of inclusivity. The organization has faced backlash from minority groups such as women of color, women of the Jewish faith, gender non-binary/non-conforming, and women with disabilities. An organization claiming to have the interests of all women in mind has done a poor job of making all women feel included, both in the organizing, and the execution of the marches.
One of these such groups, the disabled, has had an immense issue trying to include themselves in the planning process of the Marches in order to make them more accessible.
In New York City, a group of disabled people within the larger group, “Rise and Resist,” has repeatedly contacted organizers of the NYC Women’s March to try and make the March this January more easily accessible for themselves. The letter stating their demands to the NYC Women’s March included the statement: “These demands are not about mere accessibility. They are a matter of disability justice. The march represents 51% of the population, not just the able-bodied members of that 51 percent.”
Unlike other groups that have simply split apart from the Women’s March organization, the disabled group wanted to be represented and involved in the planning of events.
Not only has this group had issue reaching organizers with their demands, the response they have been met with has been disappointing and lackluster. After the letter was sent, the demands of the group were promptly ignored. Authors of the letters and members of the group soon began planning a “non-march,” which would specifically cater to the needs of disabled individuals who would otherwise have been unable to attend the Women’s March itself.
However, while still in the planning phases of this march, the leader of the group, Jennifer Bartlett, was threatened by the Women’s March organization with the promise of a lawsuit if she did not cease all “slanderous actions” and planning of the non-march. Not only was the organization unwilling to compromise, but they were outwardly aggressive about the creation of an unrelated march simply so that disabled women could feel included.
In other places, entire states have decided against hosting their own Women’s March.
In New Orleans, the 2019 Women’s March has been cancelled entirely, with organizers citing issues with lack of funding and discriminatory actions within the organizers of the March. Many women of color in the state feel that people of all races come together on March days and then return to their regular lives, where specifically caucasian women continue to support organizations that are directly harmful to women of color.
Instead, organizers in New Orleans are creating a tour of seminars and roundtable discussions in order to evaluate what issues are important to women in New Orleans and how best state organizers can address these issues. The Baton Rouge chapter National Organization for Women President Angela Adkins said it best when she stated in an article in The Advocate: “This is how you make change. We have to turn our marching into action… If 10,000 people go out and volunteer one or two hours a week, that’s a lot of activism and a lot of work that can go out into changing our communities.”
This is, in my opinion, how all states and groups should be treating the idea of a Women’s March this year.
The March was important for many people in 2017 and 2018, myself included. They helped draw people together, forge connections, and make promises to create a better world than the one we see now. They were a jumping off point for many who still needed to find their voices in a time of mass confusion and injustice.
I was astonished by the feeling of being together with millions of women last January in New York. Friends and family of mine say the feeling was even more breathtaking in 2017 in Washington. For a long time the Women’s March encompassed all of the things I wanted to be a part of and my goals as an activist. And even this year, I do not judge my friends and family who are attending the marches. For some people it is as much activism as they can reasonably take part in, and it feels like a comfortable step in the direction of making a difference.
But now, in light of recent controversies and the overall ineffectiveness at creating change among the organization, I do not see my time best spent supporting an organization I do not fully trust, especially when I have found other ways to organize and make my voice heard. I believe it is time for the Women’s March Organization to step down, letting other leaders come to the table on statewide issues and providing opportunities for state leaders such as funding and helpful advice in terms of planning and organizing large events.
Although the Women’s March has perhaps provided a voice for some women, at the end of the day it is more likely that only cisgender, caucasian women have truly felt the widespread, positive effects of the Marches, which is why it is time for new, inclusive, leadership to come to the table. Because if the Women’s March cannot truly include all women, it is no longer doing its job.
Riley Stevenson is a student at Lincoln Academy and is a regular contributor to Raise Your Voice.