he Women’s March on Washington brought together millions of people in cities across the US and in 66 countries across the globe. I don’t care who you are—that’s freaking incredible. Not to mention in Washington, DC, alone there were three times as many people showing up to protest the horrible policies embodied by the Trump administration the day before at Trump’s inauguration. (Also, it still feels weird to say that Trump is the president… but we’ll survive.)
I loved it. Keynote speakers from across the US denounced misogyny, Islamophobia, gender inequality, transphobia, homophobia, sex worker discrimination, restricted reproductive rights, and so much more. It gave me so much hope to see so many people united, voicing their desire to see a world that values the fullness of people. And I know, for so many people, this was their first protest.
My concern is going to be that it might be their last protest.
Don’t misunderstand me. I know what a historic moment this is for us as a nation. I know that this is setting the tone for something bigger to happen, but the question I have is this: Who is going to show up next time? Whether we like it or not, we are a people who love punching the clock. We love being a part of something until it asks a little too much of us. And what happens when we are called out on our own prejudices, racism, queerphobia, etc? How will we react?
One big critique that’s been pointed out by women of color (and people of color in general) is that this march centered the concerns of white women rather than working for an intersectional movement for justice. It felt like Trump showed up with the “Grab ‘em by the pussy” comment and then, because white women were threatened, they organized and showed up. This twitter thread embodies this sentiment perfectly:
If you don’t want to read it, here’s a summary:
We need to remember that 53% of white women voted for Trump (and on top of that we need to remember that 81% of Christians in America voted for Trump). When the person above held up a sign that said “Hold white women accountable,” rather than being met with a reaction of, “Yes, we need to do better,” she got ton of dirty looks. Some folks even physically accosted her.
Why? Because her calling out racism and white supremacy for what it was made people uncomfortable.
My friend and sister, AnaYelsi, went to the march alongside an incredible group of indigenous people, and also was very vocal about the fact that while the organizers of the march did eventually work to make an attempt at making this a more intersectional space, “it was often done in response to backlash and legitimate criticism rather than an innate understanding of intersectional justice. And was often done quietly rather than with a public acknowledgment of the failures to live up to those standards and a commitment to do better.” Additionally, she, too, reported that many folks accosted her about her critiques of the march.
My thoughts on this? They are right.
While the Women’s March on Washington was an incredible feat of gathering people to protest against a horrible administration with policies that endanger the lives of marginalized people, it will falter and fail if it does not become intersectional. It will merely be a continuation of what feminism was in the beginning: catering to the needs of white women and ignoring racism, LGBTQ discrimination, transphobia, the exploitation of indigenous people, and so on.
And I want the momentum from the march to keep going. To get this many people to show up for anything is incredible, but it needs a path forward that endorses and supports other organizations and movements for justice.
So what can we do? I think there are two big things:
Listen to voices that are different than your own.
I know this should go without saying, but given the two above examples (and the fact that mostly white people read my blog), apparently it needs saying: we’ve got to listen to people who are voicing concerns, especially when it comes from people of color. They’ve had the brunt of oppression for the last forever, so trust that they know what they are talking about.
We often end up in echo chambers, and echo chambers can breed exclusivity and a feeling of unquestionable moral superiority. We begin to develop blind spots, and when someone calls us out, we get on the defensive. In many of our contexts, it manifests itself in white supremacy and white centricity. And this is not completely our fault. It is the system we were born into. But when we become aware of it, we have to do everything we can to break free of it and dismantle it.
To use the example above: when a woman of color holds up a sign that says “hold white women accountable” and brings up the fact that 53% of white women voted for Trump, the response should be disgust, but not at the woman of color who is speaking the truth. It should be directed at the system that got us to that point. The response should be, “You’re right, what can we do better? How to help put an end to this?”
This problem is similar to what we’ve experienced in queer justice movements. Gay, white, cisgender men have been at the center of it all for a long time to the detriment of queer people of color, as well as trans and nonbinary people. For so long, it’s been about getting same-sex marriage legalized, and beyond that, people are unaware of the problems the rest of the community faces. And then gay, white, cisgender men get super uncomfortable when people of color start asking for a place at the table, or to have their stories and concerns heard.
All that to say, when people voice anger or concern or critique, listen. If it makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why you feel that way. More than likely it’s either because you have unknowingly been a part of the problem or you’ve been complicit in injustice perpetrated. So really, getting called out is the best thing that could happen to any of us. We are then able to examine ourselves and learn how to be better. Again, don’t get defensive, there’s no reason to. The best response is to ask, “What can I do better?”
Second thing you can do:
Keep showing up.
Millions of people showed up for the Women’s March. In my city of Atlanta alone, we had 60,000 people in our streets. 60,000! That’s power. What if even half of those people showed up for a Black Lives Matter demonstration? Or what if every person gave $1 to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline? (And BTW: Trump just gave the green light on this project, and it will greatly endanger the water supplies in our country as well as the sovereignty of First Nations People.) Or what if a third of those who protested this past weekend showed up on the state capitol to protest any public policy that would hinder or endanger the lives of LGBTQ+? Or helped fight for funding for Planned Parenthood?
You see where I’m going with this? It is so easy to get swept up in the drama of it all, of it being a historic moment and what not. But if we do not follow through with the passion of that moment, that’s all it will be—a moment.
Justice cannot be about just your issue. You can’t just show up for the thing that hits hardest for you. This has to be about every single oppressed person. And specifically with the Women’s March, it must be about all women:
Black, brown, indigenous, trans, femme, butch, single, divorced, poor, Christian, Muslim, atheist, pro-choice, pro-life, republican, democrat, and so on.
Because what is it to have equal pay but to have your right to marriage or adoption as a queer person be restricted by state or national legislature? What is it to have to have access to health care if police brutality is still leaving black and brown bodies in the streets? It is incomplete. We have to work for the whole person, not just one type of person or one set of issues. As the great Audre Lorde put it, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
I think the greatest thing I’ve learned in my short time as a social justice advocate is a concept that AnaYelsi taught me: my justice is intersected and interlocked with hers. My longing to be accepted in the world and in the Church as a gay, mixed-race person is inseparable from her longing to be treated equally as an Indo-Latinx woman. If we don’t go together, neither one of us will be free.
And that is true for us all. For women, for non-Christians, for queer people, for people of color, for the poor, for us all: we must do this stuff together or none of us will ever truly be free.
Or, to put it more bluntly:
My justice must be intersectional or it will be bullshit.
Proud of you all. Let’s keep showing up, let’s listen, and let’s keep going together.