This weekend is an important horizon on the U.S. landscape of women’s history: People across the nation will mark the anniversary of the historic Women’s March on Washington. But for some women, the anniversary is another reminder of the shortcomings of the 2017 Women’s March.
Critics said the march centered on cis white women at the expense of women of color and trans women, both groups who many felt had more to lose under a new administration many saw as hostile to human rights. At the start, organizers of the women’s march were almost all white, though they quickly course-corrected by bringing on Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour.
But some underrepresented women felt their issues — such as racism, discrimination, police brutality, LGBTQ inclusivity, and immigration — were relegated in favor of issues that matter most to straight, white, middle-class women.
“We have to decide: Do we want equality and justice for a select group, or do we want it for everyone, and we know all these issues are tied together,” said Ruth Hopkins, a Native American writer and activist. “Gender justice is related to economic justice and racial justice and we have to think about all these things.”
As the 2018 Women’s March and sister marches converge on Saturday and Sunday across the country, many women are asking: Has anything changed?
Tamika Mallory, co-chair of last year’s historic protest and co-president of the Women’s March board, said something had to change.
“We’re looking at all the communities that we seek to engage and work with, and we’re trying to figure out how to deepen those relationships and ensure all the stakeholders are at the table,” she said.
Mallory said transgender inclusion is a priority, as is increasing visibility for women of color.
“I think also something that we learned last year is that the women’s march is sort of a microcosm of what is happening in the world,” she said. “We’re looking through our organization and figuring out where diversity is a problem even within the network, where we have chapters that are mainly led by white women and there needs to be an intentional effort to bring women of color into those particular networks.”
Women of color have a complicated history with feminism
Feminism’s long history of perceived racism, combined with what some women saw as a lack of intersectionality at last year’s march, resulted in many black women and women of color refusing to attend.
Intersectionality, coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, is the recognition of how different backgrounds and the racism, sexism and classism that come with those identities overlap and impact the ways people experience oppression and discrimination.
“When black women talk about women’s movements and liberation, they’re always talking about more than themselves,” Paula Giddings, historian and author of When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, told USA TODAY. “They’re always talking about the community at large.”
Still reeling from Hillary Clinton’s loss to President Trump in the 2016 presidential election, some black women felt betrayed that 53% of white women voted for Trump, while 94% of black women voted for Clinton, according to exit poll data from The New York Times.
“I’ve never felt anything remotely resembling sisterhood with white women. Friendship, affinity, fondness, love — sure. Sisterhood? Nah. That sense of loyalty, interconnectedness, accountability and shared struggle simply isn’t there,” wrote cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux, on why she was skipping the 2017 march, forColorlines.
This year’s march has mostly side-stepped the backlash of not having a diverse representation among leaders and speakers.
The #PowerToThePolls campaign focuses on getting women registered to vote and electing progressive women into office. The Jan. 21 kickoff event in Las Vegas, chosen because it is a battleground state during the 2018 midterm elections, features a diverse list of women of color speakers including: Social critic Melissa Harris-Perry; Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter;Democratic Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto; and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, among many other diverse speakers.
Hopkins, the Lakota indian activist, said she thinks there is “an effort this year to listen more, to include more people of color.”
She points to a local women’s march this weekend in Seattle that was organized to bring the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women to the forefront. Hopkins says that is a victory, although some women may not find it does enough.
LGBTQ+ women and organizations want better representation in the Women’s March
The now iconic pink “pussyhat” supporters wore during the march may be less visible this year. The hat, some believed, was offensive because transgender women and non-binary people don’t necessarily have female genitalia.
“I personally won’t wear one because if it hurts even a few people’s feelings, then I don’t feel like it’s unifying,” said Phoebe Hopps, founder and president of Women’s March Michigan and organizer of anniversary marches Jan. 21 in Lansing and Marquette, told the Detroit Free Press.
The lack of representation of the trans community is not lost on the Women’s march leadership team. They say they will work harder to build a better connection to the trans community.
“Last year we learned and throughout the year we learned that there needs to be a greater focus on our relationship with the trans community,” Mallory, the Women’s March board co-president, said. “And this year we are being very intentional about engaging the trans community and figuring out better ways to be a stronger partner.
Not everyone is convinced.
“I feel like this year not much has changed,” said Lara Americo, a 33-year-old transgender woman and activist living in Charlotte, N.C. “I feel like the people who marched will show up for one day and then go back to supporting structures that marginalize people like me, and instead of marching — I do the work all year round of supporting other trans people — I feel like I’m going to take my day off, do the opposite of the majority, and keep working the rest of the year,” she said.
The newly invigorated women’s movement isn’t necessarily an organized one while women are indeed marching again in Washington, D.C., some women who live there have mixed feelings about it.
Two groups based in the nation’s capital, No Justice No Pride and Black Lives Matter-DC, didn’t want the Women’s March to convene in D.C. is because “They didn’t really communicate very well with local organizers,” said Emmelia Talarico, No Justice No Pride’s steering committee chair.
Talarico, who won’t attend a march this year, says that local groups who are organizing marches have silenced or disregarded the needs of organizations in D.C.
Mallory acknowledged different groups and individuals will approach engaging in the movement in their own way. “Unity looks like having conversations. Unity looks like having a strategy that includes understanding how different groups will move and when some folks need to step forward and others need to step back,” she said.
Anti-abortion feminists’ tumultuous relationship with mainstream feminism
Another group of women who felt silenced in the march are anti-abortion feminists. After a kerfuffle last year, the Women’s March, which partnered with groups like Planned Parenthood, refused to partner with anti-abortion organizations.
Carole Turner, 50, who attended a march in New Orleans, said that the march had plenty of diversity among the participants. Yet she acknowledged the march’s abortion rights stance was alienating to anti-abortion women.
“If I was a pro-life woman who wanted to go to the march I would not have felt welcomed there,” said Turner, who will attend a march this year and is sympathetic to both abortion rights and anti-abortion groups.
“You’re not going to make people feel welcomed in the Republican party if you don’t have anyone there that they look to as their leaders,” Turner continued.
But for Lisa Williamson, 49, a Tuscon, Ariz., resident, the exclusion of anti-abortion organizations caused her to not attend a march. Williamson does not consider herself a feminist and actively follows anti-abortion organizations.
“I find it very sad that the women’s march and the Democratic party as a whole has pretty much rejected pro-life people,” Williamson said. “It used to be there were pro-life Democrats and it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Williamson will not attend a march this year since pro-life women have not been included in the organizing.
Women’s March co-president Mallory said “uniformity” is not the goal, but “unity” is essential.
“We’re not looking for folks to fall in line with the women’s march agenda,” she said. “We understand that every organization and every individual will approach their strategy for how they engage in the movement in their own way. We need everyone doing what feels comfortable to them, but we need to be communicating with one another about what that looks like and then being very strategic on when there are moments when certain groups need to be uplifted so they have the platform necessary to do their work.”