“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
Angela Davis shared these words of Ella Baker to the crowd of over 500,000 people in attendance at the Women’s March on Washington. There, librarians who had driven 16 hours would share space with rosy-cheeked local high school students, both dawning bright pink hats in the refreshingly cold D.C. air.
Symbolic and grassroots organizing are the backbone of all conveyance of public opinion in the U.S. For the typical citizen, the only way to get your voice heard is by inspiring one another to challenge authority, and to evoke a spirit of resiliency that—as much as one can relegate to mere feelings on posters waved in a large echo chamber— demonstrates a commitment for the long-haul.
54 years prior to the Women’s March, another gathering brought together hundreds of thousands for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The event culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and many note the movement’s influence over the passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such a demonstration of the influence of symbolic politics on hearts and minds, and the importance of engaging citizens in activist work, has left an impression on a new generation seeking guidance in its pursuit of social justice.
Sadly, some lessons went unlearned. Organizers of the Women’s March were beyond a doubt aware of the perils of “white feminism,” and intersectionality was a recurring theme throughout the day. However, many women were able to overlook the dangers of a single voice to feminism as they were enveloped in resounding cries for reproductive rights—cries that proved alienating to many.
One of the most unforgettable photographs from the march was taken by Kevin Banatte of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). In it, three white women, all wearing pink knit hats, are consumed by their phones as a black woman named Angela Peoples stands in front and holds a sign reading, “Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump.”
These words are no alternative fact: 53 percent of white women voters chose Trump, and 94 percent of black women voters chose Clinton. And sure, while the women protesting by-in-large did not support President Trump, the sign is a reminder of the deep divide between women of color and white women.
Standing at the crossroad of Third Street and Independence Avenue, surrounded by a swarm of pink hat-dawning women, one could not help but to recognize the heavily white demographical composition of the protestors. Earlier, not long after 9 a.m. at the Starbucks stand in Union Station, while mostly white women lined up for coffee ahead of a half-day of walking, I observed an all-people-of-color staff hard at work for the day.
These realities of a society plagued by socio-economic divide along racial lines cannot be erased by an infinite amount of “intersectional feminism” posters. White women were not showing up in these numbers for the countless Black Lives Matter protests in response to police brutality and systemic racism over the years. The cries for intersectionality, in other words, underestimate the reality of their words.
Another disconcerting aspect of the march was seen with the disrespect offered to speakers of color. While celebrities spoke at the beginning, women of color speaking on Islamophobia and human trafficking were overpowered by a “Let’s march!” chants erupting from this roughly homogenous crowd. In the words of Paper Magazine’s Nadya Agrawal, “There was no respect for the seasoned activists of color. These people were here to march, not to learn.”
Many of the women in attendance need to learn to show up and show out, even when the issue at hand is not directly related to their direct interests. While we can acknowledge the importance of defending immigrants and Muslims alike in a new Trump administration, active rallying can prove disillusioning.
Black History Month begins each February with sudden, often superficial, dedications to the courageous, awe-inspiring black Americans who have been long-erased from dominating historical narratives. As the shortest month recurs, the words, “Follow women of color,” are as pertinent as ever.
The Women’s March on Washington, in all its complexity, may represent a mere footnote in U.S. history books in years to come should efforts to hold leaders accountable disintegrate. On the other hand, the march could represent the trigger for a movement—transcending the clout of a single presidential administration—that redesigns American ideals. Historically-informed and unified, rather than divided, lines delineate the progress to come.
As the speeches concluded and the crowd began to cascade down the streets of my home city, we were invited to hold hands with our neighbors—representing the unstoppable, unbreakable linkage of a united people willing to fight for one another. The smiles throughout the animated crowd were palpable enough to leave any unapologetically marginalized individual feeling “upon a hill.”
For me, clutching an older woman from Idaho’s hand, the nascent movement proved energizing. Despite the March’s flaws, I am hopeful that through trial and error, an indestructible concerted group that will not lay down until all are recognized will emerge. However, hope is met with equal concern. Failure to follow through on professed commitments to intersectionality threatens to erase any progress that could be made. In the meantime, the revolution begins with open minds and steadfast drive.
Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, "in formation" runs on alternate Mondays.
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Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.