The lifelong activist who helped organize the largest single-day protest in US history tells Broadly how we can keep up the momentum in 2018.
You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.
Twenty-four hours after Donald Trump's January inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, around half a million people marched up Independence Street toward the White House. The Women's March on Washington was the largest single-day protest in US history and had hundreds of concurrent sister marches all over the world, totaling approximately five million marchers worldwide.
The official organization behind the Women's March lists its mission "to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change" on its website. Though the march was in direct response to Donald Trump’s election, it was also meant to call attention to issues that have gone unaddressed for some time, including reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and worker's rights.
Women's March national co-chair Tamika Mallory is a lifelong activist. In 2011, she was the youngest Executive Director of the National Action Network (NAN), a civil rights organization she started working at when she was 15 years old. Today, she's president of her own strategic planning firm, Mallory Consulting, and also serves on the board for Gathering for Justice, an organization fighting the incarceration of children and the racist policies that produce mass incarceration.
Broadly spoke to Mallory about her continued efforts since the Women's March, and what she's looking forward to in 2018.
BROADLY: How were you anticipating Donald Trump’s first year of presidency? How did you fight back?
TAMIKA MALLORY: Once Donald Trump was elected it became very clear that 2017 and beyond would present many challenges. From looking at the election cycle and campaign, it was very clear that we were dealing with someone who is irrational and completely embodies many of ignorances that civil rights leaders and activists have been fighting against for as long as I personally can remember, and the history of the civil rights movement has existed. That was always clear.
I think that the Women’s March, and us becoming involved with the Women’s March, presented a shift in the victimhood narrative. Yes, we still obviously are dealing with what it feels like to be a victim, to be oppressed. However, having the Women’s March come together in the way that it did, and becoming such a forceful part of our history, has given us power. It gave us the power to fight back even against the worst circumstances.
What was it like leading up to the Women’s March? How did you feel once march day came and hundreds of thousands of women swarmed DC?
I think that the week leading up to the Women’s March was so—it was like a bubble, where there was so much pressure around the bubble just in terms of ensuring that the Women’s March represented the voices of all communities and all perspectives and that we did not allow it to become simply an Anti-Trump movement but an opportunity to reckon with America’s historical oppression of women and our families. It was an international cry. There were so many different layers in play that it almost felt like we were living underwater. It just was all like a fog leading up to the actual day.
Once the march happened and we saw the beauty of what unity and struggle and togetherness can represent, it was almost like an instant restoration of hope. We can all come together, make something beautiful happen, even under very, very, difficult circumstances.
Not everyone felt the same way at the same time about the Women’s March. Of course even though we were working to make it happen, there was certainly a feeling of despair, just in terms of how will the history books record whether or not this movement impacted those who are most marginalized.
What work are you most proud of from the past year?
I think that I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done since the March. We’ve continued to gather people and to keep people engaged, that makes me extremely proud. Many thought that the march would be one day to convene one time, and that we were basically dismantled. But we haven't. While it’s been hard at times to stay together, we’ve been committed to the process. That makes me very proud.
I think our march from the NRA to the DOJ to bring attention to the hypocrisy within both entities makes me very proud because that is work I’ve been doing for so long. We’ve been dealing with the issue of gun violence in America and attempting to point out the NRA’s role in violence within communities of color. Also, many of us have been sounding the alarm about inequities in our justice system but it was not getting mainstream attention because the lives of a black or brown man or woman are not valued as they should be. Being able to utilize a platform like the Women’s March, to get all the white women and people who had never been involved in standing for people of color, to get them to walk 18 miles in the sun calling the name of Philando Castile and learning from other people along the route, who had been victims of police brutality and victims of gun violence, victims of inequity and injustice. Having those relationships develop, that is work that I’m very proud of.
Most people did not in their wildest dreams imagine that we would be able to have the largest single-base protest in US history happen in January and then turn around in October and have a conference that was extremely intentional and thoughtful for over 5,000 people who were able to follow up on a one-day protest by really gaining tools and skills to go back and do work in their local communities.
Following Trump’s administration and the whirlwind Women’s March, do you see activist momentum decreasing?
I think it’s a complicated scenario. Any movement that we’ve ever seen emerge has highs and lows. We have moments when everyone is at the table and moments when they’re not. This is because people's interests change, personal issues, personal identities get in the way. People’s stamina also changes, their ability to continue in a fight that is constantly beating you changes. I mean beating, not as in winning, but as forces that are constantly coming at you. People are not always able to keep up with that pace to stay the course.
But I think that in this particular moment, we are dealing with circumstances that are so painful and dangerous that people don’t have the ability to go home and wait. Even when they you moments where you retreat. If you care about our society and you care about the children and you want to see us live and exist in a space that is even remotely fair, you can’t sit by and watch what's happening and not be involved in some way.
How have you managed to stay sane and keep fighting as the President and his administration attacks almost every minority group in this country?
I think for me, I’m able to maintain because this is not the first hard battle that I’ve been in. Donald Trump does not represent the beginning of the troubles for black people. As long as I can remember, I have been engaged in a battle. My family members, my parents were in the civil rights movement. They involved me, they engaged me. I have been sort of trained under the most difficult circumstances for almost 20 years of my life, which means that all of what I went have been engaged in, in the past, actually prepared me for the moment that we are in. It has provided me with a level of calm and strategic focus that others may not have because they are more new to the movement.
The most recent elections seemed to be a signal of hope to those disappointed by last year’s presidential elections. Are you hopeful for the Congressional elections of 2018?
I think that if we look at the most recent election and we see how it played out in terms of the people showing up in large numbers and with great intention, I am very hopeful that will continue. I will say that Donald Trump is probably the best co-organizer that I’ve ever worked with. He is someone that as long as he is speaking and as long as he is tweeting, we will see people resisting. We want to make sure that folks are encouraged not to just resist in the from of their own social media, conversations, but that they resist by ensuring that we block anyone who might be considering carrying out his vision in any of these upcoming elections.
What do you hope to achieve next year?
As we move in 2018, we are going to be engaged in a very intense voter registration effort. We believe that with all the work that we’ve done, marching, conferencing, leading, rallying, it will fall on deaf ears if we don’t organize our people to go to the ballot box and make a difference from an electoral perspective.