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The Women's March Is a Good Thing

Jan 20 2017 9:21 PM
The Women's March Is a Good Thing

Photo by Anadolu Agency via Getty

Unifying hundreds of thousands of women is almost an impossible task. We talked with Winnie Wong, one of the authors of the march's platform, about using messaging to bring the diverse protestors together.

Friday, January 20th is a day to celebrate the masses of women and men who are traveling to Washington, facing possible arrest and assault by militarized police, to make sure Donald Trump knows that there will be people dedicated to disrupting his plan to roll back our rights to racial justice, healthcare, abortion, education, and environmental protection.

Seventy percent of Americans hate Trump, and this weekend he will see what that looks like. Along with other efforts like Disrupt J20, this is due in no small part to the Women's March, which has built a coalition with over 400 organizations to resist the incoming administration from day one. Partner organizations range from the Democratic Socialists of America to Planned Parenthood to various labor unions. Tomorrow, an anticipated 400,000 people will march on Washington, and many more will participate in sister marches around the country.

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This follows weeks of reports that the protest was fracturing: Most centered on white women who could not understand the importance of putting the voices of women of color before their own. And, conversely, some black women felt like they were not being listened to.

But in any organized effort that is ambitious enough to attempt to bring together hundreds of thousands of people, there are bound to be disagreements between individuals who have different political backgrounds and educations. To combat this, the women of color tapped to be the co-chairs of the Women's March—the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York Linda Sarsour, and activists Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez—as well as one of the founders of the march, Bob Bland, knew that they needed to construct a common language.

That meant having a centralized platform: one that makes it clear that "defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us." So the organizers brought in a diverse group of 18 activists to collaboratively write the guiding principles for the march, including the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement Alicia Garza and Winnie Wong, an Occupy Wall Street organizer and the founder of The People For Bernie, which helped strategized for Bernie Sanders' campaign.

The women of march hope that the guidelines—which lay out the importance of labor protections like raising the minimum wage, indigenous women's rights, reproductive freedom, dismantling the biased criminal justice system, solidarity with sex workers, and migration as a human right, among other things—will also serve as an enduring road map for opposing the Trump administration.

Over the phone, Broadly spoke with Wong, about how the ideological backbone of the march came about and the importance of the protest as a starting point for resistance.

There's been a lot of reports of friction regarding the organization of women's march, notably dissent from women of color who have felt like it's a movement that centers white women. Did this show up in the process for writing the guiding principles?
No. I can tell you that the white women who were at the policy table were great during the authorship process, which was done as a collective. There were a lot of women of color at the table and that's why you see, when you read the document, the narrative being built around who is impacted first and worst. That's something that was important to me when I joined the cohort.

We had a multi-hour phone conference call and then we moved the takeaways from that call onto a Google doc. We would sort of revisit it every few days and then have another call to talk through the pain points. There was never really a time where there was too much friction that couldn't be resolved and I think that speaks volumes about the leadership of the white women at the policy table and how they really showed up as allies. They understood that issues around the economics that are real impediments to women of color needed to be centered.

I think it was a huge achievement and I hope that the march will be a big container for a diverse section of women to come together. You can't expect, like, 300,000 people to land on the same page on day one. That's impossible. But if [the women who wrote the guiding principles] could land on the same page after three weeks of constructing this document, I'm pretty hopeful that in a short amount of time we'll be able to create some real unity.

Women need to lead and we will do that.

I have to tell you, I think that the division between the white women and women of color is something that the media is responsible for blowing up without actually examining why the problem is occurring. This narrative is not helpful. But in spite of all this publicity people are still coming out to the march: White women, black women, Native American women, Asian women, mothers, granddaughters. They're all coming to DC on 12,000 buses. That speaks volumes about how unified we organically are. Women show up for each other innately.

There was also the controversy about how the Women's March had partnered with an anti-abortion group, New Wave Feminists. Bob Bland, one of the march's co-chairs, had initially expressed support for including the group but it was later recognized as a mistake. And you know, I do think you're right. I think it is okay to make these kinds of mistakes and learn from them by having a conversation about why it's a bad idea to prop up an anti-abortion group within a feminist march. We have to help people come to these types of understandings.
It's a big tent. It's important to really be open and loving and inclusive. We have to hold space for each other as women. We have to hold space for each other as humans. It's about education and it's about tolerance. These are things that Donald Trump is not prioritizing in his government. So the women need to lead and we will do that.

To me, it's really impressive how one or two people's Facebook posts could spawn this massive march, especially when you think about coalition building and how important it will be for all these women to be connected together.
Absolutely. Like, I've never met Bob Bland. I'm excited to get to know her better and figure out ways that her and I can work together. I think what women do that men should learn from is that we listen to each other. When women get together and we listen to each other, the magic happens.

When I step back and look at the march, I see how egalitarian it is. There were hundreds of volunteers who pitched in to help organize sister marches. The national co-chairs didn't make those sister marches happen. It was the organizers who were empowered by the national team who did it. It's really exciting.

Read more: As Trump Takes Office, Women Across America Are Striking in Protest

Since you were so involved in Occupy Wall Street, I wanted to ask you if you see any parallels or differences between that movement and the Women's March?
I think the main difference, and this is going to sound a little dismissive, is that the Women's March has a leadership structure of all women, so that's significant. At Occupy Wall Street it was decentralized without any kind of leadership structure. Everyone could call themselves a leader and there were too many male leaders. I don't care if I piss off men; they can come at me.

Do you see the Women's March as something that can serve as a structure for political organizing going forward?
I do. The co-chairs did incredible work really engaging so many women leaders and empowering them to be a part of this process. Of course the idea is to use this movement to create more women leaders. Imagine if the world were run by women.

We released a centralized message and people should feel free to adopt it—or tweak it and adapt it—to organize as they move into 2018 and try to unseat some of the GOP candidates at the state level. Again, not every single person who is involved in the march has the same political agenda as myself, but what's important is that there will be ongoing organizing. I know for fact that there will be candidate training, led by women, after the march. There's been a lot of discussion around what it looks like for these women to think about actually running for office. There's really a lot happening.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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