Essays, Feminism & Women's Issues, Fighting White Supremacy

The Problem with the Women’s March on Washington and White Feminism

I debated whether or not to share this story, and then I thought it could be used as an educational experience for others, so here we are. Right after the election, I underwent a flood of emotions, like many of you. I experienced everything from depression and anxiety to outright anger and aggression. I was lit. I was ready to take on the world, and I wanted to DO something about it. I soon learned that many of you felt the same. Then, I saw that an event, a women’s march in Washington, D.C., was spreading quickly around Facebook. I thought: YES! This is exactly the type of thing I’m looking for! To march with thousands of women and show our power! I logged onto the national page and realized there was no page yet for Louisiana, so I worked with my co-admin, Britney, and we created one. We were excited and ready to get to work.

Very quickly, we realized things were not what they seemed on the surface. The original name of the march, the “Million Women March,” was problematic. It appropriated the important 1997 black women’s march. If you Google “Million Women March,” you’ll see stories of the upcoming Women’s March before stories of the 1997 march. Already, this white women-led event was overtaking black history. Fortunately, the national organizers realized that mistake and decided to change the name. Much to our dismay, they changed it to “Women’s March on Washington.” Yet again, this appropriated the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” If you Google “March on Washington,” the upcoming women’s march yet again shows up above an important moment in black history.

Many of us at the state administrator level had issues with the new name, and we spoke up relentlessly. The national organizers refused to listen. Women of color called out the name as problematic. In response, they were blocked from the secret FB group and their own event pages and their comments deleted. Soon enough, there was a post from the national organizers stating that any “negative” comments would not be tolerated. We still spoke up, and state admins began dropping like flies, either being blocked or quitting because they could not stand for what was happening at the national level. I had become friends with quite a few state admins from across the country, and I watched as they became dismayed and frustrated and saddened by the seeming lack of interest from the national organizers in being inclusive, even though their message was one of inclusivity.

Then, we saw a statement released from the national organizers regarding the board, which now included a couple women of color. This statement, however, did not include the actual duties of these women, which gave some of us pause. Were they just figureheads? The statement definitely seemed aiming to appease us by saying, “Look! We have women of color on our board! We are inclusive, everything is fine!” But they were not transparent about the actual work and duties of the women of color who had recently joined the national board, and they still refused to change the name of the march.

A group of us gave multiple suggestions toward a name change, the most common and best being just to drop the “on Washington” part of the name and call it “Women’s March.” We felt this was a good compromise. From a national perspective, that’s what everyone seemed to be calling it anyway; it was in line with the e-mail addresses and website being worked on; and most importantly, it took away the appropriative part of the name that was alienating many women of color. Seems like a win-win, doesn’t it?

The national organizers didn’t think so. They put the one black woman from the national board on a conference call to explain away and support the name, allowing her to speak for all women of color. They gave a lot of explanations, everything from, “We are not appropriating, we are celebrating,” to “We will never make everyone happy” and “We’re weak if we’re divided.” Comments included things like, “I don’t give a shit what it’s called, we all need to stand TOGETHER” and “We cannot change the name again. That will show that we are unorganized and weak.” Perhaps the most concerning explanation was that this was never supposed to be an “anti-Trump” march, but an all-inclusive women’s march, there are many white women in this country who voted for Donald Trump, and we do not want to alienate those women from marching. This was said on a conference call with women of color voicing their concerns, only to be shut down so as not to alienate white women.

I, along with many of the other state admins, kept speaking out. A press packet was released, including an FAQ with the question “Is this march inclusive for women of color?” with the answer, “The WMW is an evolving effort and it was founded by white women. These women recognized the need to be truly inclusive, and brought together the national co-chairs, now reflected a balanced representation. The teams of organizers and volunteers working for the march, by extension, are now more fully reflective of the diversity of our nation and this trend will continue as we build steam,” essentially proving that inclusivity was an afterthought. I felt gross. This was definitely not what I signed up for. I debated quitting. And then I decided that staying in and fighting was better. If I quit, that was one less dissenting voice. If they weren’t silencing me, but they were silencing others opposing them, I needed to stay and continue to give voice to these concerns until I was also blocked. So I did. And those of us who stayed and kept voicing concern continued to be met with a wall, some being silenced altogether through blocking and deleting comments.

What finally caused me to resign was the national organizers laying full liability on the state admins, meaning that we would personally be responsible and liable for anything that went wrong, because there is no national organizational umbrella to absorb the liability. Unfortunately, I cannot afford that. So that, on top of feeling gross about their “lovely” rhetoric with no action to back it up, and in fact actions that went directly against the rhetoric, led me to resign my position as the Louisiana state admin.

Britney, my co-admin, and I released a statement of resignation on the state page, as we wanted to ensure anyone who took over the responsibilities of being a state admin knew exactly what they were getting into. We were immediately met with a flood of nasty comments from white women (and yes, I went back and checked on who wrote each and every nasty comment – they were all white), all Hillary Clinton supporters and supposed feminists. We saw many comments calling us “divisive” and saying these women were disappointed in us because we were “hurting the cause.” Here are a few of the comments we received:

“This is a real shame….. Divisiveness will destroy. I am very sorry you 2 have made this choice.”

“I am so very dismayed that this current breach in the organization simply furthers the overall divisiveness we are experiencing in the whole country. Sad. Sad. Sad.”

“To say this is disappointing is an understatement. This type of divisiveness is dangerous, especially now. Can we really not get together on something that is so important and has such enormous repercussions?! Unity and action are the only antidotes to the despair so many of us felt in the wake of the election. If we can fall apart this easily, what hope do we have? I will still be attending the Washington D.C. march, and I hope it sends the message that we intend, rather than sending a message of division, indifference, and weakness.”

“I totally understand anyone’s unwillingness to take on personal liability or time, but I also think this thing only works with NUMBERS behind us. Though I’m sure the experience was frustrating, I wish this wasn’t an outright removal of support. To multiply the marches bc of travel availability is awesome, but to divide the march bc of organizational issues, I personally believe hurts the message, including the inclusivity one. We will still being going to DC to make the biggest impact possible, and everyone should personally make sure to be inclusive amongst their own circles of who they can reach.”

“(Maybe hindsight) It would have been less disruptive and better for the Louisiana Chapter, the Louisiana March and the National March if current LA administrators had quietly stepped down and found others to replace them so as not to hurt positive momentum for the PSN effort. There could be a separate but related and linked Louisiana March page which could be more “inclusive.” I do not want my state being the typical “divisive downer!” As one who follows posts on all the pages it does not look good from an organizational perspective and is disheartening to all of us after such a positive start. I encourage all of you to stay linked into the National effort because there is strength in numbers. Here is a link to the latest Slate article (which contains divisive language itself assuming “white women” are “racist” or somehow exclusive). PLEASE let’s not let others take us low – but stay HIGH! Give every one of our sisters the benefit of the doubt. I am going to Washington and will support you all here in Louisiana. MARCH ON!”

And then came the doozy – a white man who decided to comment with this gem:

“You make valid points about liability issues. However, you say you’re not discouraging anyone to attend, but you repeatedly accuse the National March of being insufficiently inclusive and guilty of cultural appropriation, despite admitting that the National Board’s WOC disagree with you. I don’t understand how you can’t see this doublespeak undermines the integrity and positive spirit of the march, thus potentially discouraging attendance, but to others, it’s plain as day. And that, ultimately, is divisive, and frankly, it’s small-minded; my Latina immigrant wife and I would love for there to be more language on the national page and in the overall messaging about Latina and immigrant women, but you know why we don’t make an issue of that? Because we’re not going to get mired in superficial identity battles and prefer instead to focus on the core cause – lifting up all women. Furthermore, I know I’m not alone in believing that such an uncompromising focus on a label and managerial tactics are exactly what keep progressives divided. They’re problems the Right never has because of how monolithic and uncritical they are, but they’re problems that have prevented us from achieving progress for all for far too long. So if not getting your way on a label and deleted comments compel you and Ms. Huber to step down, then it’s probably a good thing you chose to do so, but I vehemently agree with others who said that you should’ve done so quietly. This isn’t about just what you want the march to be, but all women and all those who wish to align with them for greater respect, equality, and empowerment. And accomplishing that requires compromises. So please, I beg you, for the sake of the national march and the greater movement, stop sowing the seeds of division by posting contradictory comments that, albeit unintentionally, threaten to undermine the success of the National March for all women. Thank you and God Bless.”

The flood of comments was beyond frustrating and disappointing. All of these people were supposedly “allies” and “liberals,” yet many were calling for us to “quietly step down” and remain silent about the issues we were facing. The rhetoric here was frighteningly similar to that of Trump supporters right after the election, calling for us to blindly follow the leader in the name of the cause, we all need to unify and stand together, divisiveness is dangerous. And the most terrifying part was that all the people who said these things did not realize they were perpetuating the very thing they claimed to be fighting against. They did not realize that calling for unity is calling for submission. Calling for us to be quiet, shut up, and go away without a word is oppression at its best.

Activism is divisive. That’s the nature of it. If you take a stand against Trump, you are being divisive. If you plan to go to Washington, you are being divisive. I do not agree with the silencing of opposition. And I’m going to assume that many of those who made the comments above have likely said they are also against the silencing of opposition. I’m sure none of them want Trump to silence them. But in the next breath, they told us that the best course of action would have been for us to be silent. Activism is not about silence.

This entire experience has been one of white feminism, and it has shed light on everything that is wrong with it. White feminists charge forward, trampling on women of color along the way, appropriating their history when it’s convenient and taking their tokens out of the box for statements only when they further the white feminist agenda. They actively silence their opposition, calling it “negative” and “divisive” and “hurtful to the cause.” They sit back on their laurels when everything is “normal,” compartmentalizing the issues of women of color as “black” problems or “Muslim” problems, problems that don’t affect them, but “we’re allies to the cause,” so their lack of action is excused. They hide behind lazy activism – safety pins and Hillary Clinton secret Facebook groups. They leave it to women of color to fight their own battles most of the time. But as soon as something comes along that directly affects white women, for example, a presidential candidate bragging about grabbing pussies and overturning Roe vs Wade, they jump up. They yell and scream. They call on women of color, and all of a sudden they care. Yet they don’t take the time to understand their own roles in systemic oppression and how their actions and words contribute to it.

They don’t seem to realize it’s just as important that we speak up among ourselves and have these tough conversations as it is to oppose Trump and his policies. It’s just as important that we call out other liberal people who do not practice what they preach. It’s important that we do not use women of color, or any person of color, only when it’s convenient, which is exactly what seems to be happening with this national march. The demands of women of color, even within the confines of this march, are not “radical” or “divisive.” We need to stop calling them that, period.

We must listen. We must be uncomfortable. We cannot compromise the beliefs of women of color in the name of unity and not being divisive. We cannot separate the problems of people of color from our own, absolving ourselves because we’re “liberal,” so it’s not our fault. We cannot hide behind our lazy activism and say our work is done.

I will not be going to Washington. I cannot in good conscience attend a march led by white women who actively silence their opposition and use women of color as tokens when it’s convenient for them. However, I DO believe in everyone’s right to march, so I am not discouraging others from going. And that is not contradictory or confusing. I can choose to personally not agree with something and still encourage others to exercise their own rights.

But I would also encourage everyone to undertake some introspection. Because until we work to understand our own roles in the system and oppressing voices and how our actions and words contribute to it, our efforts to be “inclusive” and “not divisive” are nothing but hollow promises.

Do not be quiet. Stand up for what you believe in. Be uncomfortable. Be willing to be called on your own shit. Don’t be lazy. Don’t call for unity when what you really mean is “shut up.” Listen. Don’t hide behind secret social media groups, technology, your safety pins, or your skin color. Don’t accept the new “normal.” Don’t silence opposition. Don’t tell others they shouldn’t speak up. Don’t berate others for doing what they believe.

Let my experience with the Women’s March on Washington, and the fallout I received for resigning from it, be a lesson. Don’t continue to perpetuate the very things you claim to fight against.


This was originally posted on Nerdy But Flirty on December 2, 2016.