I am no stranger to activism, protest and marching as the featured photos of my daughter, sister and I marching down Woodward Ave. in Detroit’s “Walk to Freedom” March in June, 2013 will attest. This march was memorable because of the coveted opportunity to march arm-in-arm with Civil Rights legend C.T. Vivian and though my Mother, prominent activist and then-Detroit City Council elected Honorable Jo Ann Watson is not pictured, she helped the NAACP and UAW to organize this commemorative march and ensured the inclusivity of its purposeful agenda. Yet admittedly, my presence, voice, agenda and that of countless of my sisters, mothers and daughters are significantly absent from the Women’s March on Washington.
In a nutshell, the agenda and demographics of the #WomensMarch2018 reflects the same electoral base of voters who overwhelmingly elected Donald Trump – White women. Therein lies the inexcusable and essential failure of this exclusionary movement. While the Women’s March on Washington courageously advocates on behalf of: women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, environmental justice, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights – an outspoken commitment to issues at the heart of activism for Black people and Black women, in particular – are woefully absent. I suppose this makes sense, since this was never our initiative to begin with…
During it’s November 2017 inception, this march was borne of the passionate plea of one woman, Theresa Shook, to do something to express her outrage at Trump having been elected. “I didn’t have a plan or a thought about what would happen,” Shook told Reuters, “I just kept saying, I think we should march.” As a result one year ago, nearly 500,000 women descended on Washington, D.C. and others organized in cities worldwide to “build bridges not walls.” Except Black women were noticeably absent of this catchy, anti-Trump slogan and the subsequent movement to follow. OUR issues: the elimination of institutionalized racism, mass incarceration, widespread police brutality, classist/racist fueled mis-education, ever-increasing violence against Black women and men, in particular, and most importantly dismantling of the historic, systemic oppression of Black people continues to be an after-thought in this and so many popular, national movements (#MeToo and #TimesUp included).
In acknowledgement of the enormous void of empowered and diverse representation, there was a genuine attempt to appoint Blacks to key positions, most notably respected activist Tamika Mallory joined the organizing arm of the Women’s March early on and has lent credibility to the effort. In addition, countless Black celebrities brought notoriety to the valiant efforts and enthusiastically endorse and participate in the LA march, thus offering the aesthetic veneer of diversity and inclusivity. However, token representation does not elicit authentic inclusivity and with organizing partners such as historically racist Planned Parenthood, and messages/ images appealing to the White, feminist agenda this march (though well-intentioned), will always reflect the priorities of the original trio of White, women organizers. Thus, the timely agenda and widespread endorsement/support of Black women will continually be absent.
This year’s march aimed at increasing voter registration and electing more women progressives to office is admirable and ensures a #Win for the Democratic party which largely benefits from this myopic, establishment-approved agenda. For the vast majority of grassroots activists on behalf of justice and equality – the struggle continues. For Black women the harsh truth is that White supremacy-based movements, feminism, patriarchy, external agendas, the status quo and the Democratic party have overwhelmingly failed us. Our agenda is only advanced when we author, orchestrate, organize, center and fully execute our own movements in concert with our own very urgent, meaningful and unique agenda, as a people.