How inclusive was this year’s Women’s March?
On Saturday, an estimated 10,000 people gathered on Cambridge Common for the Cambridge/Boston Women’s March. Organized by the justice- and peace-focused January Coalition and co-sponsoring groups, the event was one of the many such rallies held nationwide to advocate for women’s rights.
In the year since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, a wave of activism spread across the country. But when it comes to organizing for women’s liberation, the Women’s March has drawn some ire for its brand of white feminism for privileged cis women. That knock is something organizers tried to address at last weekend’s Greater Boston gathering by including speakers who are transgender and women of color, said Zayda Ortiz, an organizer of the march and leader of Indivisible Mystic Valley.
“Obviously one of the big criticisms that were leveled against the groups last year was that [they were] not inclusive of women of color [or] the trans community,” Ortiz said. As for this year, she told DigBoston, “We have a solid program that reflects the diversity that is being a woman.”
During the event, Nichole Mossalam of the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) pointed to the daily terrors the Muslim community faces. “Our sisters are taking off their scarves out of fear for their safety and they’re attacked, criminalized, their clothes are ripped from their body. … Our families are being torn apart by overzealous ICE agents,” Mossalam said. “Everyday I listen to stories of hardship in our communities.”
Laura Rótolo of ACLU Massachusetts highlighted the struggles of the immigrant community. “If we want to talk about gender violence, we have to talk about the little secret every undocumented woman knows in this country—that if you call 911, you or your partner could get deported.”
Cambridge City Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui, who comes from an immigrant family, said she knows the hardship of being a woman of color. “I stand here today because of the incredible women who have walked before me. My mother who moved here with my father and two toddlers from Pakistan had the courage to rebuild her life in a new country so that her children can have more opportunity,” Siddiqui said. She also stressed the importance of women flexing their voting power.
“I am here because of the women who encouraged me to run for office. … I am here because of the women who raised their voices in the voting booth this past November. I am so proud to serve with three other incredible women on the Cambridge City Council.”
Ortiz said that she hopes the march fuels activism in a way that is inclusive of marginalized women.
“I think it’s an entry point for a lot of women who have assumptions of what a women’s movement is. If we can get their attention and talk about what direct things they can do, how they can join an organization or how they can become part of an issue that’s important to them … we can get more people involved. … As a Latina, that’s the No. 1 reason that I agreed to join in on this coalition. If I am not representing, or if I don’t try to step up and represent, then how are we ever going to change it? Until we start addressing our most marginalized sisters, we can’t move forward.”
While the speakers featured at the march were diverse, few of the co-sponsors were organizations led by marginalized women. Ortiz acknowledged this problem, citing time constraints as a main reason for the oversight.
“[We] just kind of sent out feelers to other groups and organizers we knew to possibly join and help out,” Ortiz said. “The amount of time we had available to us was so limited we couldn’t really build the coalition we had dreamt of or hoped for. … It’s something we’re going to work on, build on for years coming. These are the relationships we really need to build in Boston especially, between the very upper-middle-class white-centric groups and the more diverse. … More organizations like Black Lives Matter, or Cosecha.”
Cata Santiago, an organizer with the immigrant advocacy group Movimiento Cosecha, said that when she attended the Women’s March in Boston last year, she was inspired by the display of solidarity between women, but she still thought the event was missing something important. “I feel that there’s a lot of work we need in terms of having genuine intersectionality,” Santiago said. “Part of that is being proactive about it. I don’t like to just critique or just be critical of what’s going on. It’s about having those conversations with different people. With white people, for example.”
Santiago said that when she has conversations with white women, it’s primarily in the context of them marching against Trump. “They [white women] still have anti-black tendencies,” Santiago said. “I think that it’s not just about going to the march. … It’s not a one-moment thing. That’s why I think we should collectively continue building across communities and identities.”
At Cosecha, organizers are out on the streets and in the communities, Santiago added. She said that organizers shouldn’t simply talk among themselves: “We know we also have a role to show up. The struggles we have are layered. It’s not just ICE destroying our families, it’s patriarchy destroying our families. … We need to go out and meet the communities where they are at.”
Monica Cannon-Grant, a community organizer from Roxbury who led Fight Supremacy, a protest against white supremacists in August 2017, said that oftentimes women of color don’t feel represented at events like the Women’s March.
“I don’t feel like the Women’s March was at all inclusive to trans women and women of color,” Cannon-Grant said. “A lot of my frustration was with the pink hats they were wearing.”
Cannon-Grant said that women of color need to be given opportunities to lead and be recognized for their leadership. “We need to address the elephant in the room. We need to be recognized and lead the way. Not just ‘We have a black woman, we’re good now.’”
Black women are not given the credit they deserve for leading, but are highlighted in instances like the defeat of Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate election, Cannon-Grant added.
“Are they willing to accept the fact they have strategically excluded women of color but lump them into the movement at their own comfort? We’re demanding you move out of the way to let black women, trans women, women of any color to speak for themselves because they seem to feel like they speak for all of us and that’s not the case.”
Elizabeth Rucker, a racial justice activist, said she did not attend the Women’s March over similar concerns.
“There was no excuse last year [for lack of inclusion of organizations for marginalized women in the organizing process], and there’s even less of an excuse this year,” Rucker said. “Those organizations were not interested in building a platform around the needs of communities of color, so they didn’t reach out to those organizers. … True collaboration would have been to reach out to the organizations who are on the frontlines of this work [like] Black Lives Matter.”
While there is still a long way to go to build an inclusive women’s movement, Cambridge/Boston Women’s March attendees who spoke with the Dig thought it was a positive event overall that made efforts to highlight diverse voices.
“Looking around today, I think it’s pretty diverse,” said Ashley Lazarre. “I see a lot of women from different cultures. I see a lot of males here. … I came here today for the empowerment of women. I think of all the friends that I have who are immigrants, I think of the friends I have who have a position where they are getting less than what a regular male would get, I came here for trans women.”
Emma Smith, a high school student from Maryland visiting Boston, said that she may not be old enough to vote, but she feels it is important to show up to rallies like the Women’s March.
“I really like that the speakers they have, it’s an inclusive group,” Smith said. “There are trans women, women of color, I think it’s just wonderful. … I wanted to come because I feel very strongly about equal rights for everyone, and I feel like women are seen as minorities. I’m a bisexual woman and I feel like the LGBT community and women and people of color are oppressed by our government.”
Olivia Deng is an arts and culture writer who also covers politics and social movements. Her work has appeared in DigBoston, WBUR, Boston Magazine, The Atlantic, Boston Art Review and more. She is also an illustrator and painter.