The Women’s March on Saturday coincided aptly with the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment’s ratification.
But despite 100 years of progress, there’s more to be done – specifically, within the march itself.
Women’s March LA 2020 marks Los Angeles’ fourth year as a microcosm of a larger platform. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, these marches have occurred on a national stage across the country. Initially sparked by the president’s rhetoric regarding women, they have morphed into a larger ideological conglomeration of political issues and women’s rights.
But what these marches have gained in name recognition, they’ve lost in inclusivity.
Or, perhaps, they never had it to begin with.
On Friday, Black Lives Matter LA posted a statement condemning the Women’s March LA organizers for failing to invite Black Lives Matter speakers to the City Hall stage for the first time since the march’s inception. The march’s organizers stated the 2020 speakers were specifically focused on voter registration because of the importance of the upcoming presidential elections.
And combined with a significant drop in march participation numbers and a major election in the months ahead, 2020 is set to serve as a year of reevaluation for this movement.
The Women’s March touts itself as a platform that anyone can join, but lost in that messaging is an active effort on the part of the movement’s leadership to reflect inclusivity. The Women’s March has a long way to go in creating an intersectional environment from the top down – and that begins with its speakers and messaging. The voices this movement chooses to promote have weight, and in the heart of one of the nation’s most diverse cities, Women’s March LA has a special responsibility to bear in mind.
Public events can only do so much to bring people out when they are inherently underrepresented.
“I feel like the Women’s March is open to everyone so really anyone can join and participate,” said Olivia Croley, a first-year psychobiology student. “But I definitely think that, of course, the audience that it’s first catered to is white, cisgender women – more can be done to include the rest of the LGBTQ community.”
This isn’t the first time the march has been criticized for a predominant focus on white, cisgender women. Among concerns about the visibility of disability rights, transgender rights and immigrant rights within the platform, the feedback has been consistent.
But this year marks the first time organizers have cried voter registration as an excuse for such issues, and it’s not a great time to start.
The importance of voting in the upcoming election is more reason than ever for increased intersectionality within the Women’s March platform – and it shouldn’t be used as a cop-out for prioritizing one voice over others. Representation and diversity are crucial aspects of understanding and fighting for political issues in the years to come, and integrating the complex experiences of different people will only serve to further mobilize voters.
Intersectionality and political mobilization are by no means mutually exclusive. Rather, they amplify one another.
Brian Gutierrez, who came to the march with his mother, said his mother’s experience of being undocumented and their shared experiences of being gay inform his understanding of experiences as multidimensional.
“I think when rights are hurt for one specific group of people, everyone’s hurt by them,” Gutierrez said. “So I think it’s really a fight for everyone.”
And that’s what the march’s organizers seem to be missing. The absence of Black Lives Matter or native speakers on the City Hall stage isn’t just a loss for those groups – it’s also a loss for the collective power of everyone involved.
And if voter participation was the motive of this year’s march, the lack of representation was surely a loss for that goal as well.
Mira Joleigh, a march participant, stood in the middle of Grand Park holding a sign over her head with the words “amplify black womxn’s voices” scrawled across it in purple paint.
“There’s no excuse for Black Lives Matter not to be here, because black people and black women have sacrificed so much for some of the rights that we have,” Joleigh said. “But I also didn’t think it was okay to sit (the march) out – I feel like I needed to come out and say what I’m saying on this sign today.”
To its credit, the march this year was by no means strictly for white feminists, by white feminists. Those like Lyena Strelkoff, a storyteller, and Rep. Maxine Waters made powerful calls to action. And while the Black Lives Matter movement may not have been formally present on the stage like other protesters, its ideals lived on in the messaging found throughout the crowd. Activists are cognizant of the strides needed to reach a movement for all women – and the plethora of Black Lives Matter anthems and calls for diversity on posters speak to such insight.
But while motives and messaging are varied between marchers, the responsibility shouldn’t be on them to stand in solidarity with organizations like Black Lives Matter.
As long as Women’s March LA fails to actively uplift a representative cross sample of LA’s many intersections, the march only serves to estrange crucial members of the conversation on women’s rights and voter engagement. Although the leadership of the movement doesn’t speak for all its participants, its silence on an important sect of black activism says plenty.
A mission to empower women doesn’t begin or end with telling only one side of the story. A movement to end gender disparities cannot ignore the influence of class, sexuality, race, power and structural privilege on the experiences of diverse women. And a goal to educate the next generation of voters shouldn’t exclude lessons on more than one side of historic oppression.
It takes change to make change – and at the intersection of every progressive path lies a conscious decision to uplift all women.