22 Jan Different Drummers, One March
This weekend, the Trumpists shut down the U.S. government, but the people were on the move. Women and also men of conscience across this country and the world celebrated the first anniversary of the Women’s March, the demonstration that, in part because it took place just as Trump ascended office, was the single largest protest in the history of this country—and possibly the planet. But last Tuesday, a front-page article in The New York Times by Farah Stockman reported fractures in the Women’s March action plans. Women’s March Inc. (yes, they’re now incorporated, probably for fund-raising purposes), the high-profile group formed by organizers of last year’s Washington DC event, have since then focused on national actions, while women across the country have been mobilizing locally, with their emphasis on this fall’s elections—particularly those in red and purple states.
Now at first, months back, I naively thought What’s the problem? Think global, act local! So I kept my silence, not wanting to feed any rumored divisions. But now, The New York Times front page. Oh dear. Time to speak up.
So, full disclosure: I admit to having wished Women’s March, Inc. hadn’t spent time and energy on yet another national conference, and my teeth did grind when they invited Sanders, but not Hillary, to be a major speaker. But lots of feminists made it known that their teeth were grinding, and the well-meaning organizers had the grace to back away from that invitation. I also admit to having quietly supported behind-the-scenes feminist advisers to Women’s March Inc., in urging them not to mount the Day Without Women, known as the women’s strike. To ignore history is to repeat it. A number of countries including our own have tried less than successfully (with the exception of Iceland) to mount such strikes. For one thing, women won’t just walk out on their kids; for another, striking is a impossible luxury for women in low-paying jobs—which means most women.
Well, okay, so Women’s March organizers made some mistakes. That’s normal. But they had pulled off something huge. So then they basked a little in being honored on magazine covers and by women’s groups, then got some flak for that, then felt wounded by the flak considering that they had been working until their eyeballs bled, so then got defensive. I really do understand, having played every position along that progression, and only wish there were some better way to download experience without sounding like a preachy feminist Elder.
Meanwhile, back at the grassroots, activism has been spreading like kudzu, and I tell you: it makes my heart sing. Isn’t this what we wanted to happen? Unlike the organizers of Women’s March Inc., who had experience with mostly progressive groups other than feminist groups, the newbies in Mobile, Alabama, and Oklahoma City, and Berea, Kentucky, had formed local women’s marching groups and, working with tools from Indivisible.org, have in the past year protested at town-hall meetings, demonstrated for abortion rights, sat in at local congressional offices, and rung doorbells to defeat Roy Moore in Alabama. Some of them are planning to run for office or already running.
But then they found themselves unwelcome to advertise their events on the Women’s March Inc. website. So these women all over the country networked and formed another group, also interracial and inter-everything else, called March On, online at WeAreMarchOn.org. (This is not to be confused with MoveOn.org—a generally progressive but not particularly feminist group. All these folks could use some help with clarity in naming). Amber Selman-Lynn, who organized last year’s march in Mobile, used online tools from March On, then learned she had to reprint her banner to satisfy Women’s March Inc. She was quoted saying, “It’s kind of silly. We are clearly the women’s march in Mobile.” And Lindsey Kanaly, who organized last year’s march in Oklahoma City, said, “We can march and yell about all the stuff we want to change, but unless we’re getting people elected to office who are going to make those changes we’re not really doing anything.” She’s now a March On board member.
Women’s March Inc., and March On or WeAreMarchOn.org . . . oh good grief, let’s just term them Inc. and Org for shorthand, OK?
Well, the response from Inc. did not quite glow with feminist diplomacy. Their patronizing statement said they wanted to “welcome the group [Org] to the Resistance”—uh oh—but “wanted to make sure groups have distinct branding and messaging that is specific to them and doesn’t appear as if it is directly women’s march related.” Owwww. Male-movement central-committee-style rhetoric, with a dash of corporate lingo to boot. So Org—the March On women—responded, rather humbly admitting that most of them had never done this before and they needed all the help they could get, but also noting that they knew their own communities, and that Inc. often used its powerful platform for issues and actions that didn’t necessarily work in their neighborhoods. The women’s general strike, for example, fell flat where women depend on hourly wages and have no union protections. (Tried to tell ya that, Inc.) In Oatmeal, Texas–you read that correctly–Melissa Fierro, who organized 100,000 people last year in Austin, feels that the goal of promoting peace in Syria is perhaps a wee bit less attainable by this autumn than promoting candidates for local office who support a woman’s right to choose, which is constantly under assault in Texas. She’s now with Org (March On).
Some Inc people went a tad MeanGirl and criticized Org as “an ill-conceived attempt at cooptation,” although it could be argued it’s the other way around, with Inc picking up their Power to the Polls voting emphasis from Org. But a good idea is a good idea—let it free!
However. It must be admitted that Inc really did blow it with our sisters to the north. Canadians had held marches in solidarity with us last year, but then were (not surprisingly) furious when New York-based Inc. registered the name Women’s March Canada and appointed a board—all without consulting them. Oh wow. Hurts my heart. Being Canadians, they wrote a nice protest letter, still urging solidarity and unity. But after getting no response, even Canadians get cranky, so they went militant Mountie, renamed themselves March on Canada, and created the hashtag #DontTrademarkTheMovement. They are now affiliated with WeAreMarchOn.org.
All this sadly reminds me of a group of French women who decades ago tried to copyright the name Mouvement des Liberation des Femmes, and then sued other groups who used it. They did not end up well and are remembered, if at all, wincingly, avec merde.
No one asked me, but if they had, this Elder would beg the Women’s March Inc. people to please not repeat the same proprietary mistakes of some earlier feminists. (In 1968, certain activists were appalled that hundreds of excited new women showed up at previously small-group meetings after the first Miss America Pageant Protest made news. Why? Because the activists didn’t yet have action plans to tell those women what to do. “Those women” managed quite nicely building a women’s movement without top-down orders, thank you. ) So I would say please follow the wise example of Indivisible.org, and don’t try to control the enormous energy out there right now. Forget optics, branding, and messaging. You already have access and press and funding, so just equip people with information and solid how-to organizing tools. They’ll do the rest. They know their own issues and what works best in their communities. Especially, for godsake, do not be condescending to activists in other countries, apparently having learned little from the past-50-year effort to build global feminism and instead being perceived as acting like ugly Americans.
Listen, Inc. sisters. I know you’re good-hearted women, and I know you’re exhausted from sustaining last year’s miracle, that you initiated. I know you understandably feel resented and unappreciated, and perhaps now panicked that things so swiftly grew beyond your control. But your success last year was truly historic, and it was based on inclusiveness, remember?—so don’t let the glitz and hoopla go to your otherwise intelligent heads. Please remember, too, that “class differences” are not just an abstract Marxian concept to toss around with unproductive guilt or unproductive anger, that in practice the Org women are working their butts off with little or no funding, press, or “optics”—although when you have their energy-levels of vision, pissed-offness, and elbow grease, to hell with branding and messaging.
I’d also say, to the Org women, Go For It! But please don’t blame New York for these problems of perceived arrogance; I live in New York but know from experience, with the scars to show for it, that to organize in Kentucky and Oklahoma and everywhere else you are is frontline feminism, real Women’s Movement leadership.
The good news is that none of this apparently dampened enthusiasm for demonstrations this weekend. Most people don’t know or care how many devils of division dance on the head of a pin. Also, most movement schisms are not only ho hum predictable—grrrrrls, you don’t want to be a cliché—but in time groups grow up and inch grudgingly back toward each other, at least in the Feminist Movement. Perspective is one benefit of age.
For those of you who are unaffiliated and ecumenical, just keep in mind both links: WomensMarch.com, and WeAreMarchOn.org. Or start your own. The more the merrier. Don’t be afraid to split off to work freely because you can then always work in coalition. We have serious save-the-world work ahead of us, and not a moment to waste on picking at each other. This time, women are leading the revolution, so we damned well have to do a better job than the guys ever have.
Personally, I have to admit: I really do sympathize with my New York-based sisters—but my money’s on the women of Oatmeal, Texas.