The co-founder of the Women’s March discusses the power of an intersectional movement.
That’s what it takes to be truly intersectional: to listen, to care about other people who don’t look like you … to treat them with humanity and see their struggle as bound in yours
Intersectionality. A buzzword. A sociological theory created by feminists of colour and brought to the forefront by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw. And a backbone to the success of the Women’s March on January 21.
It was on that day that we made history, not only for the vision of hundreds of thousands of pink beanie-wearing women and children (and the men supporting them) marching for gender equality, women’s and human rights. But also for creating a new movement, at the core of which is intersectionality: encouraging people to understand each other’s injustices – whether they be through gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status or ability – and to work together to eradicate these discriminations.
As they marched, spoke and listened, people saw themselves in the midst of so many issues that we focused on for the march, and that was in fact the secret to people feeling comfortable, feeling that even if they did not understand or even agree with some of the issues, that they could find areas that related to their particular concerns, things that actually tugged at their heartstrings.
I am passionate about intersectionality and what it really looks like at this point in the movement. It is about how so many of our issues from different places and different backgrounds intersect at different points and how that’s something we can learn from. How, for instance, people from America can learn from people in Australia, and vice versa, about the best practices for being a part of a resistance and showing that the voices and the will of the people is heard.
As an organiser of the Women’s March, it was incredible to witness the creation of such a powerful new movement. It was amazing to see that it worked – we could actually get people to think and talk about issues that weren’t necessarily specific to their interests. That they were able to set aside their particular issues to attract the concerns of other communities was something we strived for. And it was a very rewarding feeling to know we were able to push people beyond some of the boundaries they had created for themselves.
In Australia, I will be meeting and visiting grassroots organisers – people who are often outside the realm of major media coverage – to get an understanding from them about what it actually looks like to work on these issues within an Australian context. That’s what it takes to be truly intersectional: to listen, to actually care about other people who don’t look like you, who don’t necessarily come from your community, to treat them with humanity and see their struggle as bound in yours. Your own love and respect of humanity drives you to want to support those who need you. I think that the best way for anyone interested in really truly learning from another particular organisation or country is to work with those people and grassroots groups who are not necessarily in the news but who are doing the real work.
To have been at the forefront of this whole new social movement feels good, but it can sometimes be a burden. We want to use whatever vessel God puts on our heart and gives us the power to use to encourage more people to get engaged. It’s burdensome to be in a space where you have such a heavy responsibility to engage people who are unlikely to get involved and are not necessarily interested in our movement.
For example, it’s very hard to get someone who speaks of reproductive rights solely from an abortion perspective to actually understand that black women and brown women living in certain communities don’t want to have children at all because they’re afraid their children will not live safely; they’re afraid they don’t have the resources to actually feed their children. So when we talk about reproductive rights, a white woman may see it from one particular perspective: “We want to be able to have abortion, we want our right to choose, we want quality health care” … all those things matter. And women of colour care about the same issues but have another layer, and that is that their communities are not safe. This is also known as reproductive justice. In Michigan we’re drinking poisoned water; in other communities poverty is ripping apart our lives. So if you see it from those two perspectives and decide we can fight on all fronts, that’s when an intersectional movement will really be successful and when we will begin to build power together because we are able to cross lines and think about another woman’s or man’s issues as if it is our own.
Our movement is also about leaving a better place for our children and rebuilding our communities. We recently marched against the US National Rifle Association (NRA) and against the US Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., calling for the NRA to defend the rights of black gun owners the same way they defend them for white gun owners. But they have not, in any way, invested in the social causes that will help our communities thrive, therefore increasing safety. What we want is a response to violence that is not more violence, but a response that will actually save lives and build stronger communities.
There has been a trickle-down effect through culture where the message is being heard. I think people all over the world are concerned about what’s happening in America, which in many ways reflects what’s going on around the world. Therefore, you’re going to see expressions in the form of art, in the form of entertainment, on the political landscapes, in every single area that people, humans, are functioning in, there’s going to be some form of resistance. The fact that even the fashion industry has entered the space by using its platform to uplift the movement and uplift the images that are needed in order to get the message to people who may not necessarily be listening to me, or listening to a motivational song – that is a success, and that’s what we need.
Despite the current presidency, I have hope for the future. The only way I keep getting up every day to do this work is to deeply hope that at some point we will break the levees and that justice will pour into our communities.