Char­lotte’s Women’s March seeks unity amid na­tional strife

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ANN DOSS HELMS [email protected]­lot­teob­

Can the Char­lotte Women’s March sus­tain it­self in 2019 with­out tap­ping the par­ti­san out­rage that gave birth to the world­wide move­ment two years ago?

Can it over­come the “white women’s march” stigma that arose by the sec­ond year, while dis­tanc­ing it­self from an anti-Semitism con­tro­versy that has en­gulfed this year’s march in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.?

Is it rea­son­able — or even pos­si­ble — to cel­e­brate women’s unity in such di­vid-


ed times?

Lo­cal or­ga­niz­ers hope so. The Jan. 26 event at Char­lotte’s First Ward Park has a new name: Women United March.

It’s a week af­ter the Jan. 19 “women’s wave” marches in Wash­ing­ton and other cities, be­cause that date clashes with Char­lotte’s tra­di­tional week­end of ac­tiv­i­ties hon­or­ing Martin Luther King Jr. (The 2019 Women’s March on Raleigh is also Jan. 26, for sim­i­lar rea­sons.)

And there’s a new part­ner for the Char­lotte march, the Na­tional Coali­tion of 100 Black Women’s Queen City chap­ter, whose tax-ex­empt non­profit sta­tus bans par­ti­san pol­i­tics. That means speak­ers will be asked to shun the Trump-bash­ing that sparked the first women’s marches and in­spired a slew of sign-mak­ers who turned out in 2017 and 2018.

“The main pur­pose is women’s equal­ity,” said event co-chair Au­tumn Wat­son, who has been an or­ga­nizer since the first Char­lotte march. “We’re not a po­lit­i­cal march. We’re not a po­lit­i­cal en­tity.”

This year’s event fol­lows a 2018 midterm elec­tion that saw record num­bers of women elected to of­fice, of­ten

with the sup­port of women who got en­gaged in pol­i­tics in the last cou­ple of years, the Ob­server re­ported in Novem­ber.

The Meck­len­burg Board of County Com­mis­sion­ers now has six women on the nine-mem­ber board, af­ter three Demo­cratic women — one of whom was in­spired to run by the 2017 women’s march — un­seated three Repub­li­can men. And three fe­male Democrats from Meck­len­burg County de­feated Repub­li­can male in­cum­bents in state leg­isla­tive races, though women will still hold only 45 of 170 seats in the Gen­eral Assem­bly.


But any ju­bi­la­tion is coun­tered by the ten­sions among women who come from dif­fer­ent racial, eth­nic and re­li­gious back­grounds — the chal­lenge of in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity, to use the pro­gres­sive la­bel. For in­stance, African-Amer­i­can women may be crit­i­cal of white women’s ap­proach to fem­i­nism if it ig­nores or tac­itly sup­ports racism.

The New York Times re­cently re­ported on clashes among the founders of the na­tional march that have led to al­le­ga­tions of anti-Semitism based on an or­ga­nizer’s ties to Na­tion of Is­lam leader Louis Far­rakhan.

“The rift is now so dire that there will be two marches on the same day next month on the streets of New York: one led by the Women’s March group, which is billed as be­ing led by women of color, and an­other by a group af­fil­i­ated with March On that is stress­ing its de­nun­ci­a­tion of an­ti­Semitism,” the Times re­ported.

Tamika Mal­lory, the na­tional Women’s March co-pres­i­dent who has voiced sup­port for Far­rakhan, is slated to speak at UNC Asheville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week on Jan. 24.

In the wake of the con­tro­versy, Women’s March Chicago can­celed what has been a huge an­nual rally, the Chicago Tri­bune re­ported. New Or­leans did the same this week, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Times. The Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women, which de­scribes it­self as a proud spon­sor of the 2017 and 2018 marches, an­nounced Dec. 21 that it would with­hold fi­nan­cial sup­port this year “un­til the cur­rent ques­tions re­gard­ing lead­er­ship are re­solved.”

In Char­lotte, or­ga­niz­ers is­sued a state­ment de­nounc­ing anti-Semitism — “in­clud­ing state­ments made by any of the na­tional Women’s March lead­ers” — and em­pha­siz­ing the in­de­pen­dence of the lo­cal group. The web­site for the Char­lotte march, WomenUnit­, touts the event as “Non­Par­ti­san. Grass­roots. Lo­cally Home­grown.”

Long be­fore the lat­est na­tional flare-up, Char­lotte or­ga­niz­ers had been talk­ing with Rabbi Judith Schindler, a so­cial jus­tice ac­tivist and Jewish stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Queens Univer­sity of Char­lotte. Schindler will be a key­note speaker on Jan. 26.

“I wel­come the hard con­ver­sa­tions and the strug­gles,” Schindler said re­cently. “It’s not just a march. It’s a move­ment to­ward jus­tice.”


Al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter the first women’s march, held the day af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, crit­ics said white fem­i­nists had dom­i­nated the demon­stra­tions and ig­nored cru­cial is­sues for peo­ple of color.

“Was the women’s march just an­other dis­play of white priv­i­lege?” said a Wash­ing­ton Post head­line posted three days later.

Char­lotte or­ga­niz­ers, most of them white pro­fes- sional women, worked at build­ing broader con­nec­tions. Char­lotte Women’s March, a group that sup­ports the Jan­uary ral­lies and works year-round on such is­sues as health care, im­mi­gra­tion and ed­u­ca­tion, part­nered with the Black Women’s Cau­cus of Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg to host a re­cep­tion for women elected to pub­lic of­fice in 2017. They lined up a racially di­verse panel of speak­ers for the 2018 march.

But the di­ver­sity ques­tion lin­gered.

“In a city where African-Amer­i­cans make up at least 35 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, the sec­ond an­nual Char­lotte Women’s March was de­cid­edly white,” ed­i­tor Glenn Burkins wrote in a Jan. 23 post in Qc­i­, a site for news about Char­lotte’s black com­mu­nity. “That’s not to say women of color were ab­sent from the march; they sim­ply weren’t there in num­bers any­where near their pop­u­la­tion per­cent­ages.”

In Fe­bru­ary Laura Meier and Beth Davis of Char­lotte Women’s March sub­mit­ted a guest col­umn to Qc­i­tymetro.

“Can we talk, ladies?” the piece be­gan. It went on to ac­knowl­edge “com­plaints by black women” and in­vited women of color to join the group. “Can you help us, and we help you, be a part of the so­lu­tion? We can­not change the past, but we can help change the present and the fu­ture.”

That trig­gered a bar­rage of crit­i­cism from read­ers who said the piece was tone-deaf. Some said the ref­er­ences to “com­plaints” were con­de­scend­ing, and that the white women were still try­ing to con­trol the con­ver­sa­tion.

Meier, who is the new co-pres­i­dent of Char­lotte Women’s March, said that was a painful but valu­able les­son. She lis­tened to the crit­i­cism and emerged with some new friends and a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of priv­i­lege and racial eq­uity, she said.

“That’s part of the jour­ney,” Meier said. “You’re go­ing to make mis­takes and mis­steps. You have to own them.”

On Dec. 30 the Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that or­ga­niz­ers of a women’s march in ma­jor­i­ty­white Hum­boldt County, Calif., had can­celed their event, sched­uled for Jan. 19, be­cause pre­vi­ous marches were “over­whelm­ingly white” and the or­ga­niz­ers want to “take time for more outreach.”


Tif­fany Hem­mingsPrather, pres­i­dent of the Queen City 100 Black Women chap­ter, said her group ea­gerly ac­cepted the Char­lotte march or­ga­niz­ers’ in­vi­ta­tion to join them in high­light­ing con­cerns that unite women. The Na­tional Coali­tion of 100 Black Women is a group of pro­fes­sional women whose goals in­clude gen­der eq­uity, eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment and racial jus­tice.

While Char­lotte Women’s March has not filed for tax-ex­empt non­profit sta­tus, 100 Black Women is bound by the tax code’s 501(c)(3) sec­tion, which bans par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. Or­ga­niz­ers say they can’t con­trol what signs peo­ple bring, but speak­ers are be­ing in­structed to talk about is­sues.

“What we’re try­ing to do is bring to at­ten­tion that there’s still in­jus­tice,” Hem­mings-Prather said. “I think it doesn’t mat­ter po­lit­i­cally where you stand.”

While Trump may have mo­bi­lized this wave of ac­tivism, or­ga­niz­ers say, is­sues such as vot­ing rights and ac­cess to health care are much big­ger than any one pres­i­dent. “Af­ter Trump is gone, the women’s move­ment will still be here,” Anderson said.

The first two Char­lotte marches were done on a shoe­string, but this year the or­ga­niz­ers are try­ing to raise about $10,000 to cover costs for a stage, sound sys­tem and other ex­penses.

And be­fore they start set­ting up their own event, women’s march ac­tivists say they’ll par­tic­i­pate in Char­lotte’s Martin Luther King Jr. pa­rade on Jan. 19 and staff a ta­ble at a break­fast in King’s honor.


Still, or­ga­niz­ers know they face a chal­lenge try­ing to unify a wide circle of peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about their own is­sues.

For in­stance, the group faced a bar­rage of ques­tions on Face­book about its stand on abol­ish­ing the fed­eral Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, known as ICE.

The lengthy re­sponse that the or­ga­niz­ers even­tu­ally posted sup­ports re­form­ing but not abol­ish­ing ICE, a stand that didn’t sat­isfy some who posed the query.

“If ‘women’ does not in­clude im­mi­grant women, im­pris­oned women and un­doc­u­mented women, then you need to re­con­sider the name of this March. It’s ei­ther all women, or it’s not,” one per­son com­mented.

De­siree Za­p­ata Miller, pres­i­dent of the Meck­len­burg Evening Repub­li­can Women’s Club, said she’s in­trigued by the no­tion of lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive women unit­ing on is­sues such as hu­man traf­fick­ing and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form. But she said she doubts that the march would be the right set­ting.

“I can’t imag­ine there would be a lot of con­ser­va­tives that would show up,” said Miller, a com­mu­nity colum­nist for the Ob­server’s ed­i­to­rial page.

Corine Mack, pres­i­dent of the Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg NAACP chap­ter, said that even with 100 Black Women in­volved the march fails to rep­re­sent the peo­ple who suf­fer most from op­pres­sion. “When you talk about the most dis­en­fran­chised women, it’s not the 100 Black Women,” Mack said. “It’s not the peo­ple who have BA’s and MA’s.”

Or­ga­niz­ers say they’re com­mit­ted to learn­ing and stay­ing en­gaged, even in the face of crit­i­cism. “I think we do what we can,” Anderson said. “Hope­fully we make a dif­fer­ence. ... It cer­tainly is bet­ter than do­ing noth­ing.”

And while or­ga­niz­ers say they hope to see a crowd that matches pre­vi­ous years — es­ti­mates ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 — the turnout isn’t the real goal.

“Marches alone don’t cre­ate sus­tain­able change. Marches can in­spire change,” Schindler said. “It’s just one step on a jour­ney to change.”


Women United March will start at 11 a.m. Jan. 26 at First Ward Park, 301 E. Sev­enth St. Af­ter hear­ing from speak­ers, the group will march through up­town Char­lotte around 12:30 p.m., re­turn­ing to the park for en­ter­tain­ment and net­work­ing. The event is sched­uled to end at 3 p.m.

For in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to vol­un­teer or do­nate: www. womenunit­

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­

Par­tic­i­pants in the Women's March walk to Ro­mare Bear­den Park to the cheers of on­look­ers last Jan­uary in Char­lotte. Or­ga­niz­ers of this year’s march are try­ing to pro­mote a racially in­clu­sive non­par­ti­san rally fo­cused on women’s unity.

JEFF SINER [email protected]­lot­teob­

Thou­sands of demon­stra­tors, many with home­made signs, pack First Ward Park at the start of the 2018 Women’s March in Char­lotte.

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