Thursday, January 19, 2017

Marching Forward - January 21, 2017

Note: This piece has been edited to correct some inaccuracies in the original post and to provide some additional links for further study.

After the election, when it was announced that there would be a Woman's March on DC, I dug in my defiant heels and refused to even consider participating. Like many black women I know, we were pissed when it was revealed that one of the larger voting blocks to support #45* was educated white women.

And despite various news reports and queries about my intentions, I had not given the March that much thought until last week. I heard discussions of the city's plans for managing the swarm of expected protestors and listened to testimonials by women intending to wear pussy hats at the demonstration. I was prepared to ignore those reports until this past weekend.

I belong to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. which just commemorated 104 years of existence. Two other black greek letter sororities, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., also commemorated their founding this past weekend. Each of us boasts strong legacies of service and political engagement. In fact, all nine of the historically black greek letter organizations can claim this same legacy and mission.

In particular, though, it was in reflection of the first public act undertaken by the 22 women that founded my organization, that has me reconsidering my initial denouncements. These students, along with civil rights activists Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells Barnett, participated in the Women's Suffrage March of 1913, which occurred the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. Thousands of Deltas staged a reenactment of that historic event as a part of our centennial celebration back in 2013.

From newspaper reports I know that those 22 women were not entirely welcome at that suffrage march. They had to march in the back and as Dorothy I. Height, one of our past presidents once told us, they were admonished to "go back to your kitchens" because it was inconceivable that black women would join such a crusade, let alone be allowed to vote. So in some sense, history could be seen as repeating itself as black women and other women of color find themselves not fully represented by the goals of this upcoming march.

No, we have not been asked to march in the back and I am pretty sure that anyone who suggests that we ought to go back to our kitchens will suffer the same fate as some woman named Heather W (who mused aloud about slavery and needing a maid and got DRAGGED on the Facebook)...but we have been relegated to supporting status because when the march was announced, we were not among the organizers. The march for people of color was convened for MLK weekend by Rev. Al Sharpton.

I still have a lot of mixed feeling about this Women's March, beginning with the level of attention it is getting precisely because of that other march that took place here just last weekend. I am assuming that most media outlets find the Women's March more compelling because the Reverend Al is essentially Chicken Little when it comes to organizing protest marches. Perhaps there is some newsworthiness in the historical parallels to the original Suffrage March, especially given #45's past statements about women. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical that this will simply be another "inclusive" photo opportunity that accomplishes nothing for women of color except more marginalization.

But I am going to set aside my doubts and join the effort. On Saturday, we will actually be out of town for the Abomination, but there will be satellite marches and one happens to be taking place near the hotel where we will be staying. And despite my plans to take the Babe to see a show, I will see if there is some way for us to take a slight detour so that she and I can take to the streets together.

I wrote a note on Facebook to some friends that I suspect will get ignored by those who are either heading out of town or are as ambivalent as I am about the outcome of this march. One of the points I tried to make was the necessity of having women of color in the number so that we cannot continue to be ignored. As much as we love them, men of color are NOT going to address women's issues--they are race MEN. Far too often, we show up and do the heavy lifting for both race and gender issues, then watch as others reap the benefit of our sacrifices. It can be a 'fool me once, fool me twice' kind of scenario for many of us. Yet, no one can overlook us if we show up and demand to be seen.

My Founders comprised a small delegation in that Suffrage March, but they showed up. I mentioned to my friends how there have been small numbers of black and brown women in rooms full of white women...and how no one deigns to treat them like washer women and kitchen help. So, even if it doesn't result in that much initial progress, we still need to be visible. The glass ceiling that Hillary didn't break is still there, covering us all.

I want my daughter to remember this period of time only through pictures. In a few years, she can ask me about the pussy hats (although I probably will not wear one), and I hope to be able to say that it was in response to a stupid remark made by someone whose tenure as President was limited to just four forgettable years. I can tell her how this most recent wave of activism began with the release of Hidden Figures a film about three female mathematicians (members of AKA) who did the calculations that helped to make space travel possible. I can tell her about our disappointment about the 2016 presidential election, but how we were encouraged by the Senate elections of Kamala Harris (CA), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), and Maggie Hassan (NH). I will tell her why she should always be a proud Latina like Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

I will tell her how her future was shaped by the women who showed up anyway, got into the room, and were heard.

(*Side note, I want to give credit to my line sister RB who identifies the incoming President by that number designation. Of course, I might use different versions of his name and will use various portmanteaux to ridicule him whenever possible, but out of respect for the office that he will assume tomorrow, I will use #45 for my serious critiques of him and his policies.)

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