The Women’s March On Washington is happening come hell or high water, march leaders say, and it’s largely thanks to three women: Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour.
The demonstration in Washington D.C. on Jan. 21 ― the day after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration ― is designed to say “You know what? Women do matter, our voices are strong,” said national co-chair Bob Bland, speaking with her three fellow co-chairs Mallory, Perez and Sarsour in a conference call on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, the event has had a rocky start. Though more than 120,000 people say they plan to attend on Facebook, the organizers still don’t have a permit. The original location, the Lincoln Memorial, will not be available. But the march will still take place, they say ― the question is simply precisely where and when.
“This march is happening,” Perez told The Huffington Post on Thursday.
The march has more to overcome than logistical concerns, however: It’s also been denounced for a lack of inclusivity. According to a Facebook post on the event page, the people who started organizing it were “almost all white” and had little to no experience organizing. It didn’t help that within the first couple days, the demonstration’s original name ― the “Million Women March” ― was criticized for appropriating the name of the 1997 Million Women March, a historic protest led by and for black women.
That’s when Mallory, Perez and Sarsour came in. The Facebook event page for the march, created on Wednesday after the election, had gone viral by Thursday, Bland said. On Friday morning, the three veteran activists and organizers ― all women of color ― were asked to join as national co-chairs, Mallory added.
“It’s important that we make sure our communities are represented ― understanding that we also were targets of Trump’s racist rhetoric,” Perez told HuffPost. “I felt it was not only an honor to be asked, but a responsibility to my community.”
“I want to make sure my children, my nieces, get to see themselves on that stage,” she added. “It’s important as a Latina woman, as women from different walks of life, to show we can come together in solidarity. If any young girl can see me or Tamika or Linda [on that stage], that’s success.”
“[We’re here] to be intentional about inclusivity, not only when it comes to issues, but to make sure women of color are at the forefront.”
Organizers knew they wanted to change the name of the march, and did so officially after Mallory, Perez and Sarsour joined. The event is now the “Women’s March on Washington” ― which leaders say is an intentional nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 civil rights march.
“Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. King, gives us the blessing for the name ― but wants us to understand the level of responsibility that comes with carrying it,” Mallory said. “She said since 1963, there are many rights we still have not achieved. Black women and our families are still trying to secure our rights and ensure justice for our communities ― this march must ensure that.”
The criticism has not let up, however: Two state-level leaders, one in Maryland and one in Pennsylvania, have stepped down, citing the “silencing” of concerns about inclusivity. Activist Brittany T. Oliver wrote a blog post saying she will not be supporting the march for that same reason.
The leaders who resigned, however, were both white women, Perez noted.
“Their concerns were misplaced,” Perez told HuffPost. “Yes, there have been people making remarks, questioning the lack of diversity, but they’re reassured by our presence ― they know our work, our history of movement building.”
“Black women and our families are still trying to secure our rights and ensure justice for our communities ― this march must ensure that.”
As women of color ― and experienced activists who have been organizing for anywhere from 15 to 20 years around issues from immigration reform to police brutality ― Mallory, Perez and Sarsour feel a deep responsibility for ensuring that all marginalized groups are represented on Jan. 21, from the leaders to the people taking to the streets that day.
“We are here to lend our expertise ― I’ve been in the field of criminal justice and movement organizing for 20 years now,” Perez said in the conference call. “[We’re here] to be intentional about inclusivity, not only when it comes to issues, but to make sure women of color are at the forefront.”
“Three of the four co-chairs represent the most targeted groups by this [coming] administration: Perez is Mexican-American, I’m Muslim American, Mallory is black American,” Sarsour added. “We stand proudly, knowing the risks coming with the harassment and hate messages we’ve always received, but have received 1,000 times more now than in my entire history of organizing.”
As co-chairs, the three women are working to forge partnerships with diverse organizations nationwide, seeking to transform an event started almost exclusively by white women into a movement that’s firmly centered on the experiences and interests of women of color, LGBTQ women, Muslim women and more.
“We can’t receive justice if we are not able to collaborate with other races, people from different backgrounds, to stand in solidarity,” Mallory said. “We’re working around the clock to pull together what we believe will be one of the most historic moments of women from different races coming together to make our voices heard on issues pertaining to marginalized communities.”
“It’s important we women show we are not afraid.”
And while the march leaders maintain that the event is not anti-Trump, the incoming president’s racist, sexist and xenophobic campaign rhetoric, as well as his anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic appointees, have clearly motivated the gathering.
“Donald Trump’s administration is a nightmare being manifested into an administration,” Sarsour said. “It’s important we women show we are not afraid.”
But Perez warned against making this moment only about Trump.
“Women from all walks of life coming together ― that’s what resistance looks like,” Perez told HuffPost. “And challenging the racist system in this country, that goes beyond Trump.”
Most importantly, they want those who are coming to know that their efforts to stand up for justice should not end when they leave the march on Saturday night.
“The real work is after,” Mallory said. “How do we continue to work together to form new partnerships, new allies, to join different movements that matter to us?”