Lily Drabkin: On the ground with the Women’s March on Washington

I had the opportunity to attend the historic Women’s March on Washington. I was initially struck by how quickly the protesters formed personal bonds. We knew right off that we were all in it together, and our words and actions projected this sentiment for all to hear.

Whenever someone said, “I’m hungry,” “I need water,” or “I wish I had a pen,” others overheard and shared supplies. A spirit of friendship and generosity abounded. We formed a tight community with many mom-daughter teams and school groups from liberal arts schools in the area.

Protest signs were imaginative – funny, poignant, angry, often with calls to action. But the main theme was intersectional feminism.

Intersectional feminism differs from the nascent feminism of the 1960s by specifically acknowledging that some women have it harder than others. For example, the wage gap – women of color have significantly lower incomes than white women, who make significantly less than men.

A speech by Sen. Kamala Harris (Democrat, California) resonated deeply. Her message? All issues are women’s issues, from the economy to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Women are not an obscure subgroup. We are 51 percent of the U.S. population, occupy every corner of the country and cultural spectrum and cope with discrimination in all its forms.

And that is why we took to the streets. We, the women, marched for feminism and against the wage gap, for the women and others who are killed by the police, against sexual assault in the military – and the list goes on.

As varied as the signs, crowd chants taunted our oppressors with “Eat the Rich,” calls to action such as “Stand Up Fight Back,” and even “Pence sucks also,” Popular chants were “My Body My Choice,” and “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”

One of my favorite moments at the march was passing a Syrian refugee wrapped in a Syrian flag and holding a sign that thanked the United States. He stood on a hill overlooking the march, as passing marchers chanted, “No hatred, no fear! Immigrants are welcome here!”

As an inclusive “Women’s March,” transgendered people were well represented. being a historically oppressed gender, the marchers had solidarity for all others so victimized.

As a response to President Trump’s infamous “Grab ’em by the pussy” quote, some protesters pushed back with  vulva- and uterus-themed signs and chants. At first this seemed jarring, both because it excludes trans women who do not have these organs and because it inadvertently alludes to those who are not women but do.

As a cisgendered woman, I don’t want feminism to be equated with my body at all, especially not a specific, sexual part of it.

However, it soon became apparent that “Pussy Power” had become more of a conceptual term, and a potent one. Rather than cede to Trump’s vulgarization of our bodies and normalization of sexual assault, we took ownership of his degrading, objectifying term. We leveraged “pussy” into a powerful metaphor for empowerment with which to bludgeon his depraved values.

The role and significance of the uterus is widely debated in politics, in religion and in culture. It seems like everyone has an opinion on it. The uterus is where we all came from; it is truly the womb of humanity. However, very few people acknowledge this and hold gratitude. The protesters thus elevated the uterus as a prominent symbol of their oppression. But not without a problem.

It is transexclusionary to suggest that the pussy only represents women, yet the phrase “Women’s March” poses another barrier. It’s just that that label is much catchier and easier to say than “March of the Oppressed Genders and Gender Nonconformists.”

But since people of all genders can have pussies, and all genders sprang from a woman’s uterus somewhere down the line, there was a strong sense of common origins in the women’s march.

Many of the veteran activists were clearly well-versed in disruptive forms of protest, but it was also clear that many involved had never marched in the streets for a cause. Everyday people who had never spoken out were inspired to “stand up, fight back!” Their fresh voices resonated clearly, and were appreciated.

Many chose to represent their home and its values. My placard bore a merged peace sign and a woman symbol, and read “California HATES Trump.”

I made a lot of friends who were either from California or who knew people there. Shockingly, I met a woman who lives in McKinleyville, a community adjacent to my home town of Arcata, and her friend, a 1983 graduate of our Humboldt State University. (A shout-out to them: If you’re reading this, you’re awesome!) Most other Californians were from San Francisco or Los Angeles, the places with money.

Though the women’s march is in the history books, our actions and opinions carry on. Michael Moore spoke at protests on Thursday and Friday, urging everyone to help regardless of bodily or financial ability.

Moore advised 100 days of action – everyone doing something, some quick thing, every day for 100 days. This might be as simple as wearing a Black Lives Matter pin, or calling your local representative at (202) 224-3121 to advocate for social justice.

I am left mindful of the chant, “We will not go away. Welcome to your first day.” Because even though I have already left D.C., my actions are forever recorded and remembered.

And I will keep acting. I will not go away and leave the government alone. I will sign petitions, call representatives and speak out if I see anyone in danger. Should you witness any sort of racism, from microaggressions to blatant oppression, and you are in a position to aid and comfort the victim, stand up and fight back!

Protect those with less privilege than you, whether due to their gender to their race, to their age, citizen status, physical or mental ability.

At the women’s marches throughout the world, millions of us found our common voice. Having reclaimed the narrative, this new beginning is our time to push back the powers that be and change our world.

Arcata resident Lily E. Drabkin is a graduate of Northcoast Preparatory Academy, and presently attends college in New York.

 

 







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