Hundreds of thousands of women gathered in solidarity in January 2017 to advocate for women’s rights and protest against President Donald Trump and the offensive comments he made about women at the first annual Women’s March, which took place the day after his inauguration. Four years later, after facing controversies surrounding its’ leadership and criticism over the focus of the march, the expected number of attendees for the fourth annual Women’s March, which will take place on Saturday morning, has lessened. But, does the Women’s March still matter to Black women?
According to the Independent Women’s Forum, the focuses of this year’s march are reproductive rights, climate change and immigration. And while these concerns are important, they don’t particularly tap into the issues troubling Black women.
IWF said that two major concerns for Black women are safety and income. “Criminal justice and policing reform and affordable healthcare top their issues of concern at 48 percent and 47 percent, respectively. Equal rights and equal pay come in a strong third place (42 percent) tied with hate crimes. Affordable housing and college costs round out the top five,” according to IWF.
The forum added that the Women’s March should shift its’ focus to entrepreneurship, which “ranks high among black women.”
Despite the notion that the march doesn’t necessarily appeal to Black women, 28-year-old Icy Coomber, who attended a poster-making session in preparation for the Women’s March to be held in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, feels that not attending the march is counterproductive, according to NPR.
“When we’re talking about women’s rights, I feel like black women or women of color are usually left out of that conversation,” Coomber said. “But I think not going, not representing people like me, doesn’t help anything. I’m trying to have a change of heart.”
Jocelyn Harmon, co-founder of BlackHer – a media platform that champions Black women, their voices and educates them on political and economic change, spoke to NewsOne about why the Women’s March is still prevalent to Black women. “My gut says yes – I think the march absolutely matters because I think there’s absolutely power in numbers. And I think that women – Black women, and white women, and native women, and folks who identify as women – I think we absolutely have things in common. I think there’s absolutely a place, whether it’s the women’s march or other coalition building activities where we absolutely should come together and need to come together around shared interests,” she explained.
Harmon, whose organization is a partner of the 2020 Women’s March, noted that the interests of Black and white women diverge due to racism.
The BlackHer co-founder also spoke to the importance of intersectionality, which is affected by the aforementioned divergence of women. “How do we learn to understand our commonalities, but also how do we not just erase our differences?” she said. “Part of what BlackHer is trying to say is, yes there’s a time and a place for us to come together under this header of women and celebrate together and challenge structures together. At the same time, it’s really important to have a space where we’re just centering Black women.”
Harmon added, “It really matters who’s in the center of your story. If you tell a story about women, your narrative or your arc is going to go one way, but if you tell a story about Black women it’s going to go a different way – and that’s because of racism in our country.”
Last year, The Washington Post reported that the march parted ways with three of its’ founding members – Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour. Reports alleged that the women stepped down due to anti-Semitism accusations. It was also said that the women were replaced due to the election of three new members as the board of directors. However, that information was proven to be incorrect.
By-laws for the Women’s March indicate that the three women were serving two-year terms as directors and their terms expired, which meant new directors had to be elected. One of the directors, however, had to be a co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. Thus, Carmen Perez – the founding member, maintained her position as she was one of the co-chairs of the 2017 march.
Perez spoke to The Atlantic and expressed that the march is inclusive. “I believe that the Women’s March is a space for all women. When women feel a desire to participate in the Women’s March, they may not agree with every piece of the ideology, they may not agree with the whole feminist platform, but I’m sure there’s something that they do agree with. I believe that the Women’s March is for you. The Women’s March is a place for people who identify as women, whether you’re trans or you’re a person who has always been a woman. The unity principles were an entry point for people to get involved,” she said.