There is a difference between a march and a protest: One moves forward, the other pushes back. There’s also a difference between a sore loser and someone who accepts the sting of defeat with humility and lives to fight another day.
On Jan. 20, the 45th president of the United States will be sworn in, and festive, well-deserved celebrations will be had by the new commander in chief, his family and his supporters.
On Jan. 21, all defenders of human rights are cordially invited to take their first step forward in the Women’s March on Washington. The mission is to celebrate and exercise the freedoms Americans are blessed to enjoy regardless of who wins an election.
“In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore,” according to a press release from march organizers. “The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”
The march location is the intersection of Independence Avenue and Third Street SW in Washington, D.C., and the theme is women’s rights as human rights. But this is not your grandmother’s Buick. Liberal white feminism focused mostly on abortion rights is not the face of the anticipated crowd. The prism through which marchers will march is one of “intersectionality,” a term coined by a law professor that now serves as currency in social justice circles seeking to recognize multifaceted levels of identity and power.
Race and gender intersect in life, but not always in law or special-interest groups. Eager to redress an absurd legal decision that found no unlawful discrimination against a black woman named Emma DeGraffenried who was denied employment at General Motors – even though the company had a policy that gave certain jobs only to men and all other jobs only to white women – UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw gave this invisibility a name. What happened to DeGraffenried was not like what happened to white women or black men, so the discrimination she and other black women experienced at General Motors fell through the cracks. She was invisible, and justice was blind.
“The black jobs were men’s jobs, and the women’s jobs were only for whites. Thus, while a black applicant might get hired to work on the floor of the factory if he were male, if she were a black female she would not be considered. Similarly, a woman might be hired as a secretary if she were white but wouldn’t have a chance at that job if she were black. Neither the black jobs nor the women’s jobs were appropriate for black women since they were neither male nor white,” Crenshaw told the Washington Post.
Women who are not middle class and white who felt invisible in the previous iterations of the evolving women’s movement will be on the front lines of the Women’s March on Washington, an obvious step in the right direction.
“Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power,” Crenshaw said. “Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members but often fail to represent them. Intersectional erasures are not exclusive to black women. People of color within LGBTQ movements; girls of color in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline; women within immigration movements; trans women within feminist movements; and people with disabilities fighting police abuse all face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, able-ism and more. Intersectionality has given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion.”
The journey ahead under the Trump administration is uncharted, and it is fraught with peril given the tone of the campaign and many of the nominees for Cabinet positions, but there is opportunity for justice, peace and understanding if we can navigate the crossroads. Defenders of human rights have the dual capacity and obligation to acknowledge the peaceful transition of power while strengthening their ranks and charging their battery. At least that’s what Teresa Shook, a retired attorney in Hawaii, thought when she first posted the idea for a march on Facebook shortly after the election results were in. What if a bunch of women not happy with the offensive rhetoric of the campaign marched en masse on the capital in solidarity at the inauguration?
The idea of a Women’s March on Washington was so simple and catchy – so powerful – that it went viral and morphed. It’s a good sign that organizers so far have been able to navigate the crossroads and clear the intersections for the event. The mission of the march remains simple and powerful – a good first draft of what might be the new movement: stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families, recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.
Old dogs love new tricks, and the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Shook has since passed off the march baton to a diverse group of intersectional organizing experts because she saw them.
“I guess in my heart of hearts I wanted it to happen, but I didn’t really think it would’ve ever gone viral,” said Shook, who is in her 60s. “I don’t even know how to go viral.”
Cynthia Dill is a civil rights lawyer and former state senator. She can be contacted at: