President Donald Trump’s inauguration, despite public claims and tweets, was not the most-attended inauguration ceremony in United States history. The inauguration, in fact, was overshadowed by another significant social and political event—the Women’s March on Washington. Not only was the event held in Washington, D.C., but also in dozens of other places around the globe.
Half a million people gathered in Washington, D.C. on Saturday Jan. 21 in support for women’s rights related to reproduction and contraception and in protest against the new Trump administration. Similar marches were held in major U.S. cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and in areas on every continent—including Antarctica. It is estimated that 4.3-4.6 million people marched in support worldwide.
While the D.C. women’s march showed a passionate increase in political efficacy and contemporary organization for women’s rights, it is not above criticism for its tendency to place whiteness at its core and to exclude people of color, trans people, disabled people and other oppressed groups from their mainstream rhetoric.
While the march centered on women’s rights and reproductive justice in reaction to recent legislation condemning Planned Parenthood, it was also a large-scale anti-Trump rally. Because of the nature of the protest, many different groups participated to bring awareness to numerous different issues—including racism, homophobia and environmental rights.
What stood out about the march, however, was that its peacefulness and success were due to the white privilege of most of its participants.
Many critics, including editor of feminist website The Establishment Ijeoma Oluo, attribute the positivity, camaraderie and safety of the march to white peoples’ ability to organize in large crowds without an immediate, violent reaction from police.
“To brag that no one was arrested at a march that was filled with white women, as if that is an accomplishment that you really had a huge part of, what it does is it says that marches that were branded as ‘disruptive’ are less than,” Oluo said in a Tuesday Jan. 24 Boston radio interview.
In Internet discourse, the women’s march was compared to recent and ongoing national Black Lives Matter protests and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that garner negative press and receive aggressive and deadly police intervention. While the entirety of Saturday’s marches included support for both these and other related causes, it was the overwhelming presence of white women that reimagined protesting and demonstration in a “peaceful” light—or, rather, biased media and spectators constructed it as so.
In an iconic photo that captures the essence of the march’s criticism, protestor Angela Peoples is portrayed sucking on a lollipop with a sign that says, “Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump” while a group of white women protestors take selfies and use their phones in the background. Images are powerful, and Peoples’ contribution to the critique of white, mainstream feminism is valuable for future discussions and education about intersectional feminism.
To say intersectionality is needed in all feminist discourse and activism is an understatement. Not only do organized marches reflect what protestors are passionate about, but they also reflect what protests are ignorant of. White women need to use their white privilege to support and to aid the women of color, trans women, LGBTQ+ women and disabled women that have less power in society to stand up against their oppressors. White women must attend, contribute and help organize events that directly address the problems faced by other groups of oppressed women.
While the worldwide demonstrations against Trump show promise that we can still stand together to make change in the current political climate, we must ask ourselves who is benefiting from our efforts and who is still left behind.