Controversy continues hours before Women’s March on Washington

Organizers at the Women's March headquarters in NYC. (Credit: Kisha Bari/Women's March on Washington Facebook page)

Less than 24 hours before the Women’s March on Washington, demonstrators are still muddled in controversy over whether the event is as inclusive as it claims to be.

As the march has grown in prominence, it has strived to include a multitude of causes affecting marginalized groups. The event’s policy platform covers issues such as racial profiling, abortion, LGBTQ rights and the environment. The majority of demonstrators share the concern that their voices – as women, minorities and other marginalized groups – will be stifled under a Trump presidency.

“I’m marching to show solidarity with women in light of an administration that has already shown a lack of respect for women,” Liz Barenholtz, who works at a tech startup in New York City, said in an interview with Humanosphere. Barenholtz said she will attend Saturday’s march in the capital to support Planned Parenthood, and work toward closing the gender pay gap.

Other marchers do support the new president, and are demonstrating to show solidarity with the feminist movement, gay rights or other social causes.

“We don’t consider this a protest. It’s a positive movement,” Elizabeth O’Gorek, co-chairwoman of the local logistics committee in Washington, D.C., told the Miami Herald. “All of these causes – environmental concerns, immigration, Black Lives Matter – those are all women’s issues.”

The event is meant to display unity in the face of an administration that many fear will ignore the voices of the country’s most marginalized. But some long-standing rifts in the feminist movement have surfaced.

Demonstrators of various ethnicities criticized organizers early on, pointing out a lack of people of color in the planning process. Later, more people of color were added. At least one woman abandoned the march with claims that it favored white feminists over women of color.

But white women have also complained of feeling unwelcome at the march, according to a New York Times report, after activists of color on Facebook advised “white allies” to listen more and talk less and asked white women to “check their privilege.”

“This is a women’s march,” one white woman who canceled her trip to D.C. told the New York Times. “We’re supposed to be allies in equal pay, marriage, adoption. Why is it now about, ‘White women don’t understand black women’?”

Some men say they feel alienated by the march’s name. Men make up only a fraction of the march supporters on Facebook, and have been noticeably quiet in social media circles. A Washington Post piece asked whether the event is “unmasculine,” while some women demonstrators have wondered whether men feel threatened by an event organized solely by women.

The controversy over gender and race has not deterred one white man, who spoke to Humanosphere under conditions of anonymity due to conflicts with his work for the federal government. He pointed out that the country has become increasingly divided around issues of race, gender, identity and privilege – a phenomenon he fears may bleed over into tomorrow’s event.

“I would hope that I would be fully accepted in such a protest setting, as I would like to be,” he told Humanosphere, “and hope and trust that the setting would be equally open to all … regardless of background.”

Perhaps the most divisive issue among demonstrators has been that of abortion. Trump’s promises to repeal Roe v. Wade have emboldened anti-abortionists across the country, many of whom now feel unwelcome at a march led by feminists who are exclusively pro-choice. Many anti-abortionists were infuriated by the decision to remove anti-abortion partners from the organizing website, and by a statement declaring that the “platform is pro-choice and has been from day one.”

Still, many anti-abortion advocates have said they are going to the march, some with Go-Pro cameras to record when their opponents “start spitting and screaming.”

Amid this week’s escalating tensions, the event’s co-chairs have continued to stress inclusiveness.

“Everyone is welcome to march,” said march co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez in a video released earlier this week, “no matter your age, your gender identity, or how you chose to vote.”

The march began with a retired attorney and grandmother in Hawaii, Teresa Shook, who first launched the idea as a Facebook event after hearing the results of the U.S presidential election. The New Yorker reported that the event had 10,000 RSVPS overnight, and that Shook soon combined the event with a similar march proposed by fashion designer Bob Bland.

Now, Washington, D.C., is preparing for some 200,000 demonstrators on Saturday. The organizers have obtained a permit for the event, which is sponsored by Planned Parenthood and other prominent organizations including the Human Rights Campaign and the NAACP. The march is expected to be the largest demonstration around the inauguration of President Donald Trump, with tens of thousands more expected at smaller, sister marches throughout the country.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com