Sustaining the Momentum of the Women’s March: Where We Go From Here

Truthout | Op-Ed

Women's March Photo
Andrea Cristina Mercado marches in the Women’s March in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2017. (Photo: Jill Shenker / National Domestic Workers Alliance)

This weekend I marched in Washington, DC, with my younger sister, in a contingent with hundreds of immigrant women, women of color, domestic workers, Native American women, and grassroots environmental activists. Like so many who attended the Women’s March, I was awestruck to see the sheer size of the march, the number of women who mobilized — many of whom had never before attended a march — to proclaim their commitment to fight back against attacks on our bodies, our families, our communities and the planet. It was an outpouring of bold opposition.

I witnessed a powerful appetite for action: the desire to not just talk about it, but to put ourselves — our bodies — on the front lines of opposition. More than 700 women gathered immediately after the march for a Women’s Town Hall. Exhausted from hours of walking and chanting, but energized by the momentum and spirit of resistance, we got to work. We started to answer the question: where do we go from here?

For those of us who are committed social justice activists or organizers, the sheer scale of this march was awe-inspiring. It gives us hope, a necessary antidote to despair. And this is no time for despair.

The election broke my heart. It was personal. As the daughter of immigrants, I came to social justice activism by organizing for immigrant, worker and women’s rights. I knocked on doors, did hours of outreach, called meetings that almost no one came to, and planned vigils and marches, with mixed success. I enjoyed hard-earned victory and suffered defeat. Getting people to come out to a public action like a march is hard work, and then sometimes, something shifts, and popular consciousness erupts. This is why it’s critical to keep inspiring more people to get involved.

As organizers, it is our job to engage new people, to grow our numbers and build people power for social justice. The millions of people who took action on Saturday — in every corner of our country — are an important part of the future of our social movements. It is our critical task as organizers to inspire them, grow movements with our bare hands, and sustain them. We have to create opportunities for people to engage in resistance, open our doors to people who have never been part of an organization, and create space for them to bring their ideas, skills and creativity. Paid organizers will never be enough. That’s why we must find ways to unleash the potential of millions of activated people to act on a wide variety of fronts: to talk to one another, to knock on doors, to self-organize actions and lobby days, to pass legislation, to register voters and to run for office.

Women's March picture
Activists display signs at the Women’s March in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2017. (Photo: Jill Shenker / National Domestic Workers Alliance)

Every one of us has a role to play in defending human rights and invigorating democracy. And those roles will vary. Throughout my 20 years as an activist and organizer, I have met so many women with so many identities who helped grow our movements in unique and powerful ways: the farmworker poet and free spirit; the single mom with three jobs, including one where she is constantly sexually harassed; the woman with a terminal illness wading through medical bills; the girl who saw her brother get beaten by the police; the nanny who once was a nurse and is sending her daughter to college.

As organizers, we must break out of silos and work across communities to resist the attacks we all know are coming. For too long, our communities and organizations have been pitted against one another. Yet, a more robust and inclusive feminist movement calls for an end to this type of divisiveness. Linda Sarsour made it clear at the Women’s Town Hall: “When I’m sitting at a table, you better believe I’m talking about Black women and undocumented women and reproductive rights. And when I’m not in the room, I want you to invoke my name and say, we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters.” All of our organizing needs to be intersectional and include a gender lens. We can no longer afford to operate in silos.

With an intersectional feminist lens, we will be quicker and more prepared to defend and protect those on the front lines of attacks. In this moment Black, Brown, Muslim, immigrant, trans, queer and refugee women are anticipating an all-out assault on our families and communities. The hateful rhetoric of the presidential campaign has legitimized racist nativism and emboldened vigilante violence. Now, as Trump takes the White House, we anticipate in his first week in office he may rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, which provides protection from deportation and work permits to almost 800,000 immigrants. And he may soon wage war on immigrant and refugee communities. The scope of attacks we are preparing for is massive.

We are scared, but we must face fear with courageous resolve. Our actions need to be quick and creative. For example, Leah, an 11-year-old from Miami, Florida, whose mom is an undocumented nanny and homecare worker, is organizing a Kids Caravan to Washington, DC, on President’s Day weekend. As a leader of We Belong Together, a campaign of women for fair immigration policies, Leah collected hundreds of cards from children to local elected officials asking them to stand up for immigrant and Muslim families, and to reject hate after the election. After participating in the full Women’s March, she proclaimed on stage at the Women’s Town Hall: “We are here to stay.”

Our task is enormous, but I believe we are up for the challenge. As Kimberlé Crenshaw said at the Women’s Town Hall: “Don’t lose the shock of November 8th ever. It’s that indignation that will make it not true in 2020.”

As a movement of those who believe in basic human dignity, it is on us to get Trump and his administration out as quickly as possible, to minimize the harm they are able to do. More importantly, we need to build enough political consciousness to strengthen our democracy and ensure that we never again have white supremacists in the White House.

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Andrea Cristina Mercado is the campaign director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and co-chair of We Belong Together: Women for Commonsense Immigration Policies.

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