When I was a teenager, I thought I was being clever by planning a party in my parents’ apartment in Harlem when they were out of town on vacation. It was to my great surprise when my mother strolled right into my party. Her face said without words, “I bet you weren’t expecting to see me, huh?” I think about this story as I organize my community to come to the Women’s March on Washington.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux penned an article admitting that she was skeptical about the march at first. Like many Black women, she had heard the mobilization was being led by white women and that the voices of Black women would not be included in the narrative. Dr. Malveaux was moved when she realized that not only were Black women involved in leading the march and shaping the agenda, but the Women’s March on Washington was also intentionally creating space for “uncomfortable conversations” around race and privilege. Dr. Malveaux wrote that it is our responsibility to make sure our voices are included in the narrative.
She wrote, “They remind me of the women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., who in 1913 elbowed their way into the Women’s Suffrage March when their involvement was unwelcome. They reminded the Women’s Suffrage Association that Black women were also women, and we would not be excluded. Now, white women are at it again, but strong, brave, Black women, the descendants of Ida B. Wells, aren’t willing to sit on the sidelines.”
While it has at times been challenging, I was not willing to let this convening come together without having Black and brown women involved. Particularly when it came to crafting the issue platform of the Women’s March, it was our voices that advocated for major priorities such as police brutality and criminal justice reform, as well as the everyday challenges facing women of color and working-poor women, such as paid sick days and labor rights for caregivers. You may ask, “so is Trump going to care?” We don’t expect him to, but we also know this movement is about more than just Donald Trump. He craves attention and would no doubt relish it. But he is the symptom, not the disease. We are focused on the system and the structure that creates the inequality to which he merely gives new voice.
So if you thought the Women’s March on Washington was a white woman’s mobilization, then that is exactly why you need to show up. This is our moment to elevate Black and brown women’s voices and put our issues front and center in a way that feminist movements of the past were never willing to do. And when it comes to the incoming administration, the new Senate and Congress, all the new state governors, it is our responsibility to crash the party, together. They may not be expecting to see us, but when we show up and make our voices heard, they will have no choice but to listen.
Tamika Mallory is a civil rights activist and co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington.