When women march, we make our concerns visible, and for the past two years, the national Women’s March has provided an outlet to do that. But in 2019, Portland is doing something different. We didn’t march the weekend of Jan.19-20; we’re marching on March 3, 2019.
Why the change in Portland? For one, the National Women’s March is a model, not a mold. There are many ways women can march.
The 2017 Women’s March took place at a fraught moment. It was both a reaction and a promise. Occurring as Donald Trump was taking office, it repudiated the values he campaigned on and gave notice that we would be watching him. One hundred thousand people marched in Portland, and between 3 and 5 million people marched in the United States. The first Women’s March started a “tradition” of people publicly gathering to protest the Trump administration. Countlove.org, which collects data on protests, estimates that since January 20, 2017, more 10 million people have participated in over 12,000 protests around social justice issues across the country.
That first Women’s March raised serious issues about organizing and activism. Rather than a focus on social justice, marginalized communities and intersectionality, the dominant narrative that emerged was one of white women with pussy hats, and the social justice message came in a distant second. But behind the controversy, the March also provided a framework for those who wanted to examine their privilege and learn how to be allies with opportunities to connect, to learn more about their communities, and to support and amplify the work of organizations led by BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, immigrant, and disability activists.
In late November 2018, Nasty Women Get Shit Done (NWGSD) became a sponsor of the 2019 Portland Womxn’s March & Rally For Action. Ali King, NWGSD president, and I joined the organizing committee, an amazing group of activists led by women of color. Around that same time, a confluence of unanticipated events led to rethinking what the 2019 Portland Womxn’s March & Rally for Action could look like.
The Portland march was originally permitted for January 20, 2019, and preparations were well underway when we discovered that our march conflicted with another long-standing community march, the Reclaim MLK Annual March for Human Rights and Dignity organized by a WOC-led social justice nonprofit, Don’t Shoot Portland. In addition, since the original march date coincided with the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, our march not only conflicted with this event, it conflicted with other events, many of which were also held annually, such as lectures, other actions, special church services and celebrations. Attempts to adjust our permit and the time of the our march did not adequately address the issue, so we had to make a difficult decision: Do we march on Jan. 20 with women across the country or do we separate from the National March to support the work of on-the-ground activists in our community? Our local committee examined our values and mission, engaged in sometimes heated internal and outside discussions and tried to define what it means to be allies in our community. We chose to change our date to support local, BIPOC organizers. As our statement said,
One of the manifestations of white privilege is ignorance of the lives and work of those without it. The selection of January 20th, regardless of intention, reflected that privilege. No movement can claim the labels of justice and equality that fails to begin with inclusion of disenfranchised voices. Without that, it is not a movement at all, but a distraction from the fight that was there before it and continues today.
We recognize our accountability in this. We know there is both room and need for both marches, and many more, in Portland. We will not take space away from organizers who work every day to bring justice to this city. We chose instead to move in solidarity and adjust our plans to occupy a space that supports this work now and in the future.
If we were going to change the date of the Portland March, we wanted our new date to be significant. March 3, 2019, is the Sunday before International Women’s Day, March 8, and March is Women’s History Month. By remaking our march to coincide with events that center on women, we connect to a long tradition of marching for our rights as women. While the 2017 Women’s March was a much needed response to Trump’s election, women were in the streets long before then, and we will be in the streets long after Trump exits the Oval Office. In fact, as this file from Portland’s Office of Archives and Records Management filled with newspapers articles, permits, police records and fliers shows, Portland has a strong history of protest on International Women’s Day.
We live in Portland, and our March & Rally For Action will be grounded in its history and in the work done by activists from our marginalized communities. Our march will connect participants with on-the-spot opportunities to engage and participate in the work of Portland’s social justice organizations, no matter where you are in your journey as an ally and activist. If you can’t wait to get started, between now and March, we’ll be organizing and supporting social justice events that educate, empower and engage.
You can find out more about the 2019 Portland Womxn’s March & Rally For Action, details on our date change, and events at www.womxnsmarchpdx.com.