After flip-flopping for months about whether to go to D.C. for the Women’s March, I committed and bought a bus ticket a few weeks ago. Despite my initial pull to stay and organize in New York, I settled on an even greater pull to travel the five hours to participate in the march — mainly to observe the current state of the national womxn’s movement in-person.
Mainstream media’s been over-covering world-record breaking attendances and warm feelings about starting positive change so I thought I’d change it up and add a Filipinx American womxn of color’s perspective to the mix with a list of realities I experienced and observed:
The Pink Pussy Hat Movement turned into a predominantly White feminist oriented trend. Don’t get me wrong; I spent this past week knitting myself one because I thought the homemade pink cat ears were cute. But when I saw that the majority of pink pussy hat wearers were carrying cis-White feminist centered or only Trump bashing signs, I started to feel ashamed to wear my pink hat. I felt a growing desire to separate myself from this movement that claimed a desire to reclaim our bodies. Unfortunately, it started to feel like those bodies were really only white bodies.
White mxn unapologetically took up too much space. At one point, my friends and I were standing on a rock ledge in a fountain (a funny image I know). To get to the rock ledge we stood on, one had to cross a rock ledge bridge or jump onto a wobbly rock* (with or without assistance). We noticed that womxn made premeditated jumps, checked in with surrounding folks (mainly us because we were standing there), asked for help, apologized when they bumped people, etc. In contrast, every single white mxn who made the jump did so rudely, thoughtlessly, and unapologetically — nearly knocking down everyone around them and always attempted to cross the water without anyone’s help.
*Side note: lesson learned about taking up space… do your research beforehand about potential places you will inhabit because we definitely stood on sacred rocks for a long time without realizing it. Major apologies to the National Museum of The American Indian (side note, what’s up with this name?).
There’s a whole lot of old white feminists who preach a lot of bull crap and still don’t see the need to learn about, live and breathe intersectional feminism. Yes, there are a lot of awesome old white feminists who check themselves constantly to grow but these particular interactions left a sour taste in my mouth:
While we were on the rocks, some old white womxn unabashedly led “This Land is My Land” sing-alongs and viscerally got upset when folks were not joining to sing. At first, I thought oh how cute. Then I heard the title line and thought, Wait, whose land is it really? I’ve learned that if a chant or song does not jive with me, I do not have to participate. I still play respectability politics for survival purposes so I didn’t feel safe to full on stop her rally cries to sing. At the same time, I stood there cringing as I thought about the impact of the song, which (1) falsely paints White Americans in US history as being benevolent, welcoming, innocent people rather than genocidal conquerers, (2) leaves the oppressive histories of black, brown and indigenous folks out and (3) uplifts the words of a white mxn of the past instead of the wise words of a womxn of color (there are a plethora of songs to sing and you chose that one, really?).
At another point, my friends and I spent an hour navigating the dense crowds to find a bathroom. My tiny size allowed me to pave the way but at some point, I was separated from my friends because a small group of womxn refused to budge. Among this group of womxn was a grouchy old White feminist.
One of my friends really had to go to the bathroom. Yet, when I tried to gently ask her and her group to separate to let my friends through, this lady grumbles and loudly says to her friends as if I’m not standing right in front of her, “She probably just wants to take her friends to the front of the march so they can march first.” Womxn, I just told you we need to find a bathroom. This is a health issue not a f*cking power play.
I then tried to turnaround to scope the crowd but felt choked by my scarf poncho. I turned back and saw this womxn holding my scarf firmly in her hand. I said, “Excuse me, looks like you’ve got my scarf.” Instead of apologizing and letting go gently, she rolled her eyes and tugged forcefully on my scarf before letting go. Really?
At some point, I hear someone nearby chanting “Black lives matter.” Right before I can join in, this white womxn and the group behind me yell, “Start the march!” My blood boiled at the unchecked entitlement, blatant disrespect, and complete diversion from recognizing that black lives matter. So at the top of my lungs, I joined in the earlier “Black lives matter” chants (S/O to the nearby white womxn I rallied). Yeah, stfu old white womxn.
EDIT: The issue isn’t just old white womxn. As I joined in”Black Lives Matter” and “Water is Life” chants, I also heard the palpable silence of a lot of the white folks around me: old, young, male, female, queer. Really? People are DYING and you’d rather scroll through your Facebook, which probably isn’t even loading because there are too many people currently trying to post.
As a result of this lack of participation, I feel myself developing anxiety about whether well-intentioned white liberals have the backs of the most oppressed in any capacity. I saw the thousands of white womxn and thought so you show up today, but will you show up tomorrow and the next day? Will you learn how to listen, de-center and educate yourself, and organize your people? Keep in mind, I went to the womxn’s march with three wonderful white womxn who listened to me and backed me up as I named and vented about the lack of intersectionality (a term coined by Kimberly Crenshaw) at the march, who uplift and center voices of color. I know that white allyship can be real but it is a constant process that takes your whole being and energy.
All of these encounters really pissed me off. I felt invisibilized and disrespected, and left appalled at the complete lack of any attempt to live intersectional feminism.
Also, the fact that friends of color in other cities had similar experiences is telling. White folks, #dobetter.
There was a lot of incredible youth who marched because they know and feel that the world is f*cked up. Unfortunately, our current society fails to provide them with an education that teaches them how to think and produce creatively, so they co-opt misdirected whitewashed messaging like “Love trumps hate,” “This is what democracy looks like (chant started by a white feminist)” and “#NotMyPresident.” They bring incredible energy to the movement and yet, are all over the place in terms of messaging and presence. Not to mention teenagers who seem to only participate because it’s the seemingly “cool” thing to do.
There was too much complete and utter disrespect for nature, native land and indigenous culture and people. Granted, my friends and I messed up here too. At the same time, we witnessed overflowing piles of garbage and signs left carelessly everywhere, people sitting on indigenous art and land that should be respected, and people completely dismissing the wisdom of indigenous elders to respect the earth. “Water is life” seemed like a simple enough chant to me but I saw primarily folks of color joining in this chant. It may have been a womxn’s march but the issues are interconnected y’all. Our collective liberation is tied with the Earth’s.
So clearly, a lot happened. And at the end of the rally / march, I went home asking myself “What are we fighting for and what are building in its place?” I’ve confronted this question multiple times over the past few years and especially the last few weeks in my New York circle of friends and colleagues.
I have no definitive answers. I am still learning and unlearning from generations of womxn before me and around me. All I know to be true is what Indigenous Australian activist, Lilla Watson said best: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
I thought by the end of this week, I’d be able to summarize what I thought the solution to social injustice is (revolution), and what that looks and feels like. But at this point, all I know is that I have so much more to learn and unlearn. My current bursts of energy are best spent educating, loving and healing myself, journeying alongside those who wish to join me and continuing to contribute to the blooming of human social consciousness. #WalangHiya**
**Final side note: My sign read “This Filipinx American resists Trump, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, fascism, patriarchy, gender oppression, sexism, racism xenophobia with walang hiya #noshame.” The phrase “walang hiya” literally means “no shame” but traditionally has been used as “ugh, you have no shame / you should be ashamed of yourself.” I just came across this phrase this week (shout out to my friend Liz). Inspirationally, there’s a growing movement of Filipinx Americans who are reclaiming the phrase to be powerful and positive. As a Filipinx American womxn, I’ve been raised to have shame so this phrase perfectly encapsulated my journey to the now. I have no shame #walanghiya.
Much love to my kasamas and friends who marched in Seattle, California, Detroit, Texas, DC and New York City, to my JVC community last year for unintentionally preparing me for this march and to every single human being who through words or deeds, have been part of my process so far and/or contributed to my current perspective. Personal shout out to Mary for processing and editing this post with me. Eight-year-old AnneMarie who associated revolution mostly with red coats and Martin Luther King Jr. would have done a double take at this blog post.