Six months ago, when we organized the Women’s March on Washington, we did not anticipate we’d still be working together. I think many of us assumed we would go back to the work we were doing before the march. But we didn’t, and we don’t, have any choice: Our democracy hangs in the balance; our equality hangs in the balance; our humanity hangs in the balance. This country is hanging in the balance, and it’s up to us to save it.
As we’ve said for months now, this isn’t a sprint. It’s not even a marathon. This is a relay race. Take, for example, the civil rights movement: My sister in all things, fellow Women’s March organizer Paola Mendoza, recently spoke on a panel with the incredible cultural critic and professor Brittney Cooper, who reminded us that while the popular impression of the civil rights movement is that millions and millions of people showed up to every rally and every march, the truth is about 10 percent of African-Americans were engaged with the civil rights movement on a daily basis. Take that as an example and remember that it takes a small number of activists being committed and a bigger number of us showing up when it is necessary and critical, the way it did the day after the inauguration.
Engagement has evolved since the Women’s March: I see people weaving even one small act of resistance into their daily lives, whether it’s making a call or showing up at a rally. I see people being gentler with one another—even in the every day, even on my subway commute. It’s been beautiful to witness people showing up for communities that aren’t their own. When, last week, Donald Trump tweeted out his ban on transgender people serving in the military, I saw a whole contingent of trans folks, organizations, and cisgender women come together in support of the trans community. When we speak out for each other, use our platforms and privilege to uplift the voices of groups on the frontlines, that is when we are unbeatable. That is what solidarity looks like. It fills my heart to see a real intersectional movement taking shape, because that’s what we set out to do with the Women’s March. We are a majority movement—the resistance is the majority—and we have continued to unite, continued to come together in solidarity.
Plenty of work remains—If an intersectional women’s movement were easy, it would have happened a long time ago. Though the tone is less defensive, it can nevertheless be frustrating to see progressives and Democrats, people who are ostensibly on the same side of the issues but perhaps don’t agree on how to resolve them, tearing each other apart on Facebook and Twitter. We have to challenge each other to do better, but wearing each other down will never lead to success. As Senator Kamala Harris reminded us recently, “We can’t afford to be purists.”
Meet the Women Who Are Making the Women’s March on Washington Happen
The executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour — a Brooklyn native, mother of three, and now one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington — has been working at the crossroads of civil rights, religious freedom, and racial justice for 15 years. Once an aspiring English teacher, she joined the Arab American Association in its infancy, succeeding founder Basemah Atweh, her mentor, as executive director with Atweh’s death in 2005. “I grew out of the shadow of 9/11,” Sarsour said. “What I’ve seen out of bad always comes good, is that solidarity and unity, particularly amongst communities of color who feel like they’re all impacted by the same system.”
Tamika D. Mallory’s roots in community organizing and activism extend back to her early childhood: her parents were two of the earliest members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network nearly 30 years ago, an organization for which Mallory went on to act as executive director. But it wasn’t until the death of her son’s father 15 years ago that Mallory found her niche in civil rights and flung herself headlong into activism. Now, she’s one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, balancing organizing the march with her day job as a speaker and civil rights advocate. “We’re centering this march by having women to be at the helm of it, to organize it, and to be most of the speakers,” she said. “At the same time I think it’s very important that we never forget the fact that our men, our brothers, our young brothers particularly need this support.”
Fashion entrepreneur Bob Bland was nearing the due date of her second daughter, now seven weeks old, when she posted a Facebook event calling for a march on Washington during inauguration weekend. Nine weeks later, she’s one of four national co-chairs at the heart of the Women’s March on Washington — where she’ll march with her infant, her six-year-old daughter, and her 74-year-old mother. “We’re activating people who were previously content with sitting behind their computer and posting on Facebook,” she said.
For Carmen Perez, executive director of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice and one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, work permeates everything else: “There’s no real life outside of activism,” she said. Just over two decades ago, Perez’s elder sister was killed — the anniversary of her burial coincides with the march, and with Perez’s birthday — and navigating the justice system motivated her to work with incarcerated young men and women, first as a probation officer and then with The Gathering, operating on the intersection of race, criminal justice, and immigration. “Oftentimes, when I’m in spaces, I am the only Latina and I have to speak a little louder for my community to be part of the conversation,” she said. “The work that I do around racial justice, it’s not just about Latino rights. It’s also about human rights.”
Californian ShiShi Rose, 27, moved to New York a year ago to develop her activism and writing. She previously worked at a local rape crisis center and assisted in educating therapists and counselors before turning her focus more squarely towards race, first via her Instagram account and then through public speaking engagements and writing. As part of the national committee for the Women’s March on Washington, Rose runs the group’s social media channels, from Instagram (where she has a substantial following) to Facebook. “Women encompass everything,” Rose said. “If you can fight for women’s rights, you can fight for rights across the board.”
A law student-turned-actress-turned-activist, Sarah Sophie Flicker was born in Copenhagen, the great-granddaughter of a Danish prime minister who has been credited with bringing democratic socialism to Denmark. She grew up in California before moving to New York to found the political cabaret Citizens Band, eventually joining the production company Art Not War. “Once you start breaking it all down, you realize the most vulnerable people in any community tend to be women,” she said. “All our issues intersect, and something that may affect me as a white woman will doubly affect a black woman or a Latina woman or an indigenous woman. So when we talk about a women’s movement, we need to be talking about all women.”
Vanessa Wruble, a member of the national organizing committee, is the uber-connector of the Women’s March on Washington. She’s also the founder and editor of OkayAfrica, a site connecting culture news from continental Africa with an international audience. It was Wruble who first messaged Bland on Facebook to connect her with the women who would eventually become her co-chairs: “She said, Hey, you know, you need to center women of color in the leadership of this so it can be truly inclusive,’” Bland recalled. Within a day, they were meeting for coffee; now, they’re marching together in one of the largest demonstrations in support of a vast array of causes in United States history.
Paola Mendoza, artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington, is a Colombian-American director and writer whose work has focused on immigrant experiences, particularly those of Latina women. “Women have never convened this way in our lifetime,” Mendoza said of the march, “and it’s being led for the first time ever by women of color.”
Janaye Ingram, who Michelle Obama once described as an “impressive leader,” is Head of Logistics for the March, in addition to being a consultant for issues like civil, voting, and women’s rights in Washington D.C.
Cassady Fendlay, communications director for the Women’s March on Washington, is a writer and communications strategist whose clients include The Gathering for Justice — the organization helmed by Women’s March national co-chair Carmen Perez. As the spokeswoman for the march, Fendlay is tasked with acting as its mouthpiece, ensuring its message is accurate, unified, and coherent.
In addition to being a producer of the march, Ginny Suss is the Vice President of Okayplayer.com and the President and co-founder of OkayAfrica — she does video production for both. Her background in the music industry runs deep, and she’s worked closely with The Roots for the past 13 years, serving as their Tour Manager for some time. She’s also produced large outdoor events like The Roots Picnic, Summerstage, Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and Celebrate Brooklyn — vital experience for organizing a march of this size.
Last year, Nantasha Williams ran for the New York State Assembly as a representative of the 33rd district — which encompasses a region just east of Jamaica, Queens. Though she lost to Democrat Clyde Vanel, she’s putting her organizing skills to good use in the aftermath of the election, working on the logistics team for the march and assisting national co-chair Tamika Mallory.
When Alyssa Klein isn’t managing the various social media accounts for the Women’s March, she’s writer and Senior Editor at OkayAfrica, the largest online destination for New African music, culture, fashion, art, and politics. Based in both New York City and Johannesburg, Klein’s passion is movies and television, and has made it her profession to highlight creatives of color in both industries. Juggling social media is no easy side project, however. The Women’s March has approximately 80,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, plus a over 200,000 on Facebook.
Shirley Marie Johnson is the March’s head administrator for Tennessee, as well as an author, poet, and singer. Primarily, though, she’s an activist and advocate for those who are victim to domestic violence, a cause that’s not only her focus at the March, but in her day-to-day life through her group Exodus, Inc., which aids those affected by rape, human trafficking, and other abuse.
Born in Shanghai, Ting Ting Cheng studied human rights at the University of Cape Town — and became an award-winning Fulbright scholar to South Africa — before heading to New York, where she’s now a criminal defense attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services. All that’s no doubt come in handy for her role as Legal Director of the March.
Heidi Solomon is one of the three co-organizers for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Women’s March. Although she doesn’t have a long background in activism, Trump’s election moved her to take action, and she’s helped rally approximately 6,000 people from her home state.
Deborah Harris is a grassroots organizer and feminist self-help author who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and served as a community activist for 10 years in the fields of fashion, healthcare, at risk youth, and supportive women’s relations.
As Illinois’ state representative for the Women’s March, Mrinalini Chakraborty has taken the lead in coordinating the Chicago-area charge, organizing bus rides for well over a thousand women and other supporters. She’s also on the National Committee and is a coordinator for all 50 states coming to D.C.. And that’s in addition to her day job: She’s a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago for anthropology, not to mention a student and a dedicated food blogger.
After earning her Ph.D in psychology, Dr. Deborah Johnson is now studying social work at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa — and making sure she stands up for both her and her daughter’s rights at the March, which she’s helping lead the way to for other Oklahomans.
Renee Singletary is an organizer, mother of two, wife of one, marketing consultant, and certified herbalist living and working in Charleston, South Carolina.
A yoga instructor, theater graduate, and local organizer, South Carolina native Evvie Harmon has brought her skills and energy to the march as its global co-coordinator alongside Breanne Butler. Together, they facilitate partner marches and local organizers around the world, bringing the whole thing into synergy.
Before the Women’s March, before this election, I felt such a divide between activists and elected officials. As we move further into this administration, I realize we are linked, and that divide I thought was there—that intimidation I felt, and I’m sure most people feel—between us and our elected officials is a fabrication. They are counting on us as much as we are counting on them right now. The representatives who are leading the resistance—Maxine Waters, Ted Lieu, Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Chris Murphy among them—need us to keep showing up. They need us to keep calling. They need to know we support them in this struggle. Harris, in particular, has continued to urge her constituents to make the calls. Our personal stories are the stories our representatives take to the floor to fight back, for example, against the hideous health care repeal. The past six months have continued to affirm how important our voices are.
Women—Republicans included—are leading this resistance. The healthcare bill failed to move forward because of Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins who kept, repeatedly, voting against it. Women have taken up the mantle of taking this administration down; I think it will be more than a footnote in history that women and femmes, gender-nonconforming people and the disabled community are leading the charge. It’s the people who are closest to the struggle—like women of color, like LGBTQIA folks, like ADAPT and the disability rights organizers—who most often have the solution. They’ve been leading the charge on these issues for decades, and we take our cues from them. Remember our predecessors. From the civil rights movement and the work Dolores Huerta and César Chavez did around farm workers’ rights to more modern activists like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, we have to study their failures and successes to duplicate what has worked and what hasn’t.
None of these issues at play right now are new issues. But here’s what has changed: This administration is so much worse than we anticipated. Last week alone, six activists I work with were blocked—by the President of the United States—on Twitter. He can’t, on the one hand, tweet things out as if by royal decree and then, at the same time, block citizens from viewing those same statements—and yet that’s what he’s doing. He’s trying to shape culture, both quietly and publicly encouraging bias and judgment and violence against the most vulnerable communities.
We have to keep reminding ourselves that this is not normal and it’s not acceptable. And we need to do whatever we can, whether that’s making lists of how things change, veering towards authoritarianism, or making calls and attending rallies. The way we disempower ourselves is by normalizing these actions.
As told to Katherine Cusumano.
Meet the women who made history as the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington: