Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Messages from the Women’s March

America’s biggest marches in decades, staged 21 January against newly inaugurated President Trump, are only the beginning, vow organisers

Messages from the Women’s March
Messages from the Women’s March

The numbers are still debatable, but America’s 21 January Women’s Marches were the largest in decades, some even arguing the largest in US history. What started out as a single protest call on Facebook by a retired female lawyer in Hawaii following Donald Trump’s election win 8 November had since taken on a life of its own.

An estimated three to five million marched against Trump’s discourse of fear and division, where dozens of powerful speeches by activists and celebrities called for unity, inclusion, equality and justice.

While the focus was on the US capital where the biggest protest took place, the Women’s March on Washington (WMW) resonated globally in unexpected ways. Even the march’s organisers didn’t expect the high turnout or worldwide solidarity marches that took place in 81 countries.

Equally as powerful as the turnout and global interaction were the brief and forceful speeches by many of the speakers who took to the podium, and which are still circulating on social media five days after the event.

Award winning American actress and political activist Ashley Judd’s performance of “I’m a Nasty Woman”, a bold poem by 19-year-old Nina Donovan from Tennessee, is still generating debate for its strong punchlines against Trump. He is referred to as a “man who looks like he bathes in Cheeto dust”, whose words are a “distraction to America; Electoral College-sanctioned hate speech contaminating this national anthem.” This and both a Nazi and white supremacist:

“I am not as nasty as a swastika painted on a pride flag. And I didn’t know devils could be resurrected, but I feel Hitler in these streets — a moustache traded for a toupee; Nazis re-named the cabinet; electro-conversion therapy the new gas chambers, shaming the gay out of America, turning rainbows into suicide notes.

“I am not as nasty as racism, fraud, conflict of interest, homophobia, sexual assault, transphobia, white supremacy, misogyny, ignorance, white privilege.”

Critics of the poem have taken issue with its allusions to Trump’s controversial statements on his daughter Ivanka. In 2006, Trump was quoted saying Ivanka has a nice figure and that he’d be dating her if she weren’t his daughter. In other occasions he described her as “hot”, “voluptuous” and “a piece of ass”.

“I’m not as nasty as using little girls like Pokémon before their bodies have even developed.

“I am not as nasty as your own daughter being your favourite sex symbol — like your wet dreams infused with your own genes.

“I am unafraid to be nasty because I am nasty like Susan, Elizabeth, Eleanor, Amelia, Rosa, Gloria, Condoleezza, Sonia, Malala, Michelle, Hillary.

“And our pussies ain’t for grabbin’. Therefore, reminding you that our balls are stronger than America’s ever will be. Our pussies are for our pleasure. They are for birthing new generations of filthy, vulgar, nasty, proud, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh — you name it — for new generations of nasty women.”

American-Latino actress America Ferrera, best known for her leading role in the TV series Ugly Betty, gave a sober speech addressing Trump’s most controversial views on immigration, race and minorities.

“We reject the demonisation of our Muslim brothers and sisters. We demand an end to the systemic murder and incarceration of our black brothers and sisters. We will not give up our right to safe and legal abortions. We will not ask our LGBTQ families to go backwards. We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorants. We will not build walls and we won’t see the worst in each other and we will not turn our backs on the more than 750,000 young immigrants in this country.”

Echoing the many repeated calls voiced in the vast majority of the speeches delivered on Saturday, Ferrera, an outspoken critic of Trump, spoke for long-term collective and organised action.

“Marchers make no mistake, each and every single one of us under attack. Our safety and freedoms are on the chopping block and we are the only ones who can protect one another … If we don’t fight together for the next four years then we will lose together... If we fall into the trap of separating ourselves by our causes and our labels, then we will weaken our fight and we will lose.

“But if we commit to what aligns us if we stand together steadfast and determined then we stand a chance at saving the soul of our country.”

This is a “challenging moment in our history”, veteran civil rights activist and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professor Angela Davis said in her speech. But it is not a defeated one, she pointed out.

“Let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans-people, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism, hetero-patriarchy from rising again.”

In her lyrical speech, Davis described marchers as “collective agents of history” adding that “history cannot be deleted like web pages.”

“The freedom struggles of black people that have shaped the very nature of this country’s history cannot be deleted with the sweep of a hand. We cannot be made to forget that black lives do matter. This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement. Spreading xenophobia, hurling accusations of murder and rape and building walls will not erase history.”

Davis listed the many struggles emphasised as the wide-ranging objectives and messages of the march and what it stands for:

“The struggle to save the planet, to stop climate change, to guarantee the accessibility of water from the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, to Flint, Michigan, to the West Bank and Gaza. The struggle to save our flora and fauna, to save the air — this is ground zero of the struggle for social justice.”

She articulated the meaning of feminist “intersectionality”, perhaps the keyword in the Women’s March.

“This is a women’s march and this women’s march represents the promise of feminism as against the pernicious powers of state violence. And inclusive and intersectional feminism that calls upon all of us to join the resistance to racism, to Islamophobia, to anti-Semitism, to misogyny, to capitalist exploitation.

“We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance. Resistance to the billionaire mortgage profiteers and gentrifiers. Resistance to the healthcare privateers. Resistance to the attacks on Muslims and on immigrants. Resistance to attacks on disabled people. Resistance to state violence perpetrated by the police and through the prison industrial complex.

“Women’s rights are human rights all over the planet and that is why we say freedom and justice for Palestine. We celebrate the impending release of Chelsea Manning [convicted of leaking US army documents]. And Oscar López Rivera [convicted for his role in a Puerto Rican nationalist group linked to bombings in the US]. But we also say free Leonard Peltier [native American activist serving two life sentences for killing two FBI agents]. Free Mumia Abu-Jamal [black nationalism activist serving life sentence for killing a police officer]. Free [African-American activist convicted of murder]Assata Shakur.”

But it was the five-minute speech of WMW co-chair Linda Sarsour, or even simply her successful role in the march, that is causing uproar among Islamphobes. Sarsour, a 36-year-old Muslim-American of Palestinian origin and executive director of the New York-based Arab American Association, wasted no time sending her message. These were her first words:

“I stand here before you unapologetically American-Muslim. Unapologetically Palestinian-American. Unapologetically from Brooklyn, New York.”

As the crowd cheered emphatically, she continued:

“Sisters and brothers, you are what democracy looks like. You are my hope for my community. I will respect the presidency but I will not respect this president of the United States of America. I will not respect an administration that won an election on the backs of Muslims, black people, undocumented people and Mexicans, people with disabilities and on the backs of women.”

Sarsour, who says her activism was born out of the 9/11 attacks and their impact on Muslim-Americans, described her experience and that of many in her community since 2001:

“Many of our communities, including my Muslim community, have been suffering in silence for the past 15 years under the Bush and Obama administrations. The very thing that you are outraged by in the election season — the Muslim registry programme, the banning of Muslims, the dehumanisation of the community I come from — has been our reality for the past 15 years.”

While emphasising her Muslim identity, Sarsour adopted a liberal discourse that touched upon causes often ignored by Muslim-American activists. This proved to be infuriating — if not confusing — to some, evidenced by the subsequent attacks launched by Islamphobes against her.

“If this is your first time in a march I welcome you. I ask you to stand and continue to keep your voices loud for black women, for native women, undocumented women, LGBTQIA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual] communities and people with disabilities.

“You can count on me, your Palestinian Muslim sister, to keep her voice loud, her feet on the streets, keep my head held high because I am not afraid.

“We are the majority. We are the conscious of the United States of America. We are this nation’s moral compass. If you want to know if you’re going the right way follow women of colour… we know where we need to go, we know where justice is, because when we fight for justice we fight for it for all people, for all our communities.”

She bookended her impassioned speech by celebrating her Palestinian roots.

“I’m proud to be here with [co-chairs] Sabika and Carmen, who are my sisters, but also my family, because I organise for my mother, I march for my daughters and all of my children.

“But most of all I am my Palestinian grandmother[’s] — who lives in occupied territory — wildest dream, and I am so proud to be here. Justice for all.”

Sarsour has since faced a storm of attacks on social media, accused of being tied to terrorism, and of anti-Semitism. On Monday, she posted an appeal on her Facebook page for support.

“I need extra prayers, sisters and brothers. The opposition cannot fathom to see a Palestinian Muslim American woman that resonates with the masses. Someone whose track record is clear and has always stood up for the most marginalised. They have a coordinated attack campaign against me and it’s vicious and ugly. It’s not the first time, but it’s definitely more intense. The fact that my children see it is what is bothering me the most.”

She wrote that the attacks on her will be unsuccessful because she helped build a movement.

“We have never been outnumbered, we have only been out-organised. That changed this weekend, and they are not having it. We are ready to move the masses towards justice for all of us. We can do it.”

Supporters, including co-chairs of WMW, created the hashtag #IMarchWithLinda that became the foremost trending topic on Twitter Monday. Solidarity statements came from Amnesty Intentional, former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon.

The Women’s March’s organisers have vowed to continue. Their website said they will undertake 10 actions in Trump’s first 100 days in office.

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