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Transforming the Women’s March into political power

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The Women’s March kicked off its Power to the Polls campaign in Las Vegas. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

It’s been one year since 5 million people across the globe raised their collective voices and took to the streets as part of the Women’s March to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump, making it the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history. And the Women’s March organizers didn’t stop there. Throughout 2017 they have expanded beyond the march by developing a full-fledged nonprofit organization and continuing to engage the community with the 10 Actions/100 Days campaign (which included A Day Without a Woman), the Women’s Convention in Detroit in October that brought together some 5,000 activists and future leaders, and their newly released book Together We Rise

Now, one year later, with women more engaged than ever — evidenced by the unprecedented surge of women stepping up to run for office, the promising wins for women and marginalized people in the November elections, and women raising their voices on a range of issues, including the #MeToo movement — the Women’s March is preparing to harness the energy and activism generated throughout the past year into something with lasting impact as we head into the critical 2018 midterm elections: political power.

This weekend, as hundreds of thousands of women and allies once again gathered in the streets in cities across the country to protest the Trump administration’s policies and call for change and equality, the Women’s March held a special event in Las Vegas to kick off its 2018 Power to the Polls campaign, a “multi-state tour in target swing states to register new voters, engage impacted communities, and harness our collective energy to advocate for policies, as well as elect more women and progressive candidates that reflect our values.”

I had the opportunity this past week to talk to two of the co-chairs of the Women’s March, co-presidents Bob Bland and Tamika Mallory (who were joined in Las Vegas by the other two co-chairs, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour), about the evolution of the Women’s March movement, how the idea for Power to the Polls came about, and what their vision is for what they call an “unapologetically women-led revolution.”

Bland told me, “We came out of the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 saying this is just the beginning and that it’s not enough for us to just march. And so going throughout this year of resistance, we were also seeing that as much as it was important to resist, it is also important for us to have some sort of real political gains starting to come out of this. The collective power that we saw during the Women’s March is something that has yet to be converted into political power, and that’s the opportunity we have with this campaign.” 

When I asked why they decided to focus specifically on voting, as opposed to other ways to enact change, Bland reflected, “We feel as a mass movement that it is our responsibility to use this midterm election as an opportunity to register a million more people to vote, to uplift elderly folks, disabled folks, people from marginalized communities, black folks, those who have been previously incarcerated — so many people who deserve to have their voice heard are not having it heard at the polls right now.”

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Power to the Polls aims to register new voters and elect more women and progressive candidates. Photo by L.E. Baskow/AFP/Getty Images.

Mallory added, “We see voting as deeply connected to social, racial, and gender justice. We don't buy the suggestion that electoral work is one thing and social justice work is another. In fact, we think it's a mistake to separate the two — that's what allows us to compromise on our values, to keep electing people who might say the right things but won't actually fight for black people, for women, for immigrants. So we won't just be supporting Democrats; we have no loyalty to a particular party. Our loyalty is to marginalized communities, to the people who've always been left on the sidelines. Our Get Out the Vote efforts will include trainings on multiple issues, like unconscious bias, white supremacy, allyship, and more. It's not enough to just get out the vote — we have to educate the vote too. And that’s something the Women's March has always incorporated into our work: revolutionary education.” 

Mallory emphasized their intentionality in making sure the Women’s March movement is intersectional so that it can be embraced by everyone, especially groups who have previously felt left out of the conversation: “When you look at the feminism movement of the past, it has not always included the voices of women of color. Women of color have not felt that feminism represented us, and many women don’t even identify with the term at all. We are trying to flip the narrative on how the feminism movement can be intersectional and can include the voices of those who have felt marginalized in the past. And I think that is a very important revolutionary aspect to the work that we seek to do every day.”

As Bland put it, white people “have been skating on our white privilege since the beginning of this country.” But she says that Trump’s election and its aftermath have forced many people to look in new ways “face-to-face at the ugliness of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry in this country, of the outrageous way that systematic oppression is institutionalized at every single level of our government and our lives, and how by remaining silent on this for so long, we have been complicit in that systemic oppression of our sisters, of our brothers, of our communities. And we cannot be silent any longer and we cannot afford to sit down or opt out.”

This focus on uplifting and centering marginalized communities is in line with one of the cornerstones of the Women’s March: its Unity Principles. These principles clearly lay out all that the Women’s March believes in, focusing on equality, women’s rights, ending violence, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, workers’ rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice.

“The unity principles are really our guide,” Mallory explains. “They're a carefully crafted vision of the world we want to build. But how do we get there? What are the policies that can bring it about? That's what we're working on now as part of the Power to the Polls campaign: mapping out the policy demands that align with our principles.”

The 2017 Women’s March seemed to set off a spark that was followed by a groundswell of women rising all over the U.S. in terms of women organizing, protesting, raising their voices, and speaking out against injustices of all kinds. With all of that energy and momentum, and the continued efforts of groups like the Women’s March to galvanize women’s activism, women appear poised to be at the forefront of changing the national dialogue, ready to claim their political power, become influential leaders, and spearhead transformative and lasting change.

When I asked Mallory and Bland if they feel hopeful about the potential power of women to lead the charge for change in this country, Mallory said, “I do feel hopeful. But I also feel wary because I know how much work it will take and how much of a toll it's going to take on us. But I am hopeful — confident, actually — that our movement will win.”

And Bland told me this: “When I look into the eyes of my daughters, I can’t help but feel hopeful because I know that I’m going to raise them in a dramatically different way than I was raised because of the experience of the Women’s March, because of the experience of the resistance. This is an experience that I can never again look away from and that I feel personally invested in and personally responsible for making sure that the rest of my family and the rest of my community are having the hard conversations, being more considerate, more aware, and not looking away when we see injustice in America.”

For more information, visit the Power to the Polls website.

More articles by Category: Feminism, Politics
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Elections, Intersectionality



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