by Sharayah Lane
Just days after the White House revealed its repeal and replacement plans for the Affordable Care Act thousands of women across the country participated in a mass act of civil disobedience in observance International Women’s Day. In Seattle, hundreds gathered downtown at Westlake Park despite a rainy Wednesday evening.
“Planned Parenthood stays! Abortion stays! Immigrants and Muslims stay! Trump, you can go!” rally organizer and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant shouted during her opening remarks.
The dreary weather could not deter the powerhouse lineup of speakers. Newly announced mayoral candidate Nikitta Oliver, Shaun King and Pussy Riot joined others on stage to show solidarity and renew the crowd’s commitment to fighting an agenda they believe is attempting to slash decade’s long gains made by women in this country.
The crowd was reminded by journalist and activist Shaun King, visiting from New York, that the political gains we are making in Seattle are setting the tone for movements across the nation.
“I want you to understand what Seattle looks like to someone who is not from here,” said King, “Mayor DeBlasio of New York recently said that he is envious of the progress that you guys are making. Don’t let up Seattle, just know that when you are doing this the whole country is watching and it has national implications.”
A common theme throughout the evening was the recognition that women’s rights could not be talked about without talking about feminism and feminism could not be discussed without talking about the history of feminism in this country centering its agenda around the needs and injustices of white women. As a new wave of the feminist movement builds, women of color, like Nikitta Oliver, reminded the crowd not to lose sight of this history.
“As radical feminists, we have to learn to center the most marginalized in our communities, ” said Oliver, “we have to understand that equity and justice simply for white women is simply not enough.”
Groups that have not been historically centered in the feminist movement include transgender women, transgender women of color, immigrant and refugee women, gender non-conforming individuals, and women of the global south.
Many self-identified feminist feel that today’s movement must be more inclusive to intersectional identities, which makes a more complex approach to tackling social injustice but this generation has a rich history of resistance movements to learn from.
“[In New York] we have an intersectional movement that is not being led by white women,” said Shaun King before the rally, “it is being led by a very eclectic groups from all different backgrounds and having that multiplicity of voices at the table is essential in making sure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.”
Another change from past movements is the push toward increased participation of male allies in this struggle. In every struggle of power and oppression, there is a sufferer and a beneficiary of the system in place. King explained that all too often throughout history the victims of discrimination are left to fight the battle alone. He called men to action.
“That same principle goes for sexism,” said King, “of course women will fight back against sexism but men, for the back of sexism to be broken, men, you have to stand up and fight against it like it’s your fight. It is your fight.”
King attended the event before a later speaking engagement at South Seattle’s Franklin High School to show solidarity with women. Women, he said, who have played the most pivotal roles in his life including his mother, wife and four daughters. He modeled what male allyship can and should look like in the struggle for women’s rights.
“I stand with you. I care for you. I love you. Your struggle is my struggle.”
As the rain continued the evening’s energy never faltered. Two members of Russian women’s punk group Pussy Riot took the stage before their scheduled concert later in the evening. The group is widely known for having spent two years in Russian prison for their artistic activism staging a performance in an Orthodox Christian church in support of women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights. They brought a reminder that the struggle for women’s rights breaks through international barriers.
Maria Alyokhina thanked everyone for showing up and encouraged continued resistance. “It is amazing and important to see you all in the street, I believe that community is stronger than any government,” said Aloykhina, “If we want to overcome indifference and fear we should be together.”
As the event drew near a close Councilmember Sawant remained hopeful of the power and influence of grassroots organizing. “This is not the first time,” said Sawant, “that we’ve had a misogynist, racist, bigot in the White House,” referring to Richard Nixon.
She pointed to landmark decisions such as Roe v. Wade, ending the Vietnam war, establishing the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Environmental Protection Agency as gains that happened in spite of the president rather than because of him.
“When we look at history, despite what we are told repeatedly, protest actions and mass movements work. Whatever protections we have today under a capitalist system are a result of that kind of powerful political struggle.”
The rain ceased to let up but so to did the spirits of those in attendance who vowed to reach across lines of oppression, work together and remain fully committed to the resistance against the current presidential administration.
Feature Photo: Sharayah Lane