On January 21, 2017 I joined a multicultural group of 55 women from Auburn, New York and headed in the middle of night to the Women’s March on Washington. We arrived safely and became part of the estimated 500,000 plus people who descended on Washington to stand for women’s rights. It was a life altering experience, one I will remember all the days of my life.
Debates broke out about the validity of the march within minutes of us taking our first steps. Why do women still need to march for women’s rights? Why can’t you women just support President Trump? I opted initially to simply reflect on why it was important for me to march on Washington with sister leaders from Auburn New York. But now, after my experience, I feel ready to participate in this powerful national conversation.
This is why I marched:
I marched because I remain astonished by the lack of equity and equality experienced by American women. Women and girls continue to be among the poorest people in our country. Women continue to make less money than men for equal work. A woman’s right to choose what is best for her own body continues to be is challenged in political, religious and legal arenas. The blatant sexism and misogyny during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was indication that we as a nation aren’t quite ready for a woman president. It amazes me that countries around the world manage to elect women heads of state and we just can’t seem to make this happen in the good old USA.
I marched because I’m concerned about the lives of girls. I watch girls struggle with sustaining self esteem. I see girls fighting to define who they are in a hypersexual world. I speak with girls struggling with their intelligence because there is stigma around being a smart girl. I see girls shrinking themselves from fear that being all of who God created them to be will be too much for others, especially boys. I marched with women committed to easing the challenges girls face on the journey to womanhood.
I marched in honor of every African American woman who marched before me. I thought about the 22 women who founded my sorority Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. These collegiate women made their first official act participation in the Woman’s Suffrage March of 1913. Relegated to the end of the march because of racism they held their heads high and marched to secure the right to vote for African American women. With every step of our Washington march, I thought about slave women, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Coretta Scott King, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Trayvon’s mother, my grandmother and my mother. I reflected on African American woman who marched, marched and marched, paving the way for me. These amazing women marched, securing dignity and respect for women of their race. During my reflection I remembered racial tension has always existed in the feminist movement. However, my foremothers throughout history taught me to navigate these tensions because in the end we are able to accomplish more together than alone as women.
I marched with and for my daughter Ashley. In my family we are obligated to pass the tradition of social justice activism from one generation to another. This was not Ashley’s first march. Her first was with me as a baby in a stroller protesting Neo-Nazis spewing racial and religious hate in the community. I am her first and most important role model. As her mother I must show her the importance of standing up for herself as a woman even if this means participating in a protest march.
Finally my march was not against President Donald Trump. My march was for me, Gwen Webber-McLeod. I marched because of my deep desire to simply secure the right for women to live and be respected as full equal citizens in our country. I will march again and again until this goal is achieved. Is this too much to ask of America?