May Jan. 21 be an empowering course correction for the feminist movement

Lisa Frack is the President of Oregon NOW (Andrea Paluso is a former Oregon NOW Officer).  This Opinion appeared in the January 21, 2017 Oregonian

portland-march

Hundreds participated in the Portland Women March Against Hate in December. The authors believe the feminist movement needs a broader understanding how each woman experiences oppression uniquely. (Allan Brettman/Staff)

By Andrea Paluso and Lisa Frack

Today, one day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, thousands of Oregon women and other feminists will take to the streets in peaceful protest of the hate, racism and misogyny that fueled his campaign. Marches are happening across the globe, uniting women’s voices in opposition to oppression and in favor of equal rights for all. It’s an historic day that demonstrates the depth and intensity of resistance we hope will continue throughout Trump’s presidency.

The planning of these marches has been a subject of great discussion. The Oregon march, like the national march, started as an idea among a few white women who were looking for a way to protest the new administration. Given the magnitude of opposition to Trump, their idea quickly grew into something much bigger. They hoped that these larger gatherings would be a place for all women to come together in solidarity against a common threat. However, this good intention was unlikely to be realized given the historic and ongoing ways in which marginalized women of color, indigenous women, Muslim women, trans women, queer women, immigrant women and women with disabilities are so rarely invited into leadership roles when the conversation is convened by white women.

This failure to include all voices from the beginning is what caused groups like the Portland branch of the NAACP to not support the event, and for groups like ours to make plans to follow suit if actions were not taken to change course. To be clear, these conversations about feminism and inclusion are important and overdue. They represent the hard work of welcoming, listening, and partnering respectfully with people whose lives are different than our own.

Following the NAACP’s departure, the Portland march experienced a positive change of leadership. The march has since taken steps toward broad inclusiveness and is now being led by a person of color. But the problem of white women excluding more marginalized women — whether by intention or lack of understanding — is as old as the feminist movement itself. White women have long centered our own liberation over the liberation of all women, resulting in greater inequity among women (by race, gender identity, immigration status) than exists between white women and white men.

Truth is, women who are not straight, white and cisgendered face greater threats and oppression than those who are. Not acknowledging this is a form of racism. The families of historically marginalized women risk being torn apart by state-sanctioned violence. Their body autonomy is not just threatened by diminished access to reproductive health care, but through greater experiences of criminalization and draconian immigration and deportation policies. Economic opportunity has never been as available to more marginalized women as it has for white women.

Oppression at the intersections of race, gender, sexual orientation, or immigration status is more insidious and will require greater devotion from more of us to dismantle. As white women, we need to work harder to recognize the role we’ve played and continue to play in reinforcing oppression in various systems and spaces. Patriarchy, for example, is upheld not just by men, but by women, too.

How inspiring that we have this moment to stand by and for each other — today and for the long haul. What our feminist movement will need to achieve its goal of equal rights for all women and marginalized people everywhere is a broader understanding of and emphasis on how every woman experiences oppression uniquely. To truly move our country forward requires white women’s feminism and activism to include and center experiences that are not our own. An authentic women’s movement cannot focus only on those things experienced by all of us; we must focus on things that impact any one of us.

This work will not end on Jan. 21. The Women’s March is instead another beginning, a powerful opportunity to get it right for every woman. We hope you will help in all the ways you can to build the most robust and inclusive women’s movement we can. The one that all women need and deserve.

Andrea Paluso is executive director of Family Forward Action. Lisa Frack is president of the National Organization of Women, Oregon Chapter.

The Oregonian, Opinion, January 21, 2017

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/01/may_jan_21_be_an_empowering_co.html#incart_2box_opinion

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