Tamika Mallory, Co-Chair of the Women’s March on Washington, sat down at Northeastern University on February 28 with Signs Editor Suzanna Danuta Walters. They discuss the success of the January 21, 2017, Women’s Marches around the United States and the world, the significance of intersectional organizing, and the possibilities for future resistance. A transcript of the interview is below.
Further Resources on the Women’s Marches
Sady Doyle, “Don’t Call the Women’s March Messy. It’s a Movement” Elle, January 19, 2017.
Katha Pollitt, “The Women’s March Succeeded Because It Spoke to Women’s Outrage,” The Nation, January 23, 2017.
Traister, Rebecca. “The Future of the Left is Female,” The Cut, New York Magazine, January 23, 2017.
Dahlia Grossman-Heinze, “Follow Women of Color: Lessons Learned from the Women’s March on Washington,” Bitch, January 24, 2017.
Conor Friedersdorf, "The Significance of Millions in the Street," The Atlantic, January 23, 2017.
Women's March Map of Global Marches and Crowd Estimate.
Global Sister Marches
Courtesy of the Sister Marches Flickr.
Suzanna Walters: I was at the march, of course, with my partner and kids and so on, and with a million other people there, and I guess one of my biggest questions to you is, how do you account for the enormous success of it? It was beyond everyone’s wildest dreams, right? And what do you think—was it the woman part, was it the moment part—what do you think accounted for it?
Tamika Mallory: I think there is a combination of things that was necessary to ensure that January 21 was a success. One was [that] Donald Trump is probably the best organizer that we’ve ever had in terms of a motivator for people to come together, because the truth of the matter is that there were many people who came to Washington or went to Washington because of Donald Trump becoming president. That’s the reality. We as leaders would have really done a disservice to the movement to allow people to live in that state. We had to encourage them to see past Donald Trump and to also understand him from a historical context—that this is not the beginning of something, this is a continuation of oppression that has existed. Women didn’t just start suffering in this country under Donald Trump, Donald Trump’s rhetoric and his presidency. And then there were other people who I think went to Washington because Hillary Clinton lost. So you have the “Donald Trump won” folks [saying], “Oh my God, what are we gonna do?” And then you have the [people saying], “Hillary Clinton lost, and women were once again shut out and we didn’t break the glass ceiling,” and all that. So you have a few things happening there.
For us, what was important, and I think what brought the other elements of what you saw together, was the whole conversation around intersectionality—being able to bring organizations and people in general together around ideas and ideals that are greater than their issue and themselves. So if you are in the reproductive rights movement, the reproductive justice movement, for this particular day we asked you to be there to support the climate justice movement, to be there to support the racial justice movement. And those conversations were constant—every day, twenty-two hours a day sometimes, not being able to do calls until the middle of the night because that was the time when another state or another country was available. To their credit, Carmen Perez and Paola Mendoza—on our team Carmen is one of the other co-chairs, and is also my partner every day, and colleague in this work—they were responsible for bringing all of the groups—so almost 600 organizations and entities signed on to support the march—they were responsible for that, and intersectionality was the word of the day.
SW: It really was.
TM: Everyone learned what it meant to be intersectional in the movement, and it became a sexy word because we had to use it every day, all day long, and after a while people began to live in that. Like, “Wow, yes I’m very concerned about equal pay, but when I look at the equal pay issue, if I’m a white woman I need to understand that black women and Latina women don’t even make as much as me. So they’re not just fighting the white male issue, they’re fighting trying to just get to my level, and then we all together are fighting the issue of equal pay to men.”
And so in looking at that, what is the reason, what is the issue? So then there’s a racial-disparity conversation that has to take place. And then once you get into that, there’s some more onions that get peeled back, and people had to do a lot of learning.
SW: Well I have to say, one of the things—I’m glad you brought up intersectionality, because it really was—to see intersectionality be now spoken about in mainstream media is an achievement in and of itself, because of course we academic feminists have been talking about it for a long time, and it’s been our watchword for a long time.
TM: I believe there’s a woman by the name of Kimberlé Williams, I believe her last name is Williams, a black woman who’s also been trying to spread the message within the black community specifically, about the issue of intersectionality.
SW: Yeah, Kimberlé Crenshaw was the author of the term, a feminist legal scholar, was sort of the one who invented it, and then it’s become everything we believe in—all of us. So if intersectional feminism is now the ship we’re going to sail on to make it through these times, what do you see as the next movement of this movement? How do we get from this unbelievable march—and by march [I mean] marches, all over the world—how do we go from there to the long haul?
TM: Yeah. And I think people will still go back into their areas, and continue to work. But what is important now is that folks have new energy, because there are people who have not been involved in any type of movement—they’ve never been an activist, never organized, they’ve never ever marched or any of that, and did not even understand the issues. Forget about Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “intersectionality” term—that’s like far. They didn’t even understand racism, that it still exists. They didn’t understand that what they had been experiencing and seeing, actually had terms like sexism and misogyny and all that. So they are getting to learn that in this hour, which is therefore going to, and already has, drawn people to organizations and other groups and to studies, so that they can be active participants in the movement. That in itself was a major goal of the Women’s March, and not only was it a major goal because we talked about it, the success of it is evident in the fact that many organizations are saying that there’s been an uptick in women who want to run for office.
SW: Yes, I’ve seen that too, that’s interesting.
TM: So that is amazing, because many women didn’t think they could, and now we know that not only can we do it, we also did not take any corporate funding to put the march together—the march cost us over a million dollars to pull off what we saw—and we didn’t take any corporate funding. So crowdsourced funding and some money from organizations, Planned Parenthood and others, is how we got it done. And if that’s the case, then why can’t a woman run for office? Because she doesn’t necessarily need the machine to run, she actually can run based upon her friends, family, community supporting her, to raise the funds necessary to do it, to be the change.
SW: Which could also change the machine itself.
TM: Which is the machine’s worst nightmare.
SW: Right. And what do you think, as this moves forward, because we’re all in it for the long haul with this, what do you think is the role of academics, and the relationship between academic and activist feminism? There’s always been, for a long time, some tensions between that—the world where we write these books and do these journals, and the world of activism. A lot of us have feet in both places and have been involved in the movement for a long time, but there often seems this disparity, or these gaps. What—as an activist working on this intersectional feminist leadership—what can academics do to help that process?
TM: So, I think that in order to understand what academics can do, we have to be able to own issues as it relates to what feminism means for some communities, because black women do not feel necessarily safe in the mainstream feminism movement, never have felt that the white woman’s feminism meant that the issues of people of color, women of color, were at the center and the forefront of it. Again, back to the equal pay conversation, sexism in the workplace and all that, while we may not be making as much but we’re probably more concerned about whether or not our child, our children, our son is gonna be shot and killed by police. We’re probably not so concerned about our reproductive issues, when we’re potentially facing being deported or something like that. It’s not the same—we’re not looking at it from the same lens. And so black women specifically, for the Women’s March, did not necessarily feel that they should be there. They didn’t feel welcome because they looked at the history and said that, “We’ve been used as the foot soldiers in the past but have not necessarily been at the center of the conversation and have not seen white women decide that they’re going to be as willing to fight, march alongside us, and really rush to support me.
And so, when we talk about that, how do we inform where we’ve been, and what does this look like now? Because feminism is obviously—the door has been kicked open, we can redesign what it looks like. I think we did that. We reshaped feminism to include the voices of the most marginalized communities, because there were a lot of women when the march was first announced, they were able to buy plane tickets, and we didn’t have any buses left across the country, because people who are in positions to be able to do that were able to get together right away, and then there were disadvantaged communities that were left behind. So what we had to do was say, “Can you ensure that half of your bus is full of people who come from communities that may not be able to afford it? Can you pay for some tickets?” So there’s a historical context that truth—I believe and I would say that there’s power in truth, and there’s power in just laying out the facts as they are and then trying to figure out how do we piece together and go forward. So I think when you talk about the academic community, perhaps a part of it is just being able to educate women in general, but particularly older, white women from Middle America and other places, on what feminism is—no, not so much what it is, because I believe everyone has their own reason and their own cause within that context—but educating them on why there may be a resistance from other groups to get involved, and to walk alongside you. Because that was an issue—[for the] Women’s March there were white women calling us saying, “Why are these women so angry? Why are they writing these terrible things?” Because the history is in the way, is in the way of progress. Today we saw it, you know, with the panel discussion we saw a woman stand up—
SW: Yes but what was so important about what your response to that today was, and I think the response at the march was: it’s our movement. It’s our movement, so the idea that there is this thing called feminism that is only this singular thing, and that in fact women of color have not been involved all along with feminist organizing—which women of color have—that part of the wonderfulness the Women’s March was the refusal by the organizers to accept that story line.
TM: So it’s not so much that we didn’t accept it, because we owned it. We got it. We just said, we’re flipping it. So if that’s how you feel, you have a righteous concern. Black women called me up and said, “We ain’t here for it. If 53 percent of white women who voted in this country voted for Donald Trump, we don’t need to march, we’ve been marching—they need a march. They need to have some conversations within their own homes. We went to the polls—94 percent of us did what we were supposed to do, whether we liked Hillary Clinton or not, we understood the threat was just too much, so why should we march? We’re tired of marching. Let them march.” Righteous concern. But the position that I took, and that many other women of color who were involved—where we stood was that the agenda for the Women’s March had to include critical issues related to women of color, and it had to be balanced, if not even more of the more marginalized communities’ voices being pushed to the forefront—
TM: —and that would not have happened had there not been women of color, women with experiences, who can speak to the experiences of marginalized communities, being a part of the dialogue at the table. And I often say, not just at the table but standing up in the middle of the table saying, “And let me just bring up this issue, that issue, other ways that people need to think about it.”
So back to the question of academia, and how can the academic community support this newfound movement, it really—the educational component is going to be key. Because while we’re organizing, it’s okay to plan a rally, but then if the rally is not rooted in some understanding, historical context—where do we go from here, what traps do we need to be looking for, what should we never go back to, what should we never allow to happen again so that we can go forward? That’s only going to come from those who’ve actually studied movements, because the downside of people being involved that have never been in movements before is that they think that you just pop up, and pop the shop up, and, “Let’s go!” And it really doesn’t work like that because when pain comes up, when trauma comes up, when people begin to resist, then you could fall apart, because it’s a lot. But when you’re in a position where you understand what trauma looks like and you get the history, then you can say, “I understand. I hear your pain. And I want to do what I can in this moment to ensure that you feel safe here. And I know I’m not always right, but I’m ready to learn and work together.” When you can do that, we can actually change the world.
SW: We can actually do it—and when we don’t eat each other alive—
TM: That’s important.
SW: —you know, this has been so much of the history of the women’s movement, and so much of progressive movements for so long—
TM: And we’re still doing it.
SW: —and we’re still doing it. And I do think what was great about what you all modeled in this march, in the way these marches evolved, was a refusal to do that. To take those tough conversations and not have them eat ourselves, but make those tough conversations make us all tougher.
TM: And so, just for full transparency, we went through hell.
SW: I’m sure.
TM: It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t simple, it was very, very difficult and very, very painful because the trauma is there. And it is not just women of color who are traumatized. I had a man tell me yesterday, or the other day, that if his wife decides to stay home for the Day Without a Woman general strike on International Women’s Day, March 8, that he would beat her down—he literally said that to me, and he was a white male, and I thought to myself, “Even if she didn’t want to vote for Donald Trump, she may not have had a choice.” She may not have had a choice—I mean, we saw that when Donald Trump and Melania were voting, standing together in the voting booth, you remember the video of him looking over to see what she was doing. And perhaps, you know, whatever, just by chance, but based upon what this man said to me and then not being able to understand how any large group of people could bring themselves, particularly women, to vote for this man—yes, there’s racism, there’s individualism, selfishness, there’s a lot of things that exist, but there also may be some fear. So the trauma came up. So many people [would say], “I don’t understand why people are talking to me about white privilege. I never had slaves, my family—” and we had to deal with those conversations every day.
SW: Or, “I don’t hit my woman.”
TM: Right, it was the same man that told me he would beat his wife down, he then said to me, “And I respect women’s rights.”
SW: Oh right, absolutely.
TM: He respects women.
SW: Well, but they’re getting that from Trump, right?
TM: They are. “I love my wife but I’ll grab someone’s pussy.” Exactly.