Photo from the People’s Movement Assembly on Sunday. // Photo by October Yates
To all the Bellingham Women’s March participants this year: You didn’t do anything wrong, but you missed the opportunity to do something right.
Around 2,500 people participated in Saturday’s march, but they were likely not aware of the controversy surrounding the organization of this year’s events. The organizers of last year’s Womxn’s March decided to put their weight behind an event organized by people of color, rather than a “Womxn’s March 2.0.” However, some community members planned a march anyway.
“One of the biggest problems we had last year was that it was white people holding a march for white people — that was the main complaint,” Towhee Wean, one of the original organizers of the Womxn’s March, said.
The women’s marches have been criticized for not being inclusive, particularly for women of color and trans women. Many groups of people besides women have fallen under attack during Trump’s presidency, including immigrants, DACA recipients, indigenous peoples and trans individuals.
When Wean was first approached by members of the Red Line Salish Sea, an advocacy group dedicated to the cause of indigenous rights, she saw it as an opportunity to work together to become more inclusive.
Under the People’s Movement Assembly, the original Bellingham Womxn’s March leaders committed to recognizing the experiences of marginalized people, and following the leadership of groups in the community who take action everyday.
Wean voiced disappointment that not all members could settle on a sole event for the cause, and instead felt divided enough to create their own march. A march for women was still held this past Saturday, but it was not promoted by the original Womxn’s March group or connected to their event with the assembly on Sunday.
“I feel like the two can really enhance each other,” Lisa Distler, one of the six lead organizers of the Saturday march, said about the two events. “All events are super important and need to be celebrated.”
However, this misses the point.
The organizers of Saturday’s march didn’t do anything wrong by taking to the streets again. But they did miss the point of the former organizers’ decision not to. The Womxn’s March organizers’ decision to take a step back from planning their event was not just a symbolic move, but a representation of a conscious effort to follow the lead of people most affected by this presidential administration.
The Womxn’s March group specifically received directive from the national and state movement that they would like a more inclusive, community-based event, Wean said. This was what her group’s unifying with the assembly was hoping to achieve.
If a movement wants to really work for justice, it requires listening to the voices of marginalized groups and persons. It also needs members to stand in solidarity, not be divided. This was the problem Bellingham faced just this past weekend, with two separate events. The rift between the privileged and the marginalized cannot continue if we hope to see a more just world for all.
One of the most humbling things white women of Bellingham can do is to check their privilege, and recognize and support the leadership of people of color and different identities in groups such as the ones united under the assembly.
If you marched this weekend, we encourage you to channel that energy into getting involved year-round.
The Western Front editorial board would like to recognize the work done every day by groups committed to social justice in our community. While annual marches can send a message, it is the tireless efforts of dedicated individuals that is really getting things done. To the Red Line Salish Sea, Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition, Community to Community Development, Northwest Detention Center Resistance, Riveters’ Collective and to all those who are committed to working every day to make our community and world more fair and just, thank you.
The Western Front Editorial Board is composed of Kira Erickson, Asia Fields and Melissa McCarthy.