More than 200,000 people are expected to gather on January 21, the day after Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, for the Women's March on Washington. The earliest incarnation of the demonstration began on Facebook as soon as the election results made it clear that Hillary Clinton would not be the victor.
Bob Bland, one of the first women to organize online, was appalled by Trump's rhetoric, which had previously inspired the fashion entrepreneur to launch "Nasty Woman" and "Bad Hombre" T-shirts that benefited Planned Parenthood. "We will use the Women's March as the touchstone of ongoing action," says Bland, who serves as a national cochair for the march. "We can break these barriers, these silos, and become more unified again as a people."
Unity feels like a utopian, almost mythical goal in these United States of America. It is difficult, backbreaking work to build and organize among varying identities, experiences, and urgencies — even under the umbrella of womanhood. In less than a day, as the march went viral, it garnered criticism for its leadership (all white women) and its initial name (the Million Woman March, which was the name of a 1997 demonstration for black women in Philadelphia, organized by Dr. Phile Chionesu). It brought black women, intersectional feminists, and women of color to a collective side-eye. The Women's March, like the wider feminist and women's movement itself, demonstrated that our collective issues are as deep as Trump's side part.
Within a day, the founders of the March recruited leadership from experienced organizers who reflected the varied lived experiences of American women. Carmen Perez, executive director of the criminal-justice-reform group Gathering for Justice, was one of three women of color (alongside Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, and gun-control activist Tamika D. Mallory) brought in as national cochairs to steer the march toward a more intersectional and inclusive lens.
Perez, who will turn 40 the day of the march, admits that she's battled insomnia organizing this gathering. Still, she says, "We've been dreaming about this."
Below, Perez and Bland discuss their experiences planning what could be the largest mass mobilization on the first day of a new president's administration.
Janet Mock: The idea of the Women's March came from women with little organizing experience who drew tens of thousands who expressed an interest in participating. Initially, there were no concrete plans or infrastructure to actually get people there. How did you both get involved?
Bob Bland: The march was organically founded by about four of us who had separately decided that our reaction to Trump's election was that we wanted to do a march on Washington to reiterate that women's rights were human rights, and to ensure that we could all come together around protecting each other over the next four years. We never had any idea that it was going to go viral.
When we realized that this was now something that could become an incredibly historical moment and transformational, we reached out to women of color who could lead. We were blessed to meet Carmen, Tamika, and Linda, who had extensive experience in organizing and putting on marches similar to this. They came on day two, and we've all been working together. Now we have dozens and dozens of volunteers as part of the national committee. It's really incredible.
Carmen Perez: I'm the executive director of Harry Belafonte's organization. He is one of the honorary cochairs, with Gloria Steinem. Harry was a part of the 1963 March on Washington and he has mentored me for the past twelve years in regards to the different tactics, ideology, and philosophy of Kingian nonviolence. It was important to bring in that perspective but also the continuation of legacy. The continuation of the people whose shoulders we stand on. It's been beautiful to not only bear witness to this organic type of organizing, but also to be a part of developing some of the messaging and reaching out to individuals and being really intentional about [who we bring] on board. It's a huge endeavor, but I'm really excited to be a part of it.