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The Quad: LA Women’s March attempts to incorporate race, intersectionality

(Alice Lu & Claire Sun/Daily Bruin staff)

By Adrija Chakrabarty

March 1, 2018 9:44 p.m.

Ashley Michel proudly held up her sign to assert, “Sin Mujeres no hay revoluciόn,” or “Without women there is no revolution.”

The poster the first-year global studies student carried in the second annual Los Angeles Women’s March was personal. She wanted to show she was proud to be not just a woman, but a Mexican-American woman, in the movement against President Donald Trump.

A rallying cry of the Jan. 20 march was intersectionality: the understanding that gender, race, socioeconomic status, sexuality and other facets of identity play into feminist causes. The Women’s March strives to bring forward the stories of a broad spectrum of people by featuring speakers like Bamby Salcedo, a transgender Latina woman who is the CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition and Nury Martinez, the first Latina to hold a leadership position in the Los Angeles City Council. Essentially, the march attempts to provide an inclusive platform for diverse groups of women to band together and harness their collective power, as stated in the Women’s March Foundation Mission Statement.

The term intersectionality first was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a UCLA law professor, in her essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” which describes how the law should provide more protection for victims of multiple forms of discrimination. The term intersectionality has since become a way to describe feminism that supports and includes women who face oppression beyond sexism, such as racism, transphobia or homophobia.

“(Intersectionality) is about thinking about the Latina, undocumented migrant who cannot report sexual violence, or workplace abuse that cannot be taken into account,” said Rachel Lee, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women.

Lee believes scholars should study the histories of women of color and provide resources, like legal or monetary support, to marginalized communities. She also argues listening to the voices of groups who have historically been silenced will strengthen the feminist movement and broaden its understanding of what progress still needs to be made.

Mainstream feminist movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have started to incorporate principles of intersectionality into their activism. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, started by high-profile figures in entertainment, provides legal counsel to low-income women and women of color seeking to report sexual violence, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Besides the mainstream movements promoting intersectionality, minority groups have also become more involved in voicing their feminist opinions. The Latinx community is embracing intersectional feminism to band together and speak out about women’s rights, Michel said.

“(Older generations) used to say ‘calladita me veo más bonita,’ meaning ‘being quiet, you look prettier,’” Michel said. “For generations, our women were told to not stir the pot, but there are a lot of strong women who have begun to speak up.”

Michel’s poster, along with the Spanish language speakers and posters supporting DACA at at the 2018 LA March, demonstrate that immigrants and people of color have been brought to the forefront of contemporary feminist movements.

However, third-year sociology and African American studies student Marcelo Clark believes marching and organizing a women’s march in the liberal bubble of Los Angeles is preaching to the choir. He thinks activists should instead turn their attention to smaller, grassroots advocacy groups started by people of color.

As someone who has marched in several other protests, including ones put on by Black Lives Matter and social justice organizations from Oakland, Clark argues the Women’s March does not encompass intersectional perspectives as much as it claims to because of its tendency to leave out certain marginalized communities in its messages. The Women’s March gives off the impression that protesting is easy, he added.

“People of color have been protesting the Women’s March and how womanhood is represented right now,” Clark said. “People wear pussyhats, but womanhood should not center around genitalia because it excludes transgender women. Also, some marches are organized with police, and women of color are not comfortable in those spaces.”

Clark said though the Women’s Marches attempt to include diverse speakers, the conversation often leans toward the perspectives of cisgender women, or women whose gender identities correspond to their sex at birth, especially those who come from a place of privilege.

Indeed, privilege played a role in who decided to come out to protest for the Women’s March in LA, Lee explained. Whereas people of color have been building coalitions for years to protest centuries of injustice they have suffered, many attendees of the Los Angeles march are only now starting to scratch at the surface of activism. Lee said this march was the first time many attendees participated in a protest, which is great if the attendees are now ready to be activists. However, for many attendees, the Los Angeles Women’s March was the start and finish of their activist career.

“Liberal tolerance has papered over that racism exists and is alive and well in society,” Lee said. “People of color are maybe not attending the march because they think people are coming late to the game.”

Clark also noticed a lack in enthusiasm at the LA march compared to his experiences marching in grassroots movements lead by people of color.

For example, Clark said he has been to a march organized by people of color where protesters continued to rally even after police used tear gas on them.

“The (LA Women’s March) felt a lot like white feminism because it just felt like something to do on a Saturday,” Clark said. “And I have never been to a march that has food trucks before.”

This criticism of mainstream feminism’s tendency to shift the narrative away from marginalized communities extends beyond the Women’s March; modern feminism itself must be more inclusive.

To include a diverse range of people in feminist discourse, it is important to create solidarity among people dissatisfied with the current state of politics, said Talla Khelghati, a first-year economics student who attended the Washington, D.C. march in 2017 and the LA march in 2018.

“The unique thing about the women’s march is there is no strict unifying theme,” Khelghati said. “The last election was especially misogynistic, so the march became a platform for all communities.”

However, Khelghati said she thinks marching is not as powerful a statement of dissent in Los Angeles. When she marched in Washington the day after the President Trump’s inauguration, she knew she was surrounded by people who came to see Trump sworn in and people who may not understand the value of intersectionality, making her marching experience more impactful and empowering.

“The (2018 march) in LA was nice, but because it is already a liberal community, it seemed like we were protesting in a bubble,” Khelghati said. “In D.C. is where the politics is happening, and I could make more of a statement since (I was) with the politicians and people who voted for Trump after the day of the inauguration.”

2018 has begun with several important moments for women and people of color –Oprah was the first black woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, and Senator Doug Jones was elected in Alabama due to a large black voter turnout. People with liberal leanings have adopted a hopeful outlook on enacting more change in the coming year, said Dylan Portillo, a first-year undeclared student who marched in Los Angeles and lives on the Public Service and Civic Engagement Living Learning Community.

“2017 was reactionary and 2018 is more revolutionary,” Portillo said. “A majority of California seats are open with a governor’s race coming up. We have the ability to make so much change, and (the change) is so potent.”

Hopeful that feminism is being restructured to include the narratives of a broader range of communities, intersectional feminists are ready to engage in the political, academic and activist spheres to promote their messages of inclusivity, Lee said. And as acceptance of intersectional feminism increases, so does the movement’s power – on screen, in the courtroom, in the voting booth and during protests.

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Adrija Chakrabarty
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