Was the Women’s March Successful?

Listen to this episode

S1: It was the morning after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The day was gray but warm for January. I walked out my door and the first person I saw was carrying a protest sign. I hadn’t even reached the end of my block. We were both heading south toward the National Mall and at every intersection, the sidewalks got more crowded. Groups of friends, parents pushing strollers, union members in matching T-shirts. Women in those pink hats. I knew it was all planned, but it felt spontaneous. Like the only people in the streets for miles around were pouring out of their houses and hotels to join the crowd for different reasons. Maybe. But with one united purpose. I’d seen a zillion protests in D.C. before, but none like this. The whole city was alive with demonstrators. They were everywhere. The day before belonged to Donald Trump. But this day was theirs. Oh, right. Oh, these hundreds of thousands of people had converged on D.C. for the Women’s March. The whole thing had started the day after Trump’s shocking election as an expression of rage in search of an outlet. It was a Facebook event created not by a professional organizer or advocacy group, but by a woman in Hawaii who just wanted somewhere to go and people to be with to share her anger and pain. Within a few days, three more experienced activists stepped in to actually plan the march and to make sure it wasn’t exclusively focused on white women and their concerns. What happened next made the Women’s March what it was a fertile ground for an inward facing social reckoning. Some women of color took issue with the idea of banding together as women when a plurality of white women voted for Trump. Some white women got offended at the suggestion that a march for women should mention racism at all. People disagreed on whether the pink pussy hats were gauche or powerful or reductive or transphobic, and they argued over the marches policy platform, which covered the entire progressive waterfront from ending deportations to enacting rights for sex workers and their. In the lead up to the event brought all kinds of internal feminist debates to the surface. But despite all that, or maybe because of it, the Women’s March would turn out to be the largest single day protest in U.S. history, with a jaw dropping turnout in D.C. and hundreds of satellite marches around the country. That was five years ago. Can you believe it for me, Donald Trump’s inauguration feels like it happened forever ago, like we’ve lived several lifetimes since then. But the Women’s March, just one day later, feels much more recent. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because Trump’s presidency and its aftermath was such a slog and changed so much. The Women’s March, on the other hand, it was just a fleeting moment. It didn’t dominate the news for five years, but I think it doesn’t feel so long ago because it did make some lasting changes. Maybe not at the level of the presidency, but in movements and in people. For some, it was a first step into activism, an on ramp to much more established and radical political groups. If you’ve done any reporting on progressive activism in the Trump era like I have, you’ve met tons of these people. They came to the Women’s March despondent about Trump, maybe worried about one issue, and they left feeling like they had a place fighting for a lot more. Some people came to the march hating the pussy hats, only to find themselves moved by the overwhelming visual impact. Others found the event kind of shallow or alienating. The march changed them to. This week on the waves, with five years of hindsight, we’re looking back at the Women’s March. What did it mean? Who was it for? What do we gain when the barrier to political activism is lowered and what do we lose on this episode? I’ll talk to New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister about what the Women’s March accomplished as a kickoff to progressive organizing in the Trump era and what role public protests might play in an increasingly hostile political landscape. Then I’ll talk to Angela Peoples, who went to the march with a sign about how white women had voted for Trump and ended up going viral. And in our Slate Plus segment, Angela and I will chat about the connection between the Women’s March and the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020. I really enjoyed that conversation. We’ll be right back. The Women’s March was a record breaking feat of organizing that exceeded all expectations. But for the Women’s March organization and for most of the people who attended the marches, what happened on that day, January 21st, 2017 wasn’t a stand alone accomplishment. It was really just the beginning. Rebecca Traister was one of the thinkers who shaped the way I interpreted that moment and everything that came after. She’s a columnist at New York Magazine and the author of Good and Mad The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. She’s also been on the way before so Rebecca. Welcome back.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

S1: So it’s January 2017. You’re witnessing the Women’s March. What was your feeling in that moment and your sense of, you know, what was happening and what was possible?

S2: I was stunned by the Women’s March. I certainly had a sense that it was going to be a big event. But, you know, I remember my personal experience of it is the shock I felt as I was coming down on the train from New York to D.C. on Inauguration Day. Right. As as Trump is being sworn in and I’m on an Amtrak with a bunch of my coworkers colleagues who are going down to both cover and participate in the march. And I had been like very anti pussy hat, right? Like, I hated the pussy hats. I hated the idea of the pussy hats. And then we were going on through the Northeast Corridor, on this train. And on the one hand, I’m getting calls and texts about how awful and horrifying and chilling the Trump inauguration speeches. And at the same time, I’m on this train that is packed with people, many of whom are in there. What I then was like stupid pussy hats, right? And I’m going through these train stations, you know, down through Philly and D.C. and Baltimore going toward D.C. and on the platforms. All I’m seeing are like pink pussy hats. I still didn’t love them, but I was like, Holy shit, what is happening?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: And I think this was definitely the thing that I found most energizing and surprising that day, and obviously has been one of the major narratives of the Trump era where these new people drawn into their first political actions. You know, you’ve stood pretty staunchly in defense of the new so-called resistance activists. You know, the wine moms in their r.b.g. T-shirts who’ve never protested before, who maybe didn’t have the most radical politics. Certainly, you know, didn’t know all the lingo yet. And I think a lot of people were pretty quick to dismiss or be skeptical of these new entrants into social movements. Why do you think that was and what were they missing when they asked, You know, what can these people really do or what do they really know? Well, I don’t

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: think it’s quite as simple as they were missing something, and my defense of them is staunch. It’s definitely both. And because the things that people were very quickly critical about for all kinds of very good, real valid reasons was that this period, the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton drew a population of people, many of them middle class white suburban women who had never previously been involved in electoral politics, much less anything like the kind of interconnected, progressive organizing that that, in fact, the Women’s March organizers were determined to make that particular event structured around. And that, in fact, many of them, like a hadn’t worked to defeat Donald Trump in the moment that they had the opportunity right, hadn’t done anything around the election of Hillary Clinton or in advance of that participated in a Democratic primary and any kind of energetic way. And in fact, more than that, like plenty of them, hadn’t even voted. And that this, you know, now the word woke like is just code for so many things. But there is something about this notion of waking up, right? And that’s what so many of those people new to politics described waking up the day after the election. Well, how can you have been asleep before that? And the answer is that you are cosseted and that there are degrees and which you don’t have to experience inequality, or you can somehow override it. You have the resources to protect yourself from it, and therefore you’ve never been involved in advocating for anybody else who is being oppressed or lacks the kinds of protections to have been asleep until Election Day, morning or the day after Election Day, and then to have woken up. There’s lots of reasons to be direct about that and to be critical, and then in turn to be critical about the replication of a lot of inequities within progressive movement. So racism within within a feminist movement, the sort of blindness to the way in which oppressions are completely interconnected and cannot be pulled apart one without the other. All that stuff is very real. So, so the criticism doesn’t come from a made up place, though it is easier and more fun thanks to sexism, mocking middle aged women is easy. Well, got models for. We’ve got templates for it, right? And so the fact that there are validly critical things to say about these new participants to politics is then made a hell of a lot funnier by the fact, you know, for those who want to go not just from being critical and pointing out the blind spots, the very real crucial blind spots and places where people who want to participate must actually refine their thinking, learn, listen, shift their perspectives, sit back all those things, but then make it like funny jokes about dumb women in suburban enclaves. But my perspective has also been OK, great. But actually, those women should be involved. They must, in fact be involved if we want to move forward. We must have more people. Both things can be true. We must be critical of new entrants and of ourselves. We must continue to be pushed to be better, smarter, more thoughtful, more not just inclusive, but to listen to others, more to displace our at all all that stuff. But in the criticism, you also don’t want to discount the power that those people have, and they had it right. Like a lot of the stuff that you that you saw happen during the Trump Trump administration was enabled in part by the resources that is that is a group the same reasons that they could sleep through a lot of inequity prior to the election of Donald Trump and the defeat of a white woman in whom they could see themselves. And therefore, that could draw them into this fight because suddenly they understood that they themselves were in some way vulnerable. The resources that enabled them to stay asleep also enabled them. Once they participated, they had time money. There was an ability to to engage in organizing, to do electoral politics. They had community networks that were really strong that perhaps previously had been used for, like just sort of other kinds of socializing, but were converted into political organizing networks. That stuff is crucially important. And you would not have seen the wave of women win in 2018 and take over Congress had it not been for that population in part. And I’m not giving them credit. They weren’t. They weren’t leading those fights or those campaigns, right? But their resources in organizing, whether that’s, you know, in registering and getting out the vote, in driving and being able to show up at meetings every week multiple times a week, that stuff is very real and you need it for political organizing. Many of those women who have reported on a lot of them have done the nightmare like gone back to brunch thing, right? Like Biden got elected and the story, you can go back to sleep. But many of the women that I’ve reported on who were brand new to politics and who can talk in ways that they never were able to talk before, lots of them actually did go and get that education and are working on it and are involved in ways that they never would have been five years ago and have changed their lives. I mean, there was a there is a lot of women when I wrote good and bad and I was talking to women over the course of those years, a startling number of them like let their marriages left their communities right because stories too. Yeah, some percentage of those women who are very easily mocked also really altered their lives. They really changed their lives. And I don’t think we should just write everybody off with the same broad, derisive brush.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: The credit goes to the progressive organizers who found ways to direct and take advantage of. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, the sort of secret weapon that a lot of these new activists had, which is, I almost feel like the same things they were being criticized for could also be their strengths, which is that they had a little bit of almost naive optimism that change was possible, which they were unguarded, which a lot of people have been doing this work for a long time can find it hard sometimes to maintain that optimism. And they had this new fresh anger. They were newly outraged by the things that they were for the first time seeing and learning. And that’s really valuable, too. And I think there were a lot of people out there who found ways to harness that power. A lot of organizations, existing organizations out there took the time to meet these people where they were at and put them on the path to getting that sort of education that they had shied away from in their previous lives.

Advertisement

S2: That’s absolutely true. Long time activists did so much work with these women. I had such an incredible view of that because I reported through 2017 and 2018, I was reporting as a journalist and working on my book about about women’s anger, progressive anger. And I was talking to these women and there were. It’s also Trump was the president, but there were these weird number of wins, right? There was, OK, we’re going to go to a women’s march. And then it was like at that time, the single biggest protest in the country’s history. There was the MeToo movement in which, like powerful people, powerful abusive people had to pay a price, which never happens. There were the teacher strikes, a wave of teachers strikes, many of which were successful. This is tied to the fact that you’re having a population that’s bringing its resources, its power, you know, one of the things I found. Reporting good and bad is that long time organizer said the crazy thing about working with these white women is that they’re obsessed with permits because like anytime we have a protest, they’re like we should get a permit and longtime organizer. One woman said to me, like, I never care about permits, in part, I don’t assume the state’s going to work for me. But but middle-class white women assume the state is there to work for them. There’s something about going in with resources, with power, with authority and expecting the systems to work on your behalf that actually did serve these women well. And then I would go into rooms after Kavanaugh was confirmed, confirmed and it was like they were paralyzed. And it was so instructive to Europe to the point you just made because they did not have practiced looting. I mean, it was a period of enormous loss and enormous cost. Donald Trump was president. Horrible things were happening. But but when it came to their activism, they had experienced like a run of what felt like surprising success. And I had so many women say to me, but I called. I protested. I went to Washington. I screamed at the door. How is this possible? It was like the first encounter of a of newly born activists with loss, which was like, Yeah, losing is actually the sort of default position when you’re coming from the margins and fighting the powerful system, so you lose a lot more than you win. And in fact, one of the most crucial points of living a life in which you are correctly engaged in fighting for a better world is learning the skill of losing and continuing.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Speaking of loss, we talk a lot about these moments as wake up calls. You know, Trump’s election was a wake up call for some people. The racial justice uprisings in the summer of 2020 were, you know, a wake up call for even more people who were somehow still asleep. At what point does it? Does it even matter with all of the structural barriers to change that people are are being woken up? You know, when you think about gerrymandering, the Electoral College, the filibuster, the Supreme Court? I found this to be a very powerful metaphor. You wrote in a fall 2020 piece called Wide Awake about the progressive movement in the Trump years. You wrote the awakened and panicked and furious populists may suddenly be running as fast as they can through corridors. It has been taught are the paths to progress voting, organizing, unionizing, bringing lawsuits, registering voters, marching, giving money, educating themselves. But the hallways are collapsing in that landscape, where the hallways are closing as fast as people can run down them. What role does mass protest and does a progressive movement play?

Advertisement

S2: You’ve just taken x ray of the battle waged every morning tonight in my brain. You’ve really hit the most painful part of my thinking every single day. I don’t know the answer and the thing I just talked about, which is that learn skill of how do you keep fighting when you really understand on a deep level that victory is going to be really hard to achieve? What do you do? How do you keep going, right? And that’s the crucial question, because guess what? Like, look, there are certain things that I also think I’m not being despairing here. I’m being practical and realistic because I am trying to solve this in my own brain to write like I’m 46 years old. I was born in 1975. The circumstances, the rest of my life, I’m going to witness the disintegration of all kinds of rights and protections that had been built in advance of my birth. This is I am not the first generation to do this right like this is there are generations of people who have been born in points of enormous progress and then had to live through periods of enormous regress, right? This is part of the story of this country. But there have also been generations of people who have dedicated their entire lives to fighting for progress and who have never lived to see a victory. At the same time, the victories that happened after their deaths would never have been possible had those people not given their entire lives to the fight. There is no future in which the appropriate response to that is, Oh well, like, we’re fucked, so let me go back to bed, right? Like that just guarantees doom. And so then the question of where does street protest come in? Right? Where do demonstrations come in? Where does organizing come in? So. And my answer to that is I actually think it’s really important, especially in periods where the losses are plentiful and painful and terribly costly, the communities and the kind of and joy and connection and fun, really, those are crucial parts of continuing to participate in this process. And that’s one of the things that public protest gives you. There are all kinds of impacts of it is place to connect practically, and it’s the beginning of organizing and coalition building and all of that. And that’s like absolutely crucial. People gathering together show the opposition that there are there’s strength in numbers that there is a future. It sends a crucial message, but it’s. Also, like makes you feel good if you’re a part of that, right, there is no question that lots of those people who went to the Women’s March had a great fucking time, and that’s why they went to their next meeting and they met friends. And you want to anything that you need to dedicate that much of your time, your days, your money, your resources to in a way that’s going to be ultimately meaningful, you need to enjoy and you need to have people you love and trust doing it alongside you. And so for that, all that stuff that brings people together and that includes, by the way, that goes back, I do defend the swag because, yes, it’s meaningless and it’s capitalism, but that’s always been the case in any social movement. You have signaling and you have, like little things, hats, banners, whatever that tell you that you are connected to people. And while like, whatever, that was multifaceted in this house, signs maybe like in a lefty enclave, you know, in New York City, you know, you eyeroll, but in a right leaning suburb, those signs can be pretty challenging and and meaningful. And because they signal where they’re where are like minded people with whom you might connect and then do whatever form of organizing makes sense to you, whether it’s around policy, whether it’s around educating each other, whether it’s around having conversation, letting people know that they’re not alone, right, which is absolutely crucial to keeping them engaged, involved paying attention and doing the work that must be done in order to move forward.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: The two major benefits of protest. I think people often focus on the let’s change policymakers minds. But just as important as is, you know, what does it feel like for the people who are there? Thank you so much, Rebecca. It was great talking to you.

S2: You, too. It’s always fun talking to you.

S1: There’s one image that I kept coming back to when I was thinking about the Women’s March. You’ve probably seen this photo, too. There are three grinning white women in pink pussy hats. They’re looking at their phones and taking a selfie with the Capitol building in the background. And Angela Peoples is standing at their feet. She’s sucking on a lollipop, sort of gazing off to the side, and she’s holding a sign that says, don’t forget white women voted for Trump. That image became a symbol for one interpretation of the Women’s March that the white women who were moved to political action for the first time in their lives by Donald Trump’s election. They were late to the game and they had some work to do. The figure at the time based on exit polls, was that 53 percent of white women voters had gone for Trump later. A more comprehensive study of validated voters from Pew found that the number was a little smaller 47 percent, not a majority, but still more than the 45 percent who went for Hillary Clinton. For this episode, I wanted to think more about how white women could use their racial capital in service of progressive politics and whether that promise of the Women’s March was fulfilled. So I called up Angela Peoples. She is a political and cultural strategist and co-founder of the South. Angela, welcome to the waves.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Yeah, absolutely. I’m so happy to be here.

S1: So just to start off, why did you want to go to the Women’s March in 2017?

S3: I was feeling really sad. I was feeling pretty dejected and worried about at that time. I had been living in Washington, D.C., for almost 10 years and had developed. They felt like my home. I had such a good community there. And I was actually in Philadelphia at the time traveling for work. I was working for an LGBTQ liberation group at the time and was watching the inauguration on on TV, and it just felt like a takeover of the city that I love. That was my home. And I just felt really scared and uncertain, and I was not going to go to the Women’s March. I was like, This is clearly for white women. It’s not for me. I’m not going to go. But there was something in me that was like, you know, I needed a little bit of hope. I was hoping for a little bit of like joy. Maybe seeing some old ladies with cute signs or babies with cute signs was going to inspire me to keep pushing for these terrible next four years that were facing us. And so I decided to leave Philadelphia early that morning and drove back home to be with my housemates and try to convince them to go with me. All of us were organizers. All of us had been activists in different ways, and folks were like, No, we’re not going. And I was like, You know, it’ll be fun. We could carry a sign that says, I don’t know. White women voted for Trump and make it awkward for folks and have a little bit of fun while we were there. And I end up convincing my partner and another one of our friends to go with me and my partner, Kevin actually wrote the sign. I went there kind of hoping to get a little bit of hope, but also to try to set the record straight right about the conversation that actually needed to happen. It’s not just oh, all of us women against Trump, right? There’s actually a lot more to talk about and a lot more work that needs to be done, especially for folks who thought that that rally was going to be a space for them.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: First of all, I want to know if you got any reaction sort of in real time to that sign and then how did that photo come to be?

S3: We got a ton of reaction. Almost immediately, people were looking at us. People were sort of like like looking at the sign and then looking down like sort of sad and looking or looking at the sign. And a lot like so many people said, not me, not this white woman and my my response to them was, you know, 53 percent of white women voted for Trump. That means your friends, your cousins, the parents of your kid’s friends, right? These are people that you know, that voted for Trump. And so it’s not enough to say, not me. I didn’t do it. That’s not the point. The point is that a majority of white women, people that you see as a part of your community made this choice. And that’s the conversation that we need to be having in terms of what what brought the moment that created the photo. We had just kind of gotten to the area where more people were gathering for the march. We were just sort of like looking around trying to kind of keep the scene. And I was just standing there holding the sign, looking around, and my partner Kevin was like, Stop. And he took the picture and he posted it pretty quickly on social media and then on Twitter, actually. And then we just kind of moved forward and maybe like forty five minutes to an hour later, he looked at his phone and noticed that the picture was like taking off. It was like sort of everywhere. And then the moment kind of just kind of kept happening. There’s several clips of me marching, walking through the National Mall with the sign saying the sort of like same lines that I said over and over in response to people telling me, not this white woman or, Oh, I’m so ashamed. And like, you know, I was always saying, like, it’s not about being ashamed. That’s not the point of this conversation or even this sign. The point is that this is something that needs to be confronted and needs to be added in to. It needs to open up different layers of the conversation in the discourse that I think so many of the women that were there were wanting to to have an. I thought that they were showing up for was really about like trying to move them, not to be ashamed, but to move them, to say what actually is your work to do beyond just marching in D.C.?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: I mean, in the months and years after the election, I feel like I had never before seen white women think of themselves so much as a demographic unit. It’s almost like when people like Trump appealed to white people as a group, and I feel like that was sort of a first realization for a lot of white people to like, Oh, we are on identity. We too have a race. And this was the first time I saw white women thinking like. Perhaps it is on me to organize amongst my own as white women. And I’m wondering if you if you actually saw that happening in the years after the election, as you, you know, organized in so many different ways. Did you see a change in the way white women, especially progressive white women, participated in politics and political discourse?

S3: I mean, honestly, I think no, unfortunately, I think what I have observed is a lot more of women of color and black women doing work with white women that call themselves progressive or that identify as liberal to like actually get them to understand and then practice what it means to organize with and for women. I think that the conversation that or in some of the ideas that led to the initiation of the first Women’s March was very much this. Like Trump is an anti-woman candidate. He’s an anti-woman leader, right? You know, the recordings of him, you know, saying things like grab them by the pussy. And there was just still a lot of like, Trump is this anti-woman candidate, and we, as women need to all just come together. And I think that the coming together that I’ve actually seen and experienced is both, you know, sort of black women and women of color and black women and non-black women coming together to say, actually, this is the version of feminism that is going to be that we’re going to move forward with and white women. If you’re carrying that mantle, it needs to be intersectional. It needs to be about more than just misogyny. It needs to be about the connections between race and gender and white supremacy and patriarchy. And it needs to be informed by the privilege that it is to be white. Even if you are a woman, right, it needs to be informed by the role that white women play in upholding white supremacy. Consciously or unconsciously, I think that there were definitely intentions and attempts by white women to, you know, sort of organize as a base and to to try to move from a place that’s attempting to be, you know, mindful of the intersections of different experiences and how whiteness womanhood shows up. But I think in most cases, it’s been sometimes at the expense of but certainly because of the labor of black women and women of color.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: In the other interview that’s going to be on this episode, I talked to Rebecca Traister, a columnist on New York magazine, about some of the new activists that were inspired by the Women’s March. You know, that was their first protest or whatever. And we talked about how, you know, in a lot of ways these new people sort of flooding into existing networks of political activists, many of which are run by women of color. You know, they they do bring their own gifts and strengths. Sometimes their whiteness works in their favor. As you said, in terms of like organizing other white people, but also they didn’t know how to do that stuff on their own. So it did put a little bit of a burden on the people who already had been doing it. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on that and also your when you mentioned that black women and and women of color came together. I actually saw a lot of, you know, think black women trust black women among white people. And I would love to hear your thoughts on that as a black woman, what does it feel like to sort of to witness that sort of discourse among white people?

S3: Well, one thing I want to say on the question, your previous question about, you know, how white women have organized since the march. I think that there’s a conversation that’s misleading around how conservative or even, you know, sort of far right white women are organizing. They actually have taken the tactics that we saw. You know, folks showing up at school board meetings, like all of the things that we’re seeing in response to the masks, to the vaccine mandates, to all of this, they have taken a lesson from the Black Lives Matter movement, from the movement of undocumented folks over the last 10 years, and they have now used it to weaponize their whiteness and to to weaponize their womanhood. And so I think that that’s an important as we’re talking about what where has, you know, white women organizing or even like feminist organizing gone since the first Women’s March? It is important to talk about where folks are organizing on the other side and how they’re taking white women as a as a voting bloc to a different level. To your question about, you know, sort of what is it feel like as a black woman to hear white progressives or liberals say black, think black women if it feels at best, disingenuous? And I think sometimes at worse, it feels like gaslighting. The reality, you know, the rhetoric is one thing. The reality is a very, very different thing. And so, you know, I think the best example of this for me is the reaction to the organizing that I did with black women, for black women, for is organizing collective that started in 2019 with the expressed intention to give space for a progressive black women to have a voice and to have an impact in the Democratic primary, the 2020 primary. And you know, we the we did organizing, we had, you know, meet up small conversations around the country. A lot of the conversation was about black women wanting a progressive champion, not just wanting a black woman at the top of the ticket, but wanting a progressive champion, someone that was not only going to talk about the intersections of race and class and gender and economic issues, but also someone that was going to be accountable to us as organized as as a community of black women. And we we ended up endorsing Elizabeth Warren. And you know, I want to be clear that the purpose was not to endorse Elizabeth Warren, although that was one of the outcomes. But I think that the to your point about what it means to think black women, right? So many of the same folks that you know a couple of months earlier, even a year earlier were like, yes, just black women. And yes, let’s let’s talk about how white women are oppressing black women and I want to be accountable and yadda yada yada. Right. Those same folks were shaming us were saying nasty things about us on social media. We’re even just discrediting our work right as, Oh, they’re just being paid or they are, you know, sort of just dismissing those very same black women who they said they wanted to trust, that they wanted to follow, that they wanted to champion. And I want to be clear that it isn’t. The ask is not to simply trust black women because we’re black. Right? The ask is to trust the black women who you have been seeing leaders like express leadership from. You have seen these women start movements and run for office and put out writing and pieces of thinking that are changing the way that we talk about race, about education, about health care. I could go on. These are the black women that are moving the issues that progressive say they care about. They’re moving them forward. And yet when it came time for us to say, OK, well, if you want to trust us, this is who we think is the best leader in this moment. And these are the reasons why it was, you know, very much dismissed cast out and really left a pretty sour taste in a lot of folks mouth about what what was possible and what, whether or not we were even welcome to participate in the kind of democratic process that we have been responsible for upholding for so many years.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah, I mean, I thought the creation of Black women for was I know it wasn’t in direct response to the Women’s March or anything, but I did feel like it seemed like such a natural development after the previous election. You know, so many white women voted for Trump and the response among so many white women. And, you know, even looking at Stacey Abrams, people were like, Oh yes, like black women should be leading us. We need to listen to black women and and these incredible leaders who are the backbone of the Democratic Party. Let’s listen to them. And you know, I was surprised, as you are, to see some of the reactions to that.

S3: What we were able to model with black women for is a is a four. By us, type of way of doing political organizing. We did not ask for permission. We did not ask our organizations or our bosses or our our corporate jobs to give us permission to sign up to say that we were backing this candidate. We didn’t ask anybody to tell us that it was OK for us to make this stand. We knew that we had the power to if we came together to make a statement, and that’s what we were able to do. And I think similarly, with the following up from the photo so many women reached out to me, sent me messages. I even have conversations to this day of folks that are that say that seeing the photo allowed them to have conversations with their white coworkers, with their white friends, with their even their non-black women of color friends about the experience that they were having as a black woman or as a woman of color trying to move and be from a feminist place or a place that’s a woman while also navic, bumping up against the way that white supremacy shows up with white womanhood. And so, so many people, you know, have told me that it helped them shake things up at their workplace. It helped them, you know, show up to their their school or their, you know, their their their university differently. It helped them even think about starting their own organization or starting their own publication. And I think that that is one of the things I’m most proud of following that moment. The biggest thing that I tell people when I talk about the story that I did it for for me, right? And I went to the Women’s March because I was needing something and I needed to say something I was hoping to get, you know, some joy and some inspiration. But I also needed to express a truth that felt so glaringly missing from this massive, you know, political moment that folks were trying to get us to be a part of. It’s like you’re actually missing the mark. And I needed to express that. I needed to say that out loud in some way. You know, so much organizing is about is sort of like professionalize and it’s like, what’s the most strategic target and intervention point and what’s the right tactic or how do you want to move? And those questions are good and important to ask, but it’s also important to know that it’s OK to just move and do something because it feels right to you because you need to say it, because you need to take that action because you never know how many people are wanting to say that same thing or needing to hear that same thing. And if you just you know you by taking that action, it can open up so many doors for so many other people.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Thank you so much, Angela. And yeah, that image is certainly one of the most indelible from that day. So thank you and thank heaven for taking it.

S3: I definitely will. Thank you.

S1: A lot of people like Angela came to the Women’s March looking for something to help them through a time of immense uncertainty and anger and disbelief. Some of them found exactly what they needed. And yeah, I’m sure there are plenty who checked out after Joe Biden took office thinking the work was done. But I don’t think that’s the prevailing vibe among people who woke up to politics when Trump became president. They saw the right wing mob take the Capitol last January six. They’re watching the Biden agenda fail at the hands of two Democratic senators. They’re watching abortion rights disintegrate in Texas and across the south. I don’t think the biggest threat to sustained activism in 2022 is complacency because everything seems great. I think it’s a feeling of futility because everything sucks. It’s the sense that political organizing on the left is useless because structural advantages will always had the big wins to the right. In this moment, under those conditions, public protest seems almost more essential than it did in January 2017. Not because it stands to change the minds of the few people who have their hands on the levers of power or even the audience watching on the news. But because of what it can do for the people who are there, the Women’s March showed hundreds of thousands of people what it felt like to be part of a movement. It gave them the chance to confront each other in real time about what goes missing when we talk about women as a monolith. And not for nothing, but it showed them a good time. It’s hard to quantify the political impact of feeling hurt or feeling less alone, but it’s something

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: that tick, take that tick.

S1: That’s our show this week. The Waves produced by Sheena Roth Susan Matthews is our editorial director with June Thomas. Providing oversight and moral support. A huge thank you to Tom Bowles and Andy Teru for allowing us to use their coverage of the marches. And thank you to slate staffers. Andrew Harding, Madison Malone, Kershaw and Sophie Worthen for their footage as well. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe wherever you get your podcasts so you never miss an episode. And if you have an idea for the show or just want to share your thoughts with us, send us an email at The Waves at Slate.com. The waves will be back next week with different hosts, a different topic, same time and place. Hi, Slate, plus, listeners, I wanted to give you a little bit more of my conversation with Angela Peoples this week. Here it is. You know, the Women’s March clearly lowered the barrier to political action. There’s a zillion stories out there. I’ve heard a lot of them about people who this was their first protest. It sort of warmed them up to go and do more action when they got home. It also, you know, forced them to look at signs like yours and be confronted with all these other issues that didn’t directly pertain to their lives. And I’m wondering and thinking about another mass protest the uprisings of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. You know, you did see more white people for those Black Lives Matter protests than you did in, you know, for the ones in 2014 2015. Do you think the Women’s March warmed these people up for that? And do you think that those internal conversations that those people were having with themselves about their own, you know, racism? Do you think that would have an effect or could have an effect on public policy?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: I definitely think that the Women’s March opened the door for more people to show up for mass protest period, and I think that that’s definitely a good thing. It’s difficult in this moment where our elected and political leaders are so unresponsive to the demands of people to to to think about mass protests as a way of making that change. And I think it is important for the point that you made about, you know, mass protest is as much as for you and your community as it is for making a a demand to a particular target or decision maker. It’s important, especially if we’re thinking about the the moment in in the summer of 2020, when we had millions and millions of the most people that we’ve seen in a mass movement in our country’s history, coming out to say Black Lives Matter, and this is what I mean by that. That’s a huge opportunity to, you know, sort of help to move critical mass. I think that another thing that the Women’s March did, and I’m now I’m thinking about the Women’s March as an organization, right, as the entity is that they tried to actually keep folks in a organized group. Lots of folks have criticisms of the Women’s March. I’m sure you know, there’s organizations have their their their strengths and their challenges. But I think that the idea of those folks that came to a mass march, even if 20 percent of them stayed in an organized community, stayed in there, their sort of locality. That’s huge. That’s a that’s a definitely a significant element of power building. And I think that the Women’s March as an organization did do a pretty good job of trying to hold those women together and hold them to hold those organizations together and also do some of the political education around that. I think the domestic workers is another really great organization that has been trying to both keep women and folks organized while also shifting their they’re expanding their thinking around race and gender and class in the intersections of all of those things. And so that, I think, is what brought us to the moment where more people, millions of people were able to take to the streets for Black Lives because throughout the years between things like the Women’s March in the 2016 election, there were organized groups that were trying to move the needle and there were like women of color and black led organizations that were holding white women accountable to say, Actually, this is not enough, you have to do more, you have to talk to your community. And so that is one one piece, I think, you know, another maybe sign of hope or a strength that came out of that mobilization.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: You also talked about what you saw as one of the failures of the march, which is that white women, many of whom were so apologetic or ashamed about the fact on your sign didn’t really necessarily turn that into something productive. Why do you think that is? Where did they go wrong?

S3: The lack of organizing specifically of white women by white women? I think that that is, you know, as much as I was naming the strength of the Women’s March, I think that that’s a piece that really has been missing and it’s a difficult thing to do because I think that for some white women, when they’re in conversations with black women and women of color, they when they hear us say, you need to send her blackness or you need disinter the most marginalized, usually people of color in their minds, it’s like, OK, then I only need to be making space for black women. I only need to be talking to women of color. I need to take a step back so that these people can take in space, you know, which is true to a point. But the other piece is that centering black women are centering anti-racism in your organizing doesn’t just mean only giving space for black women are only being in rooms where there are women of color and black women. It also means talking to your family, your. Neighbors, your the people who you grew up with. Right? Some people I went to high school with some of the people that you grew up with that don’t share your politics anymore, but are the ones that are moving a very anti-black racist, anti-woman pro patriarchal agenda. Those folks are the ones that you actually need to be talking to, and centering black women doesn’t always have to look like just standing right behind us. It can also be you talking to your people and being in community, moving them to realize that it’s an all of our self-interest. It’s an all of our interest to fight white supremacy and to fight patriarchy as it shows up in all of our experiences that we’re living through today.

S1: Thank you so much, Angela.

S3: Thank you.

S1: And listeners, thank you for being Slate Plus members. If you have an idea for our usual is this feminist segment? Email us at The Waves at Slate.com.