Last Saturday, three Feminist Campus interns attended the March and Rally for Black Women, which was co-chaired by Black Women’s Blueprint, the DC Rape Crisis Center, National Economic & Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), and the Marsha P. John Institute (MPJI). The march united hundreds of Black women and allies to demand justice and continue fighting issues like gender violence, the feminization of poverty, the rising Black female prison population, the deportation of Black and Brown people, and threats to health care and reproductive justice. At the march, activists also demanded full re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which expired the next day (September 30). Our Feminist Campus interns share their experiences of the event:
I was really excited to hear that there would be a March for Black Women in D.C., and it lived up to my expectations. I found myself noticing the difference in how I felt during the March for Black Women versus the protest I had attended two days before against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. At the latter, emotions were running high and there was a tenseness in the air. I was surrounded by people who were all feeling a variety of different emotions, excluding joy (and rightfully so). It was a different feeling of solidarity. We were united against something, while also showing our support for survivors.
But at the March for Black Women there was a sense of community; a sense of unity for something. The ambience was lighter – marchers singing along to music playing from a speaker, drums being played, people dancing and smiling. All of this was refreshing after everything we have endured this past month. While I took note of the difference, I still appreciated both events. Both the protest and the march were powerful, just in different ways.
The March for Black Women highlighted many issues: the criminalization of minorities, the legacy of slavery, and the intersection of racism and sexism that women of color face, to name a few. However, despite the legacy of trauma that have created these problems, the march itself was uplifting and positive. From the environment of solidarity that was fostered to the way strangers grasped hands when asked to take a moment of reflection together, the experience was a refreshing moment of community in a political climate that has mercilessly taken its emotional toll on anyone in its purview. I felt inspired and rejuvenated by all of the women around me taking time and space for healing and acknowledging that long-term activism cannot happen without prioritizing self-care in the process.
For me, the highlight of the March was hearing activist and poet Staceyann Chin speak after we marched to Freedom Plaza. Even as people sat in the grass mingling and buying goods from stalls set up to encourage support for Black-owned businesses, her words electrified the crowd. She didn’t just read a poem, but rather performed it, using expressive gestures and projecting her voice loud enough for the whole block to hear her clearly. Seeing her at the March introduced me to her body of work and solidified a new favorite artist whose work I can’t wait to further explore.
I’ve never felt so empowered in my entire life. I felt safe knowing that I didn’t have to walk on egg shells and worry that people would judge me or treat me differently. I was relieved because I knew that I wasn’t alone. As I was marched together with so many beautiful Black women, I felt powerful. As I stopped and reflected with people that I had never met, I felt comfortable. As I chanted and proclaimed the issues that mattered to me and that I face every day, I felt heard and powerful.
But most importantly, I felt hopeful.
I was surrounded by thousands of Black women and allies, and I knew that no matter what issues, barriers, or obstacles come our way, we were – and are – ready to fight back. I felt connected, not only to the hundreds of activists who marched with me, but also with past activists who have fought for Black women’s rights and liberation throughout history.
The march and rally emphasized the fact that forms of oppression interlock and so we cannot focus on one form of oppression while ignoring the rest. Rather than compete with one another, we should stand in solidarity. And I saw that on Saturday when I noticed so many allies marching with us.
Things are changing. For so long, Black women have been excluded and ignored, but this march showed that we are ready to continue to speak out until we are heard. We will speak out, not only on issues faced by Black women, but on issues faced by all women and all marginalized groups. As Audre Lorde so powerfully said,
I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”