"Move That Way!" Mainers Share Lessons from the Women's March

Last weekend, the collective strength of the Women’s March resulted in the largest mass protest in U.S. history. While the movement’s massive scale was inspiring — an estimated 5 million people worldwide, and 500,000 in the nation’s capital — it offered important lessons in intersectionality and inclusion of political resistance going forward.

As the activist and scholar Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor wrote in In These Times this week:

“The United States has just experienced a corporate hijacking. If Donald Trump’s inaugural speech did not alert you to the fact that they intend to come after all of us, then you are not paying attention.

The scale of the attack is as deep as it is wide, and this means that we will need a mass movement to confront it. To organize such a movement necessarily means that it will involve the previously uninitiated — those who are new to activism and organizing. We have to welcome those people and stop the arrogant and moralistic chastising of anyone who is not ‘woke.’”

Among the many narratives emerging after the march — and the Trump administration’s fascist-leaning first days in office — two seemingly contrary ones stand out. Today’s resistance movement will need to make space and practice compassion for people with middle-of-the-road politics and privileged identities. And those middle-of-the-road types need to cede the floor and the design to marginalized people and those on the left.

Recognizing these complexities, we asked Mainers who participated in the protest, in Washington D.C. and Augusta, to share their stories and sentiments. (Note: Their inclusion here should not be read as commentary on their degree of wokeness.)

To start, we’re publishing a response from Sherri Mitchell, a civil rights lawyer and Penobscot leader who attended the march in Augusta, at length.

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Saturday was a very important day for many reasons.

It demonstrated the power of the people, which is the heart of true democracy. It also demonstrated the strong commitment that the people of this country have to social justice. Last weekend’s marches were about promoting unity, acceptance, justice, progress, and love. I am incredibly inspired by the marches that erupted here, and across the planet today. They sent a strong message — love and unity can change the world. I hope that this is only the first step in a broad-scale movement that will bring us all closer to the world that we most want to inhabit.

Here in Maine, there were marches across the state. I chose to participate in the march that took place in the state’s capital, with 10,000 other beautiful and caring souls. My day began with about 100 of those people, on the side of the road, in prayer. Then, we marched together to join the larger group.

I had serious concerns about attending, due to questions that I had around the organizing of the event. Though I am very glad that I went, my concerns were not allayed by my attendance. In fact, they were affirmed. We have a lot of hard work to do.

Each one of the speakers was articulate and powerful, and I honor their presence, the stories that they each carried, and the words that they shared.

However, I was also struck by the fact that on a panel of eight women, there were six white women, one black woman, who spoke eloquently about immigrant issues, and one native woman, who spoke beautifully on behalf of the water and the need to protect Mother Earth. When the organizers were approached to add another Native woman, to speak about social justice and the need for unifying our movements, they said “but, we already have a native speaker,” as though having two would be redundant — if you hear from one native you’ve heard from them all, right? The suggestion of one of the organizers when faced with the dilemma of adding another native speaker was to either replace the current native speaker or split her time, which I found to be incredibly insulting and a diminishment of the voice of the woman already scheduled. I don’t know what the conversation sounded like regarding the one black woman on the panel, but I do know that I felt the glaring absence of the voice of other black women who have been immersed in their own struggles on the streets of this country for generations. Which begs the question, do black lives matter here in Maine?

My perception, which may be clouded by my own life experience, is that the six white women were allowed to give voice to a broad spectrum of issues, while the women of color were reduced to singular representation of their group — this is tokenism.

There are women of color that represent every one of the issues presented today. Women that have been deeply engaged in the ongoing struggles being faced here for generations. These women have varied areas of expertise and life experiences, differing ideologies and world views. They have opinions on reproductive health, social justice, women’s rights, the environment, and LGBTQ issues. And, they're not hard to find.

If we fail to recognize that these women are living examples of intersectionality, then we will never be able to address the complexities of intersectionality within our movements. We must be able to look at each other more deeply, and challenge ourselves to see beyond the blind spots in our own vision. We cannot allow the images from this movement to be replicas of the status quo. If we truly want to create a movement that represents us all then the public representations of our movement must be reflective of that intent. There is no reason that this panel of eight could not have been comprised of two white women, two black women, two native women, and two immigrant women. Surely, there are sufficient representatives among those populations to elegantly give voice to all the issues covered, while also providing the movement with a more inclusive face.

If we truly want to create change, we are going to have to get really honest with ourselves about the ways we are preventing that change from happening. And we are going to have to have the courage to face those issues and get to work addressing them.

It’s something to think about as we move forward.

Sherri Mitchell, TK

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From Washington, D.C.

One of the most powerful moments of the weekend occurred late Saturday night, after the Women’s March. My sister-in-law and I stopped at a bodega/diner to purchase water and use the restroom. On my way to the restroom, I encountered three women eating dinner together. They stopped me, thanked me for protesting, and asked me to take a photograph with them. One woman made a joke that one of the other women couldn’t be in the photo. I asked why. They replied that she was a Trump supporter and had voted for him. I invited her to join the picture, which she did. I then sat down with them briefly and tried to speak with her respectfully and calmly, asking her for her perspective and focusing on responding to her statements with more questions rather than with my own opinions. For a few brief moments, we had a real conversation. And though there were definitely some pitfalls, and I wish it had lasted longer, I left convinced more than ever that individual human interaction and open dialogue are the only real way through this national divide. I was encouraged that these three women were still friends eating dinner together in a diner despite their differences. I left determined to have more such conversations when I returned home to the 2nd District of Maine, where I have friends who have many different viewpoints. And I strongly encourage my fellow Mainers to welcome any opportunities they may have to come together despite opposing beliefs and to try to really listen to one another.

_ Julie Bouwsma, poet/editor, New Portland

An hour and a half it was set to start, it seemed clear the crowd was too big to actually march. I’m not going to lie — it was scary to think we were stuck in the middle of half million people with no way out. We weren’t given updates we could hear and no one knew what we were supposed to do. But then, the most amazing thing happened that really was a testament to what we were all there for — to help each other move forward in situations that are scary. There were crowds of people standing on top of port-a-potties who could see how far back the crowd on each avenue went, and saw the best option for how we could all get out. They let us know, and in unison we all started chanting “Move that way! Move that way!” pointing in the direction we needed the crowd to move. Within five minutes, the crowd started to move. And then we marched, not toward a single meeting point, but toward where we all needed to go to move forward. That was a pretty incredible moment.

_ Kate MacPherson, Yarmouth

The auditory quality of the mass of people was the first thing to strike me. Even during relative quiet, there was a dense murmur that felt like wearing headphones playing crowd noise, interrupted by waves of cheers originating hundreds of yards away. What left the deepest impression on me, though, was those marching despite probable physical discomfort; elderly folks, people using canes or walkers, who were likely on their feet for hours. I’m sure there were many marching despite emotional discomfort too, due to the intensity of the crowd, or for POC, the inevitable racial ignorance within a population that seemed only slightly less white than Portland. 

_Eric Spalding

I got there at 5:30 am Saturday and the subway was already full. Next stop was the Hirshhorn Museum to meet hundreds of Mainers gathering for the rally. Our unifying chants of “Dirigo” were met with puzzled looks. Our group ended up on a side street, unable to hear or see much of the speeches or music, but somehow that didn’t matter. We stood together for five hours, chanting and, when cell service was available, listening huddled over phones broadcasting the event via C-Span radio. No matter how uncomfortable people were, or how jostled, they were cheerful and polite, calm and smiling. Rumors started circulating about the march being cancelled, and it was impossible to confirm one way or the other because of poor cell service and our inability to hear whatever they might be telling people from the stage. People began to make their way to the National Mall, where it became clear that there was going to be a march no matter what. This was ultimately my favorite part of the day — watching the rivers of people stream by with signs, flags and costumes. Dance parties sprung up. 30-foot inflatable globes marched by. Brass bands played. I led chants and talked with people from all over the country, admiring the beauty and force of the crowd. Just as we started to head back to the Metro, another spectacle headed our way down Madison. Women on stilts and large puppets, followed by more large puppets and signs. It was the famous Bread and Puppet from Vermont. At every turn, we were greeted by people and positive energy and powerful messages of resistance. I am so grateful to have been a part of this beautiful, imperfect, awe-inspiring, exhausting day.

_ Sally Streuver, artist/organizer, Portland

It’s hard to put into words the transformative experience this weekend was. I have found myself speechless, moved, and teary-eyed more than once. After returning from the march, I had the courage to share parts of myself and my past with the people closest to me. I shared with them this weekend what I am moved to share on this platform now: I am a survivor of sexual assault. Organizing for this march as a member of the International Socialist Organization has given me the confidence to own this aspect of my identity, and match tragedy with solidarity and oppression with resistance.

I was the lead organizer for our Maine contingent. Once arrived, we were met by comrades far and wide who embraced us in tears, in chants of solidarity, in love, and marched with us against our oppressors. For me, this was my march of resistance against my attackers. To make that march with nearly five million people worldwide alongside me in that fight, pledged to fight back against sexual violence, forever changed the way I see myself and the world around me. I can now say with confidence that I am here, I am not going anywhere, and I believe that we will win.

_ Caitrin Smith, organizer, International Socialist Organization, Portland

Last modified onWednesday, 25 January 2017 12:02