By Leah Jones, Features Editor
The Women’s March on St. Louis will be held on January 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Union Station on Market Street.
As President Barack Obama gave his farewell speech in Chicago on January 10, St. Louis women and allies prepared to hold a march and rally to make the incoming administration more awaren of the rights of women and other marginalized groups on January 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The march, held the day after the inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump, will coincide with the Women’s March on Washington, which has spurred similar marches across the nation and in 28 other countries at the writing of this article.
The Women’s March on St. Louis will begin at Union Station on Market Street near 18th Street and the marchers will then proceed past the Federal Courthouse and end at Luther Ely Smith Square Park at 20 N 4th Street, where a rally will be held at 10 a.m. The rally is expected to last 30 to 45 minutes and will feature five speakers. After the rally, people can attend the action fair at the Phyllis Wheatley Heritage Center YWCA on 2711 Locust Street, St. Louis, MO 63103. Organizers encourage participants to post their reasons for marching on their Facebook and Twitter page with the hashtag #whyimarch in order to promote unity and growth. The march will be hosted by DefendHERS LLC, a St. Louis–based grassroots social justice organization.
“We are drawing attention to serious issues with this current administration, but not because they are Republican. It is because of their threats to defund important programs, create registries for Muslims, deport immigrants without delay, build walls, tear apart our rights and liberties, as well as many other things,” said Valerie Brinkman, lead organizer and co-founder of the non-partisan organization. She and other St. Louis activists organized the event mostly through social media after realizing that a trip to Washington D.C. was financially impractical, and hearing about a sister-march planned in Chicago.
The website for the event states that the march and rally are not a protest. Instead, the stated goal of the event is to “stand together for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families” and to call attention to the rights of women and other marginalized groups. “We march for women, but not just women,” the website states. “We also march for immigrants, minorities, those with diverse religious convictions, LGBTQIA individuals, those with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged, and survivors of sexual assault. We march for anyone who has felt marginalized by the results of the latest election.”
Dr. Kathleen Butterly Nigro, associate teaching professor in sociology, gerontology, and gender, and Director of Gender Studies at UMSL, teaches a course on Holocaust Literature, in which the students discuss rhetoric, and this semester will be teaching a course entitled, “Eyes on the Prize: Civil Rights.” In speaking about the value of the march, Nigro said, “We live in a democracy where we might not be happy with results. That doesn’t mean that we won’t accept those results, but we have a right to express, indeed, many people feel, a moral obligation, to make our voices heard about our disagreement with that. And I believe that it’s uncomfortable to be in that position. But that is why I think the people see it as their obligation to speak out.”
Dr. Adriano Udani, Assistant professor of political science who studies public policy and immigration in the United States at UMSL, supports the march and said that it was trying to do some very important things by bringing attention to the diversity in women’s voices. “[Some] people want to use this event to bring attention to some of the sexist and racist attitudes and policy priorities of the incoming administration. From my own perspective, I think some women of color believe that the target is much bigger than just Trump and his administration. The goal is really challenging people who have some connection to privilege, or privileged groups in our society to really listen, to learn, [and] to also realize how oppression didn’t just arrive in November 2016,” he said.
The stated goals of the Women’s March on St. Louis and their respect for intersectionality echo the mission stated on the website for the Women’s March on Washington, which states, “We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities.”
The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington were originally going to call the march the Million Women’s March, harkening back to the civil rights Million Women’s March on Philadelphia on October 25, 1997, and the Million Man March on Washington D.C. on October 16, 1995. However, in respect for the racial history of these marches, the organizers changed the name to the Women’s March on Washington.
Udani spoke about the importance of the name change of the event. “There have been some charges of cultural appropriation [by] using names that have been used in the 90’s with the Million Man March and the Million Women’s March, that clearly were organized by African Americans, so I think it’s important for the organizers and also for citizens to understand the context [of] the name and also the event [and] how these two things speak to what’s going on.”
Though the organizers changed the name of the event to respect the history of the Million Women’s March and the Million Man March, the press release invokes the long and successful history of marches in the United States, going back to the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dr. Joyce Marie Mushaben, Curator’s Distinguished Professor for Comparative Politics and one of the founding mothers of the Women’s Studies Program at UMSL, who studies new social movements and youth protests and will be attending the march in Washington D.C. said, “The Women’s March in Washington builds on the longer tradition of big demonstrations for abortion rights before Roe v. Wade. It certainly builds on the use of the mall for Martin Luther King Jr. There was a lot of identification and a lot of exchange among the anti-Vietnam movement, the women’s movement, and the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s. It was very clear that we are stronger together rather than trying to be the one that gets attended to first.”
Mushaben said that due to different levels of media coverage, the local marches will not send the same kind of signal as the march on Washington DC. However, she did say, “The reason that the local marches are important is because you cannot change the world by starting at the top.”
Brinkman said that she and the other organizers of the Women’s March on St. Louis selected speakers for the local rally who will reflect the diversity which the name change of the Washington D.C. march sought to respect. University City native and Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal will speak about environmental racism. Macy, a young teenaged activist with Planned Parenthood’s Teen Advocates for Sexual Health program, will speak about reproductive rights. De Andrea Nichols, who describes herself as a “social practice designer and lecturer” on her website and serves as a board member for the social justice organizations Forward Through Ferguson and Creative Reaction Lab, will speak at the event. Other speakers will include neurologist Dr. Ghazala Hayat, a member of the Interfaith Partnership in St. Louis and a Pakistani Muslim woman, as well as Margaret Johnson, who has been an activist for women’s and lesbian’s rights for more than 50 years.
Dr. Anita Manion, associate teaching professor and undergraduate advisor of political science at UMSL, echoed the hope that the St. Louis march would be inclusive for women of a variety of experiences. “While the march is about feminism, it is trying to harken back to Hillary Clinton’s quote that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights by having an intersectional social justice movement,” she said.
Liz Miller, graduate, English, said that though she has not officially decided if she will go to the march, the march is important to her for a number of reasons. “To march in support of women’s rights is to march for things that are of the utmost importance to me. … As someone who is terrified at the thought of not being trusted to make decisions for myself and my own body … I wish to register my support of women’s rights — and human rights — in a public forum,” she said. “This is important to me personally, and I suspect such is the case for others as well, because I sometimes feel at a loss to know what to do in the face of oppression and political gaslighting and the threat to basic human rights considered necessary for survival.”
Justin Yancey, UMSL alumnus and rhetoric and composition student and teacher at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, said that he intends to attend the march on Saturday. “For me, this isn’t about my marching because I have a mother or a sister and ‘How dare someone say something about my family!’ It isn’t about women’s relation or connection to my masculine gender; it’s about rights, civility, and social equity for women. … As a democracy, we need to take care of each other and ensure others’ safety as much as possible. Thus, how can I not participate in the Women’s March on St. Louis?” he said.
Udani highlighted the importance of the participation of men as well. “I think the march should bring attention to things males choose not to see, or what I call privilege due to our male-ness, or how our male privilege is exacerbated by our race, class, and sexuality,” he said.
Some recent political movements, including the marches and rallies, have been criticized for pandering to the hurt feelings of people offended by the words and rhetoric of the past election cycle. However, Brinkman said, “Words are powerful and meaningful. When a person says things that are anti-woman, anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-disabled persons we have to take that very seriously. We can’t be so dismissive as to not see the pattern and stand up for what’s right.”
Udani said of those who dismiss the rhetoric of the recent election as just words, “I hope that they realize that their own privilege, allows them to view these words as just words. … I think it’s important to bring attention to the fact that because of their privilege, they can easily escape those criticisms [of being overly sensitive], but many have to deal with these criticisms on a daily basis, and it’s exhausting.”
Yancey held similar beliefs about the power of words. “Words have cultural meaning, significance, and implications; they carry weight. We create meaning with language,” he said, citing how words can reinforce rape culture, patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, and dominant masculinity.
Nigro agreed and said, “It is our responsibility in a democratic society to be aware of people who feel disempowered or marginalized, and to allow their voices to be heard. We have progressed to that point, I hope, and we don’t want to lose that. That anecdotal evidence is very important for us to keep moving toward a more perfect union … and if we are going to keep moving toward that goal, we cannot have people feel disenfranchised and not heard.”
Others have expressed concerns that the march will not actually be able to affect social and political change. Udani said, “The research shows that it’s really difficult to sustain policy changes that are unearthed from social movements. … It’s not impossible, but it’s really hard. A lot of activism needs to be sustained.” Mushaben echoed this sentiment and cited the fizzling out of the Occupy movement that began back in 2011.
However, Nigro said, “I think there is some empowerment about marching with people of a like mind and having that collective voice.”
Manion agreed and said, “But it seems to me that having people come together across the country in support of each other’s rights is an accomplishment in itself. … This is an opportunity for those folks to come together and stand up for what they think is right, to make their voices heard. In order to make a real impact, this march cannot be the end; instead, it must be the beginning of their social movement.”
Mushaben agreed that the march could inspire sustained political action after the march. “I think the first thing that happens is that if you are a first-timer, your experience will be, ‘Wow, this is really exciting,’ and get all riled up. … But that’s what the march is about. Getting people inspired. [The second point of the march is] You’re feeling depressed, I’m feeling depressed [and] you see it’s not just me. All of these people are as upset as I am.” After identifying common sentiments and concerns with other marchers, Mushaben said that the third step of the march would be to talk to different networks about what action to take next.
“So that’s what the purpose of the local march is, as well,” Mushaben continued. “To get people to say the next morning, ‘What little bit can I do?’ And when you add one person and one person and one person, before you know it, you have a professional organization.” Through these professional organizations, Mushaben said that those interested in political change should pick one issue and devote their time to that issue by working, volunteering, or applying for internships with people like Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who will be speaking at the St. Louis rally. “If [you are] going to learn how to fight, [you are] going to learn how to fight from her,” Mashaben said.
One way that participants can create and join these action networks will be at the action fair to be held after the rally. The National Council of Jewish Women, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, American Association of University Women, League of Women Voters, National Women’s Political Caucus–St. Louis, YWCA, American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, NARAL Pro Choice Missouri, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority have all confirmed their attendance at the fair, according to the website.
Udani added that another way to sustain the political momentum after the march would be for individuals to exercise quotidian resistance to combat oppression and privilege. “That involves us, on a day-to-day basis, challenging the norms that govern our social behaviors, as well as our own internalized, racial, gendered, ethnocentric beliefs,” Udani said. “I think those are small changes, speaking up when we see sexism or racism happening, that is also a worthy pursuit, and I think that the question is: ‘How do we actually productively do that professionally and also in appropriate ways that invite more understanding rather than confrontation?’”
Though these forms of micro-resistance would need to take place in both public and domestic spheres, Nigro suggested that universities like UMSL may provide a space for some of those challenges to productively occur. “I think maybe the role of the university would be that we have dialogues where people can talk about opposing views in a civil way, and maybe not feel it is an either-or situation. I think that some of that is lacking at the moment,” she said.
Yancey concurred that speech and rhetoric holds political potential as well. “Because we create meaning — we’re rhetorical beings — we can challenge…negative rhetoric with positive, stronger, civic rhetoric,” he said.
Nigro cited childcare, travel to and from work, and voting rights laws in the state of Missouri as very real and practical reasons which could have kept people from the polls in November. Despite these hurdles, Nigro reiterated one of the most fundamental ways which citizens can affect social and political change. “It comes back to: vote. After pointing out all the obstacles that someone might meet in terms of voting, that still is a vehicle for the individual person to use,” she said.
Whether the 4,400 people who have RSVP’d on Facebook at the writing of this article will choose to join existing organizations, form their own networks, practice micro-resistance, vote, or do something else remains unclear. However, Brinkman said, “We cannot just sit back and watch it happen and complain later. The time to do something is now.”
For more information, visit http://womensmarchonstlouis.weebly.com/
Special thanks to Victoria Bauer, Liz Miller, Justin Yancey, Dr. Kathleen Butterly Nigro, Dr. Adriano Udani, Dr. Anita Manion, and Dr. Joyce Marie Mushaben