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Marching Into Women’s History Month

From now on, when we talk about women’s history, the Women’s March should be part of those lessons. Here’s why.

 

When murmurings about a women’s march began on November 9, 2016, I knew I needed to be there—with friends and strangers who were ready to unite. The rustlings online began to grow louder. Hotel rooms were booked, car pools to Washington, D.C., organized. 

Last year, I wrote about why Women’s History Month still matters. In 2017, we need to continue to consider gender in an organized, national celebration. History has a gendered dimension, as does politics. The Women’s March, as an event that was both historic and political, will have a rightful place in the month-long March celebration of women’s history.

The National Women’s History Project reminds us, “Our history is our strength.” As we showed the world during the march on January 21, 2017, our strength is also in our numbers. When my group, including my 5-year-old daughter, was standing still in the sea of people, I felt safe, happy and relieved. Before the march, I just thought it would be an interesting and important event. I didn’t really think it was historic. And then I got there and we couldn’t get on a train. We couldn’t move. We definitely couldn’t pee! 

And we didn’t care. Because in that moment of togetherness and singing and chanting and—finally—marching, we could feel something was happening, something bigger. Afterward, while we ate room service meals and put up our tired feet, we scrolled social media feeds in awe, only then learning that the movement was worldwide on that day. 

For several reasons, the Women’s March will be an important part of my classes’ discussions during Women’s History Month—and will likely have a place in larger discussions of women’s history in the future. 

The march was an exercise in intersectionality. Strong arguments abound as to why the march still was not inclusive enough. However, I would argue that the women’s movement has come a long way from the second wave of feminism and that many people worked to make the march a worldwide platform for intersectional feminism. Yes, the original committee for the Women’s March was quite white, but people did the work to ensure a diversity of voices. And that diversity became manifest.

The march created a critical feminist manifesto. To read a mission and vision statement that brought together so many communities took my breath away. Such a manifesto is critical if we are to unite the energies, talents and organizing concerns of so many activists. With all the discussion about what feminism is, we sometimes forget what feminism does. The statement gave feminists a concrete platform to build upon. Every word deserves attention, but I was personally moved by the intersectional and peaceful vision set forth:

We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.

The march provided feminist activists with a plan. For many people, marching is easy, a one-day commitment. But activism takes slow and steady work. The Women’s March will remain part of history because it didn’t end in a day, but instead has encouraged slow and steady progress through community and grassroots organizing. People are huddling. Striking. Most important, people are seeing that there is a space for them in the movement.

We don’t even know what additional history will be made from the actions this march has inspired or will inspire. What I do know is that it has motivated a new generation of activists and helped organize and coalesce those of us already engaged. When we talk about women’s history from now on, the Women’s March will be an important part of those lessons.

Clemens is the associate professor of non-Western literatures and director of Women's and Gender Studies at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.