Close to – if not actually – a million women gathered on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for the Million Woman March. Despite the rain that came down on and off all day, many in the audience hung in there for the entire event. NOW Vice President-Membership Karen Johnson traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend the march with her two sisters and a friend. Immediately after arriving, they ran into Wanda Alston, another NOW activist up from the District, distributing flyers for the upcoming Women of Color and Allies Summit. It was that kind of day — encouraging.
If you had relied on the mainstream media's coverage leading up to the march to predict the turnout, you would have seriously underestimated the beautiful sea of women marching from the Liberty Bell to the program site. The Million Woman March was a true grassroots success, proving both the strength of local activists and the genuine need of African-American women to come together and make a statement.
The march was headed up by two local Philadelphia women, Phile Chionesu and Asia Coney. It was organized through less traditional channels, with little funding. But the word got out.
Many women came with little knowledge of what to expect and unclear ideas about the march s exact purpose. It was enough that they were going. Johnson spoke to some women who had just heard about the march a day before and immediately said, yes, I want to go.
The organizers of the Million Woman March are planning to turn the success of the event into a movement. Already, there has been at least one regional "After-Glow" rally, with more to follow. Chionesu has made an outline for the future that includes organizing Million Woman chapters into a sisterhood network; holding "African Village Community" town meetings, a reunion march in the year 2000 and a Million Family March the same year; initiating a strategy for fighting drugs; and developing programs to empower incarcerated women.
It is this hunger to connect and put that power of unity to work that touched Johnson at the march. She was both excited by the energy and eager to get back to D.C. to work on outreach for the Women of Color and Allies Summit that NOW is sponsoring Feb. 20-22.
To be able to link arms with all these wonderful women, both the seasoned activists and the hundreds of thousands of women who are ready to start organizing and making a difference — the potential is staggering.
The concerns of the Million Women March are all of our concerns. Women's health issues, job training, women's advancement in professional and political arenas, homelessness, elders' rights, the future of our youth. We are all fighting for our families, our livelihood, our liberty.
Of course, we must recognize where our experiences and struggles are unique, where we can learn from each other. We must respect each other's differences and diverse views. We know that right-wing attacks have had a disproportionate impact on women of color and that we must address these devastating effects. We must recommit to ending racism, including that which may lurk within.
After all, it is our commonality that gives us strength. We are the people who always get the raw deals when decisions are made, either by government or big business. Whatever our individual experiences of discrimination or harassment or violence may be, we are waging the same battle against those in power and their tactics to keep the field balanced in their favor. We must not give our enemies the satisfaction of seeing us disorganized and segmented.
That is why NOW and the dozens of other organizations who have joined us in sponsoring this Summit feel the urgency of drawing women of all colors and supportive allies from around the country to sit down and discuss issues of race, class and gender. If we can form a united front, if we can develop a framework that weaves all of our issues together in a way that can't be torn apart, then we can begin to demand equality and expect results.
We can all connect the dots of discrimination and oppression. Deny people the tools to move ahead: quality education, job opportunities, decent wages, health care, reproductive services and child care. Scapegoat poor people, people of color and immigrants for our country's economic problems so that more laws can be passed to deter their advancement. Build more prisons to house the people who this country has turned its back on. Use harassment, the threat of violence and actual violence to keep people afraid and still. These practices all work together and so must we.
This Summit will strive to expand the feminist movement in a way that is more inclusive than ever. We want the clout of a million and more fed up women of color and allies fighting for our rights. If you care about the future of civil rights and women's rights, come to Washington, D.C., in February and help ensure that the voices, values and vision of women of color are unquestionably and forever embedded in the feminist movement.
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