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National NOW Times >> Spring 2004 >> Article

Diversity at Its Best in the Feminist Movement

by Zenaida Mendez, Director, Racial Diversity Programs

It was the most diverse march for women's reproductive rights ever. The enthusiasm was everywhere people chanting slogans, playing musical instruments, carrying creative signs. African American, Latina, Asian, Indigenous, young, older, disabled, lesbian, gay and straight, all marching to make sure that our message is clear to those who want to roll back our gains: We are moving forward.

Lorraine Cole, president and CEO of the Black Women's Health Imperative, a lead organizer in the March for Women's Lives.
Lorraine Cole, president and CEO of the Black Women's Health Imperative, a lead organizer in the March for Women's Lives. Photo by Christy Bowe
More than a million women, men and children poured out from the National Mall onto the streets of Washington, D.C., and mixed in this crowd was the largest contingent of people of color ever to participate in a women's rights march.

The March for Women's Lives brought people from all over the country (and the world), including thousands of women of color. They marched for themselves and for their mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, granddaughters, grandmothers and friends.

Efforts to reach women of color with information about the March for Women's Lives and to ensure that these women had the means to attend the March produced visible results on April 25. The Black Women's Health Imperative and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, as lead partners with NOW, ACLU, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, along with March Co-Director Loretta Ross, worked very hard to reach a constituency that would reflect the times in which we are living.

Participating in the March were a great number of women who work for women's rights in their country of origin women like Hortensia Gonzalez, a feminist originally from the Dominican Republic, who works for the Dominican Women's Development Center in New York City; and Rosa Amayo from El Salvador, who works with Salvadorian women in Los Angeles. This may be the first U.S. march for these women, but they understand the issues, particularly the struggle of poor women here or in any part of the world.

Increasing Diversity Within the Women's Movement

The challenge of balancing diversity and unity is intensifying as the United States becomes more diversified. Racial and ethnic groups are working to broaden issues and opinions within the women's movement while trying to strike a balance of representation in its leadership. There still is a gap between these ideals and the realities that resulted in the rise of women of color in the movement, forcing them to be more assertive about cultural and economic rights.

Because of growing ethnic, cultural, racial, language and religious diversity throughout the world, citizenship education needs substantial changes to help prepare people to function effectively in the 21st century.

Citizens in this century need the knowledge, attitudes, and skills required to function in their cultural communities and beyond their cultural borders. They should also be able and willing to participate in the construction of a national civic culture that is a moral and just community.

The March for Women's Lives reinforced democratic ideals and values, such as those articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Young people also need to acquire the knowledge and skills required to become effective citizens in this global community.

The women's movement is embracing the diversity of women within the U.S., recognizing the work that women of color have accomplished in their communities and to further the movement. We all are working to achieve the same goals, but each of us has our own unique approach based on the culture and traditions of the group.

In addition to African American women, Asian-Pacific Islander women, Latinas and Native American women historically have played an important role in advancing women's rights. And on April 25, thousands of women of color in the new generation marched for the first time in their lives. They were energized and empowered by the great number of young people participating in the march and by the inspirational speeches and performances.

Moving Forward

Women from all over the country came to march for health and reproductive justice. Women of color in particular came in unprecedented numbers. Why were we there in unprecedented numbers? The same reasons as everyone else: to send a unifying message to those who want to curtail or roll back all the advances we fought so hard to achieve in the last 40 years.

At the March for Women's Lives, the enthusiastic crowd affirmed our determination to expand opportunities at work and in school, economic security, health services and reproductive rights. We committed to continue working in our communities, to moving the agenda forward for our own sake and for future generations.

As taxpayers in this country, U.S. women called for our tax dollars to be used to provide high quality public education, access to health care, affordable housing, child care, head start programs and bilingual education for all.

Lesbian and transgender women of color demonstrated with their presence that they are an integral part of our society. College students who are first and second generation Latinas and Asian Pacific Islanders participated because they see the need for their generation to carry on the fight. They see the need for their involvement in order to secure access to reproductive health services, educational opportunities, and the guarantee of a good paying job.

As daughters of feminists and other civil rights organizers, some young feminists were brought up in an environment that nurtured community involvement and activism. The march served to continue to encourage, motivate and inspire these young feminists.

At the National Organization for Women, we are invigorated by the energy produced by participants in the March for Women's Lives, and we are ready to carry on, moving forward an inclusive and vibrant agenda.

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