Not the Beginning - Continuation: Reflections on the Womxn's March in D.C.
I marched in D.C. this past Saturday.
I chose to make the drive from NYC to be in that particular space of gathering because of my identity as a Pilipina, a Womxn of Color, the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of Immigrants, a teacher and community organizer of Afro-Latinx, Undocumented, Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Poor youth and their families and as an advocate for every underrepresented and unable who could not make it to D.C., or who are not yet in a place of understanding about why being visible with our concerns and our perspectives on equality and justice are more important than ever.
I’m writing in reflection and also as a call to action to all of my community, not just my sisters around the world, but anyone who is caring to read this reflection and share it with their own communities - even just as a starting dialogue piece.
I’ll start by speaking the obvious that is: extremely powerfully, Millions of Womxn marched in a massive demonstration of Womxn’s solidarity GLOBALLY, in what is being proclaimed to be the largest peaceful gathering in history. This is something to celebrate, to feel a surge of energy from, but my concern is that this will all be displaced or forgotten because it is not clear to many the deep issues of racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia, Islamophobia, poverty, climate justice (the list can go on) in this country that Trump’s presidency is threatening to make even more severe than we have experienced in decades. He has already begun.
Remembering and Understanding Why We are Against Trump
I showed up to the rally in D.C. with a particular eye, surveying the crowds to see the messaging, to hear the conversations, to feel the vibrations of what was truly being stood up for and against.
At the March in Washington D.C. we were surrounded by posters that were messaging so much about Trump having a “Small Dick” and “Tiny Hands” and about his affinity for “Golden Showers,” that to me were all messages of sex-shaming and quite frankly distractions; or chants that were like “We want a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter.” It was humorous, no doubt, understanding just how much this man is not being taken seriously as a leader of this country, but after the first hour of taking in the outlandishness I was already feeling so deeply unnerved.
Here I was in one of the most packed demonstrations I have ever been in my lifetime and I was searching so deeply for the posters, banners, and words being amplified that would speak to the devastating issues we are subject to be facing from the Trump administration. Let alone any messaging that represented People Of Color, Indigenous Peoples, Immigrant, LGBT Community issues, and so on.
The most predominant issues that were seen on banners had to do with Womxn’s health and reproductive rights, which is such an important issue to bring attention to with this being threatened greatly by the Trump administration and the conservative values of the right wing, and also, we have a lot to address around how these rights violations are specifically threatened for those who have other factors of injustice and oppression magnifying their risk and vulnerability. Racism, Immigration, Transexuality, Religious Persecution when intersected with Womxn’s Rights Issues becomes much more severe and life threatening.
In D.C. it was clear the moment my sister Vanessa Ramalho and I touched down and entered the crowd that the majority who was present were White sisters and their families. I don’t mean to mention this as say that White Cis Womxn should not be present or that their massive presence is not valued. I know that some may hear this in me making this observation, but if that defensiveness is what is arising for you, I invite you to understand a different and very important narrative, which is the narrative of the underrepresented and most vulnerable. I note the prevalence of White Cis Womxn at the march, the prevalence of the privileged, the considered, the already highly visible and want us all to understand how when it is the privilege that is most visible and leading that we hear about the issues from privilege lens - which is in this case Womxn’s issues “in general."
The Privilege narrative allows for us to put on the forefront the overarching Womxn’s issues that don’t speak to intersectionality. The rights that affect ALL Womxn are not just Womxn’s rights - they are the rights of ALL. And so, the specific issues that affect particularly Black Womxn or Trans Womxn or Womxn with disabilities or that affect Immigrant Children or that affect Men of Color who are subject to police brutality are extremely important to bring up at the largest public protest gathering in history. To discount these narratives or push them to the side amidst messaging that has to do with Reproductive Rights is where privilege comes in, and where intersectionality is misunderstood.
Intersectionality vs. Divisiveness
My presence in D.C. was a hope to link with others who felt the importance of our communities who are affected by all these human rights violations; to show up amidst many who may sympathize, but who do not live with a daily experience that a transgendered black man living below the poverty line, or an undocumented Afro-Latinx boy with learning disabilities, or an Indigenous Muslim mother is facing in the wake of this presidential administration. I work with these individuals to navigate these systems, they are my students and their families, they are my own family, and I know it will take the deeper understanding of those who do not face these issues on the day-to-day to really make change happen.
I want to talk about intersectionality more, and what makes intersectionality truly viable. To have a White Womxn feminist tell me that it is just as important to bring up White Womxn’s rights as it is to speak on Black Womxn’s rights does not understand the full depth of what it means to be intersectional. The more intersectional we become, the more we understand the importance of addressing issues for those experiencing multiple threats and violations concurrently, which in these lived experiences are so much more prevalent but underrepresented, makes it much more severe than waking up as a White Cis, Middle Class, Christian Womxn who walks in lines of privilege every day. Intersectionality also invites us to understand the privileges we wake up with and to see where and in which ways having those privileges can give us the power to support those who do not have those same protected experiences. I invite us to wake up every morning and understand our privilege alongside recognition of our disadvantage.
Intersectionality is not just the recognition of the representation of all issues of injustice, it is the understanding of the severity and the urgency in connection to the historical and present-day relevancies of some of these injustices, especially when they overlap. And so yes, it is to say that there is a level of importance to speak on some issues that make some more marginalized and vulnerable to having their livelihoods threatened and disrupted. We have seen and experienced this throughout time and it is now becoming more visible - there are communities who have been and continue to be verbally, physically, and systematically brutalized by this country’s policies and it is becoming more visible and severe because of Trump’s proposed policies and his overall stance and demeanor in relation to our communities.
Trump, his cabinet, and his supporters have made his presidency reason to resurface Hate in this country in real, tangible ways in the House, in the Senate, on the Streets, on our social media feeds.
Actionable Steps, Moving Forward
One of the reasons why I decided to march in D.C. is because of the release of the platform principles of the march. These principles spoke clearly my shared values that All Human Rights Violations are Womxn’s Rights Violations. And when I talk about intersectionality, I think on how intersectional my own experience is in relation to these threats on human rights. I look to these and I share the concern of many organizers about what happens past the march. I question why there was not more that was actionable during and after the gathering. I looked for the individuals who were holding the petitions in hand and passing out informational pamphlets around proposed policies to fight against; I looked for the presence of camaraderie in the crowd. And I understood that there was lacking.
I know that there is much guidance to be given to those who are just beginning to feel the urgency at all to even join a rally march, let alone understand how to make it more impactful than just mass presence. I wonder how many actually read about these platforms or understood how hard Womxn of Color fought for our presence and visibility at that march. I wonder how many stopped to listen to Sophie Cruz in ratio to listening to Maxwell singing “This Woman’s Work.”
Many people in my life, including my parents and so many elders who have experienced much blatant discrimination, segregation and brutalization in this country, have told me:
“You can’t do anything about it now. He’s already our President.”
“Let’s just give him a chance.”
“Be careful with what you are saying, and what you are doing opposing him. It’s dangerous.”
My response is that I will stand up and resist every moment I see injustice, without fear, because I know we can shift the outcomes. We don’t have to continue to be victims to this country - more than ever the things we have been fighting against are being seen by those who did not believe they still existed in this “free country.” Trump and his white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchal, warmongering followers are making it visible, are making those who were more complacent to these issues feel the effects that many of us organizing in our communities throughout our lifetimes have already felt. They are turning to us for guidance, for leadership, for understanding.
My father called me yesterday, after he saw photos of me in D.C., with the concern that being so outspoken was dangerous and that I would be seen as a “vicious, rioting protester, with nothing better to do.” And I told him that I didn’t want to wait until things were as bad as we are seeing in our own Motherland in the Philippines. I asked him “Are we going to wait until we are stripped even further of our right to any health care if you are of a poor background? Are we going to wait until they start encampments and registries of our people, like they did with the Japanese? Are we going to wait until they segregate restaurants and public spaces? Are we going to wait until this government is instating militia on the street and gunning us down?”
My dad listened as I told him, “Dad, I know you didn’t work so hard all these years for me to have a better life, a free and prosperous life beyond what you had to face amidst confronting racism and prejudice - just so that I would have to face those same things or worse. I will put myself in danger if it means that I will be helping so many more including you and mom, and my future children won’t have to suffer.” He responded by telling me stories of how bad it was in the 70’s and 80’s in the US and the Philippines, and that I won’t have to worry about that because that is not how things are anymore. I told him, they are - and they will get worse if we don’t say something and do something now. He said I was hard-headed.
And I am this way because my grandmother and my parents taught me through their actions of resistance - that was their labor and their persisting in this country to build a life for their children and my children and future generations to come. I won’t back down, because they didn’t. And I will start at home, making sure that those I grow with and surround myself with will stand up for what is just and what is right, and see urgency to resist injustice before it becomes more life threatening than it already is.
My fear has always been that the urgency will only come as things worsen, as we experience Trump’s policies and proclaimed wars and destruction of our natural resources and homes come to fruition. I have already seen millions rise together. What would that look like if we did so with a more radical agenda than just to impeach this man - because let’s face it, Mike Pence is no better, he may be worse. My call is for dramatic shifts in the way we see change in this country - to think deeply on what it means to be self-determined, what it means to be truly liberated, and how that begins with your own individual words, actions, and values that you uphold in your everyday living.
Showing up at the March in D.C. was important to me. I carried my signs with representation of Indigenous, Pilipinx, Spiritual An-sisters and Womb*n and I will continue to write and draw and speak and act and move and live in a way that keeps in mind the power of Womxn to make deep change, and uphold future generations to come. This is the greatest thing to understand if you are looking for next actions - the work does not BEGIN now, it has already been forged by so many. It is time to continue with greater visible force than ever before. Look to those who have before and are currently fighting for justice in this country and learn from them, receive lessons from them, about what resistance looks like; take time to even just LISTEN as an action. This is not the beginning, it is a continuation.
Jana Lynne "JL" Umipig is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and activist who seeks to elevate the narratives of Pilipina wom*n as a reflection of her own life's journey toward decolonizing, re-indigenizing and humanizing self. She is the creator of the acclaimed Movement Theatre production "The Journey of a Brown Girl," noted as a "transformative human experience through the lens of the Pinay Narrative." She is a core member of The Center for Babaylan Studies, an Inner Dance facilitator, and founder of Butikaryo mga Babae, which creates sacred space for Pinay Womxn Healers seeking to learn and remember healing practice and knowledge connected to our ancestral traditions.