If just want to see the photos from the Women’s March in Oakland, scroll down. I have a few things to talk about first, which I think are extremely important.
I got very excited when I heard about the Women’s March on Washington. It was early December. I wanted to be part of something historic. I needed community.
I immediately started planning how to get up there (I live in Albuquerque). When my mother, in Rhode Island, needed my help for three weeks of post-surgery recovery just before the March, I knew it was a lock. I sent couch requests (which were rejected without comment); I asked for floor space from friends, and friends of friends, and friends of my mom’s friends; in desperation, I almost booked a hotel room.
Then I looked deeper into the March. I was horrified.
It seems the organizers were white women practicing White Feminism. White Feminism doesn’t liberate. White Feminism is imperialism. White Feminism is white supremacy, and therefore can’t, by definition, be feminism. It folds women of color, immigrant women, and other sub-marginalized groups into rungs that white women can climb on. We know this story: semi-privileged groups pushing less-privileged groups down to feel less un-privileged. The white women organizing this action responded to criticism from women of color by tokenizing them in a few leadership roles.
Those aren’t my values, and that’s not my feminism. It’s not inevitable, it’s not human nature, and it doesn’t need my support. I canceled my plans to attend the March. I put the money aside for a major #BlackLivesMatter event. Uniting does not mean accepting excuses for the same bad systems we want to dismantle. You can’t dig your way out of a hole.
Intersectionality is the hard way through. This week I heard a wonderful definition of it from a #BLM activist in the Bay Area. Imagine you’re approaching a four-way stop. You look all ways before proceeding. Living intersectional feminism means stopping when you come to a question, or a person, and considering all their perspectives, before proceeding.
So a friend told me there would be a Boston sister march. And it was responding to these problems with vigor. And when I got to Berkeley, to see my son and family, I learned there were sister marches in Oakland and San Francisco. I asked around: More identities, more intersections, more questions, less bullshit. And I could take photos of the Women’s March in Oakland.
So… game on!
The Pussy Hats
It was important to Cynthia, my son’s adoptive mom, that her crew wear pussy hats. (Awesome.*) We went on a hunt around Berkeley all Friday for them, but—surprise!—hundreds and hundreds had sold out. So we went to the fabric store that afternoon and decided to make our own.
She pulled out her ’50s-vintage Singer and oiled the old gal up. Three hours and seven hats later, we were ready to march.
*After thinking about this for a few days, I’m conflicted about the Pussy Hats.
On one hand, reducing gender identity to sexual and reproductive organs is extremely transphobic. It’s exclusionist, and politically (and personally) counterproductive. In short, it’s just stupid.
On another hand, this culture is profoundly gynophobic. Our new president made that clear on the campaign trail. An opportunity to use the language of vaginas—vulvas, pussies, uteri, etc.—is an opportunity to confront our discomfort, or even our hatred, around those powerful body parts.
I can’t really resolve these right now. I just want both of these problems stated. And when I make space for these, I remember the multitude of other problems we have to address in our movement, such as the fact that we’re all “protesting” for “a better nation” on land our ancestors stole from its first peoples.
This context is important. There’s no just looking at some photos of the Women’s March in Oakland. Open one can, open all cans.
Photos from the Women’s March in Oakland
I worked hard to photograph people of color at this event.
I figured the representations from most storytellers (standard media, not explicitly brown- and black-focused Instagram) would show mostly white women protesting, and last night’s coverage on MSNBC bore that out. So here are 49 photos from the Women’s March in Oakland. Thirty of them show people of color, with a range emotions.
Other differences are harder to see. If someone doesn’t tell you she’s disabled, or undocumented, or a sex worker, you may never know. Some people wear their queerness boldly, every day a deconstruction of binary gender. Some people do their work more quietly. A photograph can’t tell the whole story.
I got interested in showing people of color making their own media, telling their versions of the March. But I’m just one person (my second camera didn’t come with me for five weeks of cross-country travel), and time was limited. If the March had lasted two days, I might’ve had more to show for it.
And in the flow of 100,000 people, something happened.
I felt enveloped. I wasn’t even thinking about the millions more around my country, around the globe. I felt warm, and present, vaguely in family, among strangers. I read later that that for a lot of women of color at various marches, that was not the case.
I’m so sorry. On behalf of cis white people, I’m just so sorry.
I’ve protested the World Economic Forum in New York, the invasion of Iraq at a military base in Massachusetts, and Trump’s election in Albuquerque. None of those were like this. At the end, everyone packed nearly as tight as we had been on the BART ride in, someone set up a sound system, and a song came on. It went, “Yo, I mean, Fuck Donald Trump.” And for a moment, I felt like I hadn’t lost my mind. I hope you see that in these photos from the Women’s March in Oakland.
Yes, this country (narrowly, somehow) elected a psychopathic, misogynist narcissist, who clearly has every intention of shoring up power for the ultra-rich. No, the March was far from perfect—or even good enough. There were so many transphobic signs I lost count. And my images would give you the impression this event wasn’t DOMINATED by white people. It was. The organizers of even this sister march didn’t do the outreach. And the overwhelming majority of the people who came really need to do their soulwork.
But again, in that moment, I let go of my fear. I felt for the first time in my life that the people wouldn’t let this happen. In my bones, I felt that another world is, really, possible.
Note: You may wonder why some of these photos from the Women’s March in Oakland feature only a person’s face, not their protest sign. I used one lens most most of the day, which doesn’t zoom. So if you love the look of these images like I do, consider it a trade-off. In a lot of cases, I had less than 1/7 of a second to find them between other signs and shoulders—there were that many people!