Oakland Women’s March 2019: What Did You Miss?

By Anne Spevack

Like many other Indivisible East Bay members, I spent January 19, 2019 at the Women’s March in Oakland. The Women’s March is an inspiring and hopeful day where all kinds of people with different experiences and priorities turn out to stand – and march – in solidarity with each other. But for me, the reality of this year’s event did not fulfill the ideal of mutual support and solidarity, because the day’s logistics meant that some of the speakers – especially some of those from important, marginalized communities – were literally left behind.

The Oakland Women’s March organizers did a great job of scheduling a group of diverse, inspiring speakers, representing youth, immigrant women, formerly incarcerated women, women with disabilities, and more. One of the speakers I was most excited to see was Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, despite the great lineup, Ms. Garza and many other speakers never had the chance to deliver their message to the crowds that had gathered, for the simple reason that the march started before their time came to speak.

The schedule: The rally started at 10, and the march was scheduled to start at 11. At other such marches I’ve attended, times are approximate; the march starts when the speaking ends. However, at this year’s Women’s March, the march started on time, even though just over half of the speakers had finished their speeches. Thus, I watched 80 to 90 percent of the gathered crowd disperse before the last four speakers took the stage. And these speakers including activists representing some of the most marginalized groups represented at the march: Hai Yan Wu, an organizer for Asian Immigrant Women Activists, who gave her speech in Chinese; Stacey Milbern, a disability justice advocate; and Jennifer B. Lyle, the Executive Director of Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSSEY). And closing out the rally was Garza, who had been advertised as one of the major speakers of the day.

Garza’s speech focused on the power of supporting each other across our differences. She proclaimed her support for her Muslim, immigrant, Jewish, LGBTQ, etc., sisters. Garza has at multiple times spoken out in support of the Women’s March, despite continued concerns about the intersectionality and inclusion within the organization and movement. I felt ashamed that most march attendees weren’t there supporting her and the other speakers.

I don’t think this was intentional on the part of the March organizers; I assume the rally and march were intended to be sequential, not to run over each other or to leave speakers addressing empty space. And a lot of attendees were there primarily to march, and left the rally to march with their group and not to snub any particular speaker. But impacts matter, and in this case the impact was a very visible lack of support for the speakers and the groups they represent.

Indivisible, the Women’s March, and other major organizing efforts have come a long way since 2016, building lasting movements, sparking national conversations, and trying to support each other in the face of our common struggle and peril. Let’s keep that growth going by continuing to learn from and support each other. I hope that we will be mindful of who is speaking, literally or metaphorically, and how we can be better at listening to their voices.

For another perspective: indivisibleeb.org/2019/01/23/oakland-womens-march-2019/

Photograph by Christoph Neyer

Anne Spevack is an expert on transportation and infrastructure issues with a passion for the environment, and is rapidly becoming an expert in the Green New Deal.