Organizers of the Women’s March shared with approximately 300 students and community members about how the January march was organized and offered advice on how to be activists.
Women’s March Co-President Tamika Mallory, Treasurer Carmen Perez and Assistant Treasurer Linda Sarsour were invited to the Marshall Student Center by the student organization USF Divest.
According to Mallory, the Women’s March was originally being organized by a group of white women who were calling the event The Million Women March. When these women called Mallory to discuss getting more women of color involved, she was reluctant.
“We’re not going to plan a march, we’re not event planners,” she said. “If we’re going to come and be involved in this, it was about us being in leadership and helping shape the agenda of the march.”
She said they worked to ensure the march represented the needs of all women. Perez echoed her sentiments about making sure a diverse group of women’s voices were heard in the planning conversations.
“We reached out to about 29 or 30 individuals who were experts in their separate fields asking them to come together to form points of unity,” Perez said. “To come together to think about their issues, but also how their issues intersect.”
Sarsour, who had been critiquing the original organizers, was brought into the equation by Mallory during planning and became a part of creating the Women’s March as an organization, foundation and event.
“People will show up to a march and be like ‘oh, I’m so cool. I went to a march and I helped inspire,’ but they go back to their lives and forget that there’s more work to be done,” Sarsour said. “It’s important to know who’s really in it. Who’s willing to show up and network and learn and do the real work.”
The women went on to offer advice on ways to organize and be engaged activists. One of the major themes Sarsour spoke on, and has experience working with even before the Women’s March, is the idea of intersectionality.
This is the idea of bringing together different groups and finding overlap or common ground so they can be stronger by supporting each other.
“You don’t come into a space and push your issue on other people,” she said. “You don’t come into a space and be upset because nobody wants to talk about your issue. The first question people are going to ask is ‘where have you been? What have you done for us?’”
She said to show up in a space where there’s an issue you care about, you observe and you recognize your own privileges before engaging.
“When people who have been at the receiving end of oppression, you need to listen to their pain and frustration and not take it personally,” Sarsour said.
One of the things Sarsour said was most important about intersectionality work is the ability to support other people’s identities. This doesn’t mean agreeing with them on everything, but rather that by not accepting somebody’s opposing view it can become more difficult to gain their support on common issues.
“When I show up for a movement, I’m Palestinian, I’m Muslim, I’m American, I’m a mother,” she said. “That promotes intersectionality. When we’re organizing intersectionally. When the environmental justice folks, the black civil rights folks, the Black Lives Matter people, the undocumented people, the LGBTQI people are at the table. When we’re all at the same table, people united will never be defeated.”
A movement should make people uncomfortable, Sarsour said, even for the people organizing it. While she said this doesn’t mean that everything has to be an act of civil disobedience, if a movement isn’t uncomfortable at times then it’s not a movement.
“Movement work is supposed to be uncomfortable,” she said. “If it’s always comfort, then you’re not doing it right.”
During the ending Q&A, the women were asked about how to organize at a college level. Sarsour suggested the different activist groups come together for small events first, share a calendar to avoid planning events for the same time slot and build up to doing bigger things together.
“That will teach you how to come together and how to collaborate,” she said. “Don’t be ambitious, don’t try to change the world. Take baby steps and baby steps.”