I went to my first education rally and march when I was in 4th grade, with my parents.
I vividly remember my father explaining we had a “responsibility” to show the teachers we supported them, and that “marching” was how we “showed collective strength.”
My father wasn’t a social movement theorist; he was a public school teacher. Yet, in the moments before the march, he planted the seeds of understanding on the importance of standing together publicly on behalf of an important cause.
Since then, I have participated in multiple mass-actions; whether pickets, demonstrations, marches, rallies or protests, they each provided an opportunity for people to speak-out, organize and celebrate collective power. At their best, these large actions served as building blocks–which brought people together, built confidence and challenged isolation. With additional strategy, these actions deepened discussion around intersectional issues, and ultimately grew our movement.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in Charlotte ahead of Sunday’s march, but my neighbor wanted to go, and she was new to marching.
Given the mainstream interest in the event, coupled with the fact that Mecklenburg County is “majority minority” (sic), I assumed, we’d fit right in, and she’d have a great introduction to mass-action.
I was wrong.
Out of the 10k people at the march, I saw two other Latinx.
To be honest, I almost bailed at the halfway mark. It was uncomfortable, I felt isolated, overwhelmed, and invisible.
I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of people who were unable or unwilling to see there was nothing “collective” about the action. While they shouted “Forward Together,” I dealt with the intense psychological and emotional labor that comes from being at an event that wasn’t designed for you to take up space.
Was the turnout remarkable? Yes.
Do organizers deserve our thanks for their hard work? Yes.
Did the event mean something to many people? Yes.
Did it also expose some dangerous fault lines when it comes to representation? Yes.
There can be many truths.
As it stands, I’m not sure I’d go to another women’s march in Charlotte.
I say this despite having an organizing background, a decade of work at a racial justice organization, and dozens of friends who are deeply involved in social justice; which is to say I have a strong support system. But even my support system couldn’t stave off the isolation and overwhelm I felt at the march, and throughout the remainder of the day.
In many ways the Charlotte Women’s March was similar to those across the country, where a lack of diversity has been highlighted post-event. Accessibility was critical, and it was important the mass-actions reached many people. However, accessibility cannot and should not come at the expense of diversity and true representation – whether racial/ethnic, immigration status, linguistic, class, gender identify or more.
These identities (and more) are critical aspects that shape your reality in this city, and the voices and vision of community members with these lived experiences need to be included in all areas of expression.
By centering these overlapping identities we can create a more “intersectional” approach, and a stronger base.
This won’t be the last march in Charlotte—and with some hard work and reflection, it won’t be the largest, by a long shot. Now is the time to engage and invite new voices to collectively imagine new possibilities that together move toward informed action.