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  • Women protesting the election of Donald Trump in Manhattan. Nov. 11, 2016

    Women protesting the election of Donald Trump in Manhattan. Nov. 11, 2016 | Photo: Retuers

Published 21 January 2017

After navigating debates over race and reproductive rights, The Women’s March on Washington hits the streets in D.C. and beyond.

Hundreds of thousands of women are expected to participate in the Women's March on Washington in D.C., one day after the presidential inaugural. On its event page on Facebook, over 200,000 people say they are attending. According to Buzzfeed, more bus permits have been requested for the march than for the inauguration.

Will Historic Women's March on Washington Unite All Women?

More than 600 “Sister Marches,” with over a million estimated participants, are taking place in dozens of countries around the world.

However, “the feminist march of the century,” has not been without its divisions and debates.

Just days ahead of the rally, the Women's March came under the scanner for its not-so-unifying language in its unity statement. Many women expressed outrage online at what they called “a token” statement regarding sex-worker rights. Language saying marchers "stand in solidarity with the sex workers' rights movements" was subsequently replaced with a statement expressing solidarity with "all those exploited for sex and labor."

Chaos Reigns

While march organizers time and again said the Women's March must be both "inclusive" and "intersectional", the politics of reproductive rights has also created conflict. Pro-choice feminists expressed outrage that organizers had included the anti-choice organization New Wave Feminists as a partner in the march.

After the backlash, organizers dropped the group from its list of partners and issued a statement of regret saying that “from day one” the March has been officially pro-choice.

Despite this, many self-described “pro-life feminists” have said they will continue to participate in the march.

These recent changes have not been the only ones since planning for the march began six weeks ago.

Upset with the election of a rape-culture-promoting misogynist president, Theresa Shook, a white woman from Hawaii, asked a question aloud on Facebook: 'Why don't we march?' giving birth to six weeks of intensive organizing for tomorrow’s massive march.

Despite this origin- and the thousands of women who knitted “pink pussyhats” for the day to remind people of Donald Trump’s infamous admission of committing sexual assault-  organizers have officially stated that the march is not an anti-Trump protest

During the initial organizing, many also expressed concern and skepticism about white, middle-class organizers using the name Million Women March, taken from the massive 1997 demonstration in Philadelphia led by and for Black women. Indeed thousands took to Twitter and the hashtag “RenameMillionWomenMarch” was soon trending nationwide on Twitter

Restructured Women’s March Releases More Radical Agenda

It appears organizers took these concerns seriously and soon three renowned women of color activists and organizers — Carmen Perez, Tamika Mallory, and Linda Sarsour, — joined the march as national coordinators. Under their leadership they changed the name to The Women's March on Washington, in commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Divided by Race

Reacting to the increasing centrality of women of color as March organizers and spokespeople, many white women complained that the “tone” of online statements by women of color were “dismissive” and “unwelcoming”.

The New York Times reported that when organizers of the Tennessee “sister” march changed the name of their event to “Power Together Tennessee,” local white women went so far as complaining that it was turning into a march for Black women only.

In response to this wave of white fragility, ShiShi Rose, a blogger from Brooklyn, spoke for many writing, “Now is the time for you (white women) to be listening more, talking less ... You should be reading our books and understanding the roots of racism and white supremacy. Listening to our speeches. You should be drowning yourselves in our poetry.”

Despite the various political tensions that come with “big-tent” organizing, March organizers have become more confident and resolute over time, grounded in their remarkable three-page progressive unity statement which proudly advocates for an intersectional women's rights movement demanding reproductive freedom, economic justice, immigration reform, police accountability, and labor rights for all women.

So long as the Women's March on Washington moves beyond tokenism and continues to strengthening women's movements all over, it can be seen as a positive step ahead.

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