by Francesca Gugino
Feminism. As a society, we are at odds with what that word means, who it represents and what stigmas come with being labeled a feminist. Is it as inter-sectional as we want it to be or limited to the issues of those who are already empowered? Lately, I have wrestled with the many different views our society holds about this touchy subject. So, I set out to learn more of what and who activists support, the experiential gap between women of different regions and backgrounds, and the new wave of feminism that the United States is enduring through a series of Women’s Marches.
The Women’s March in Buffalo, held on Jan. 21, 2018, gave me the answers I had been searching for. An estimated 4,500 people, men, women and children of all ages, races and sexual orientations spent their Sunday standing in support of each unique individual in downtown Buffalo. I slowly began to discover the common thread.
Signs held high read: “HUMAN, KIND. BE BOTH,” “DISSENT IS PATRIOTIC,” “RESTORATIVE JUSTICE,” “THIS EPISODE OF BLACK MIRROR SUCKS!” “REFUGEES ARE WELCOME,” and so many more. This diverse group of “Buffalonians” represented not only the problems citizens of the United States face, but also stood for global issues.
“For me, social justice is the most important issue we face as a country and as a human race,” said Denise, a 7th grade ELA teacher who was present at the march on Sunday. “While I think it is outrageous that women are statistically still paid less than men for comparable work and that policymakers think they can make decisions about our health and bodies, for me, the social injustices I witness impacting not only women but people from all walks of life are troublesome. If even one person in our community is viewed as ‘less than,’ that’s not acceptable,” answered Denise.
This passion for social justice was echoed by two friends, Lori and Maureen who carried signs that showed their stance against violence, bigotry, hate, sexism, homophobia, racism, and more. “It’s more about human kind for me than just women’s struggles”, stated Lori when asked what prompted her to attend the rally. The two stood firm with their goal to end divisiveness in the United States and the intolerance practiced by the current administration.
As the event continued, the marchers paraded throughout the city, passing important government and legal buildings. The path included City Hall, the Board of Electors, the Erie County Holding Center, the Buffalo Police Department, Homeless Jesus and finally the Federal Courthouse. All the while, the crowd chanted for change. The desire to make a difference was there and the passion for social justice was apparent, but peaceful protesting doesn’t draft bills or pass laws. It raises tough questions, but offers unclear answers. It is easy to talk about making a difference and ending injustice, but less often do people present solutions to the problems in society that they critique. I was fortunate enough to come across one of many activists groups at the march, the Buffalo chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). They were able to provide a plan of action.
When asked about the platform that DSA runs on, socialist feminist Jess responded “…DSA is an organization that believes in true equality. True equality requires that we have the hard conversations and we dismantle the systematic structural racism, xenophobia, sexism, ableism, anti-LGBTQIA policy and all of the other forms of hate.”.
The group provided me with insight into their political beliefs, while also answering my question of how can we make noticeable change.
“…while it was invigorating to work with my comrades that were there, I couldn’t help but feel if the 4,500 people that were there joined community and activists groups such as DSA and actually worked for progressive change instead of just “resisting” 45 and the GOP, it would be much more productive than just marching in a parade once a year”, answered Carol P., a DSA activist and feminist.
Denise, an attendee of the march, also gave her opinion on the best avenues for seeking change. “I think peaceful protests are the first step to seeking change in our country. But it has to go beyond that. We have to be willing to be the “squeaky wheel” by contacting our elected leaders. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable when we address the injustices we see in the world”.
This was an incredible experience for me, as I learned that these women were present to be pilots for change globally. And I reworked my own definition of feminism, which has transformed from the support of women’s rights and equality of the sexes and has become synonymous with humanitarianism. It is vital to understand what is truly right and just so that we can work toward progress in our society by being present at events such as the Women’s March, by using our voices for those who are silenced, and by taking an active role in government and politics.