Washington D.C. will play host to hundreds of thousands of visitors later this week with, of course, a fairly large number of people arriving in time for Friday’s presidential inauguration. But the day after that promises to be equally as memorable and historic.
On Saturday, crowds of women, their friends and families, will come to the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington, which intends to address issues of justice, health, economics and social concerns women and other marginalized communities continue to face.
Immigrants, women of color, people of diverse faiths, and the disabled will all have a voice at the rally, organizers say. Celebrities, including Janelle Monáe, Maxwell, Zendaya, MC Lyte, Rakim, Questlove and others are also expected to lend their talents, an irony considering the number who turned down opportunities to appear at the inauguration.
Tamika D. Mallory is one four national co-chairs for the event. She’s a nationally recognized social justice advocate and the former executive director of the National Action Network. EBONY.com spoke with her about what to expect, how she got involved and the response from President-elect Donald Trump.
EBONY.com: How did the idea for a women’s march come about and how did you get involved?
TAMIKA MALLORY: Teresa Shook, a retired grandmother who lives in Hawaii, sent an invitation out on Facebook to about 40 of her friends asking them to join her in Washington, D.C. to march a day after last year’s election. Someone posted her invitation in the Pantsuit Nation group [which supported Hillary Clinton] and it blew up from there. She went to bed and woke up to see that 10,000 people had signed up. Within days, that number grew to tens of thousands. Two days later, I got a call from Vanesa Wruble, one of the national organizers of the march. She put her in touch with Bob Blair, now my fellow co-chair, who wanted to talk to my colleague, Carmen Perez, who is Mexican-American and myself in order to ensure that women of color were represented and involved in the conversation.
EBONY.com: There are four women co-chairs. How did you end up working with Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland on this event?
MALLORY: Carmen, Linda and I have worked together through The Gathering for Justice and Justice League NYC. The Gathering for Justice is Harry Belafonte’s nonprofit organization and Carmen is its executive director. I am on the Board of the organization and Linda, who is the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York, is a member. The three of us worked together in 2015 to plan and execute the March2Justice, a 250 mile march from New York City to Washington D.C. about criminal justice reform. We met Bob, [who created the “Nasty Woman” t-shirts] when we started to work on this march.
EBONY.com: What’s the purpose of the march? What message are you trying to send?
MALLORY: Our mission is to provide people with the opportunity to realize and understand all of the concerning issues this election cycle brought about, some of which existed even before this administration took office. It presents an opportunity for people to not just be sad and frustrated, but to feel like there is power in numbers and power in being organized. There are some who believe this is an anti-Donald Trump protest. We have been very specific to say that clearly we are concerned with President elect Trump’s policies, appointments and his rhetoric in general and how it marginalizes and disenfranchises various communities. However, at the end of the day, as an electorate and as advocates, we have to be more sophisticated in our understanding to know that we can not go to Washington, D.C. and expect one man to fix the problems that plague our communities. We have to push our agenda to execution and then make sure that energy is going to translate into statewide efforts.
EBONY.com: Has anyone from the Trump administration reached out to you or the other organizers of the event?
MALLORY: Not that I know of.
EBONY.com: Do you expect them to?
MALLORY: No, I do not.
EBONY.com: Interesting. So, why is it so important for women to come together now?
MALLORY: Women are truly the heart of the world because we carry the entire community on our backs. When we go to D.C., we aren’t going just for ourselves. We are going for the entire family and the entire community. This march is not excluding anyone and we are asking people of all walks of life to join us because when women are uncomfortable the entire nation will pay attention.
EBONY.com: Many African Americans feel helpless with the start of this new administration. What message do you want to leave with Black women specifically?
MALLORY: A lot of people ask me why did you take on this responsibility? It’s because I wanted to ensure that Black women’s voices are upheld, uplifted and that our issues are addressed, but this cannot happen unless we take a seat at the table. I wasn’t willing to see something of this magnitude happen where White women would have been setting the tone for all us. I wanted to be involved to ensure that Black women’s issues are properly articulated and represented. Not everyone is well versed in explaining our issues that pertain to our community or the possible solutions. The goal is to make sure that the conversation does include us and in fact that we are, in part, leading the conversation.
EBONY.com: What are three rumors about the march you’d like to dispel?
MALLORY: First, that it’s called The Million Women’s March. It was originally called that by Teresa Shook but clearly that created a problem since there was already a Million Women’s March in 1997 and, for that reason, we changed it to the Women’s March on Washington. Also, there are rumors that we don’t have the necessary permits, which is not true. We do have the permits that we need and lastly, the other rumor is that Carmen, Linda and I were called in to be tokens. We wrote the first draft of the agenda together with Bob Bland. Women of color have been at the forefront of the team developing the language and agenda from the very beginning.
EBONY.com: What’s can attendees expect on Saturday?
MALLORY: We’ll cast a message on a wide variety of issues including climate justice, gender justice, poverty, police accountability, sexual assault and women’s healthcare with lots of speakers including a number of activists and celebrities. People will not be disappointed.
EBONY.com: Speaking of healthcare, Planned Parenthood is a major partner of this event. We know that Congress plans to cut federal money to the organization. What can we expect to hear to educate people about this possibility?
MALLORY: We realize that women of color don’t have the luxury to sit by on the sidelines. We’ll talk about why it’s important to be actively engaged because our lives are constantly being threatened. This is an opportunity for us to advocate on behalf of our lives. Removing federal funding from Planned Parenthood would clearly be a disaster particularly to low-income women who use their resources as a means of access to health care. Planned Parenthood keeps our community from being desperate and from having a higher fatality rate. We intentionally partnered with them because they provide women with life saving health services.
EBONY.com: After the march is over, how can we keep the momentum going?
MALLORY: We want people to immediately start having local meetings to discuss where do we go from here. We have a lot of new people who have never organized before and so we want to show them how to build better ally relationships and if nothing else comes out of this, it will be an opportunity to get people to fold into several of the organizations partnering with us that already exist to strengthen the work that’s already being done.
EBONY.com: What if I can’t make it to DC?
MALLORY: Don’t worry, there will be over 380 sister marches happening, not just here in the United States, but across the world, that day. You can always join or host a Sister March in your area.
For more information about the latest updates or to register for the Women’s March on Washington, go to womensmarch.com.
Wendy L. Wilson is a New York based, award winning journalist and former managing editor for EBONY and JET magazines. For more political coverage, folllow her on Twitter @WendyLWilson_
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify how Mallory became involved in the March and also includes other performers expected to participate.