My folks taught me early: Never cross a picket line. Stand in solidarity with those fighting for better working conditions, a fair wage, equality. Be an ally. And yet here I am, volunteering to help the women who stepped up to resuscitate the Eureka Women’s March on Jan. 19. Given that some people are boycotting the march, how can I choose to volunteer? Does that mean I’m, in essence, crossing a picket line? What would my folks think if they were alive to see?
Controversy around the Eureka Women’s March exploded, with people rapidly flocking to one side or the other of the conflict. According to press releases, the first organizing committee for the 2019 march felt they were “too white” and not able to adequately represent issues belonging to the LGBTQ and women of color communities, so they “postponed” the march until International Women’s Day in hopes of becoming more diverse and representational. As a result, many women felt excluded; they had planned to march and unexpectedly were told that wasn’t an option.
I’ve spoken with many women about this issue, including women of color and members of the LGBTQ community. We all feel the same: while we agree that intersectionality and inclusion is essential, cancelling the march was the wrong tactic. We unanimously believed that the better tactic was to hold the march and use it as a stage for speaking about the lack of diversity, use it as a platform for reaching out.
In response to the multiple voices lamenting the loss of this march, a few women decided to revive it, and I happily volunteered to help. On the GoFundMe page for the march, where these women are hoping to raise a modest $1,200 to cover insurance, potties, and such, one man wrote “Do not give money to fund a #WhiteWomensMarch.” Sheesh. You’d think we were white nationalists marching in Charleston. We’re not. We are women who wish to gather locally on the same day that millions of other women are gathering around the world.
Reading the arguments women have against the march, that it hasn’t galvanized support for meaningful change, that it is ineffective at addressing the region’s wounds, tells me that people are expecting too much from a march. Marches themselves rarely result directly in change. They function to provide community and support, send a message to those with power, and inspire people to take further action. (I believe that the surge of women elected to office in 2018 is at least in part a result of the women’s marches.)
This issue is raising its head elsewhere, too. In Victoria, British Columbia, they have chosen to proceed with the march but include plenty of tabling by groups with specific concerns, rather than trying to address all the concerns from the stage via speakers. If our local community hadn’t already drawn up sides, and if the women who volunteered to resuscitate the march had more time, this would’ve been a good local solution. Unfortunately, people are digging in their heels, refusing to participate. It has become a matter of purity politics — if it ain’t perfect, we aren’t playing.
Rebecca Solnit, author and activist, regularly reminds people that “Voting is a chess move, not a Valentine,” a caution against insisting on perfection instead of progress. I believe that boycotting the third annual Eureka Women’s March is misguided, an insistence on perfection when progress is possible. I believe that boycotting the march is divisive and ultimately harmful, the opposite of solidarity. Sometimes that picket line needs to be crossed, barriers need to be reached across. This time I believe my parents would be proud.
Claire Josefine resides in Eureka.