“Black Lives Matter” signs clashed among the pink hat-colored heads of marchers at the St. Louis Women’s March on Saturday. Women marched for racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights.
The St. Louis Women’s March received backlash in the past for its lack of diversity according to Webster alumna and march organizer Lauren Kohn-Davis. However, this march had the most diverse population yet, Kohn-Davis said.
Half of the 12 march organizers were women of color, or had LGBT or Jewish backgrounds.
Minority groups ridiculed women’s marches across the country for their lack of inclusion. Organizers of a California march cancelled the event due to concerns that it would be ‘overwhelmingly white.’ Organizations dropped partnerships with the National Women’s March Organization over accusations of anti-semitism.
The St. Louis Women’s March had no affiliation with the National Women’s March Organization.
“It was our goal given that there was a lot of criticism about the march being very white and [having] suburban women, that we maintained a very diverse population in our planning group,” Kohn-Davis said.
The Racial Disparity
Nadida Amatullah-Matin, a two-year march organizer, said the 2017 march felt uninviting for black women.
“The pictures and what you saw, the chants that you saw, are all women who did not look like me,” Amatullah-Matin said.
March organizer Amy Hunter said half of the march’s organizers this year were women of color.
The first St. Louis Women’s March in 2017 had a panel of all-white organizers.
Hunter owns and operates a diversity and inclusion firm called Lotus Roots Consulting. Hunter gave a TedX Talk titled “Lucky Zip Codes” in 2015 on Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT explains race as a social construction rather than biological fact.
Infant mortality rates are three times higher in some zip codes for black women, Hunter said.
Hunter said she marched to fight not only for gender equality, but racial equality as well.
“When we say women, we don’t actually mean white women, but that’s what it defaults to,” Hunter said. “We’re talking about women’s pay issues or women’s rights, even the suffragettes, those were all white women. This could be an opportunity to work together for all women, not just white women.”
Amatullah-Matin said she received different treatment in the workplace as a black, Muslim woman.
“We talk about the pay gap among typically white men and say ‘women,’” Amatullah-Matin said. “But what they don’t talk about is the pay gap between black and white women. Why aren’t white women advocating for other women who don’t look like her?”
Motivations to march
One woman held a “I’d trade racists for refugees” sign next to a young girl who wrote on her poster “Feminism is for everyone” in curly, blue lettering.
Amatullah-Matin said she sees the march as an agent of unity.
“For me, I want to be able to bridge the gap between women of color and her white counterparts,” Amatullah-Matin said. “That’s what [the march] has probably always been about for me.”
Each year women of color hold the banner at the front of the march so people can hear their voices, Hunter said.
Heather Fleming marched because she wants a better world for her children, she said. She helped organize the march for the second year in a row.
During a toiletry drive with her daughter’s girl scout troop, the two saw confederate flags and terminology that meant violence against African Americans, Fleming said.
“I just want my daughter to do the same things that her friends are doing and not to be scared,” Fleming said. “I want my sons to be able to drive down the street and not fear some harm has come to them because of their skin color.”
Fleming said there were many issues that she marched for, but that she wasn’t trying to bring awareness for just herself. Fleming works as a public school teacher.
“I want safety for my LGBTQ students,” Fleming said. “I want safety for my Muslim students, Asian students, my young girls— I don’t want them to be told what to do with their bodies. I don’t want them inappropriately touched. There’s a lot of issues that I’m fighting for.”
Beyond the march
The theme for the 2019 march was “Action.” Amatullah-Matin said the fight doesn’t end once the march is over and people go home.
Kohn-Davis said it’s easy for anyone to become an “accidental activist.”
“Find something you’re passionate about, see a problem in your community that needs to be solved and then put one foot in front of the other and try to solve it,” Kohn-Davis said.