Commentary

CLARION CALL: Reflections on the First Anniversary of the Women’s March

The following is an op-ed by Margaret Toman, a retired union member, activist, and a volunteer at the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, and Jeremy Sprinkle, the organization’s communications director.

Jeremy Sprinkle and Margaret Toman

On January 21, 2017, the now legendary Women’s March drew millions onto the streets in all 50 states and in 32 countries in the aftermath of a flawed U.S. presidential election and the inauguration of a racist President at the helm of a sharply divided country. Over 17,000 people, most of them women and girls, marched through downtown Raleigh in a pink-hatted sea of outrage and solidarity against racism and sexism, affirming that “Women’s rights are human rights.” The Women’s March ignited a spark of hope in a winter of despair — hope that fueled a year of organized resistance which led to important victories.

Several states and municipalities have adopted a $15 minimum wage or moved in that direction with more raises pending. Federal judges have rejected political gerrymandering, invalidated Muslim travel bans, and protected the Dreamers. Women are running for office around the country and winning. Black women helped to elect a labor-endorsed candidate from Alabama to the U.S. Senate for the first time in a generation, and Virginia voters sent packing politicians hostile to the interests of working families. Despite being under constant attack as “fake news,” our free press survives, and with every fresh reported outrage coming from policymakers in Raleigh and Washington, new allies join us and invigorate the resistance.

Today, we commemorate the Women’s March at the “Rally on Raleigh” and vow our continuing solidarity. We dare not linger long in celebration. History is holding up a mirror that we cannot evade. A year ago, we looked into that mirror and took collective action. Clear-eyed and resolute, we look into it again today.

We see avarice and corruption driving official policy, human rights under sustained assault, and our coffers emptied for war and tax cuts for the rich. We see the President making excuses for white supremacists who threaten our black, brown, and LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We see Lady Liberty’s torch light flicker as our government tears immigrants striving for the American dream from their families and communities, while letting unconscionable corporate greed suppress the wages and freedoms of people laboring for a better life. We all know these working folks. They pick our cucumbers, deliver our newspapers, serve our food, drive our school buses, care for our children and our elders. They are people who, when payday comes, might have to choose between paying rent or electricity, who sometimes stand in long lines at food pantries, and who watch skyrocketing housing prices with visceral fear, aware that there is not enough affordable shelter for everyone. We see mothers working two jobs who barely see their children, caregivers upholding high standards for love while watching their own future slip away, construction workers laboring in dangerous conditions under which too many die.

We resolve to act when those at the top use their power to line their silk pockets by taking public resources and the wealth working people create. We resolve to petition our lawmakers to raise North Carolina’s minimum wage to a family-sustaining wage, and to run for office and become the voice of working people in government if they will not. We resolve to show up and walk the next “Fight for $15 and a union” picket line. We resolve to support people exercising their freedom to join forces in the workplace so they can negotiate collectively for a better life. We will continue to be our courageous, creative, and catalyzing selves.

We resolve to do these things because history is pressing upon us a sense of urgency, a clarion call to liberate our confidence from fear. Our liberation is born of connection and a realization that we are all in this together — the student paying loans who cannot afford a down payment on a house, the cancer patient who cannot buy critically necessary medication, the elder whose social security is being threatened. All of us, organizers, donors, activists, voters, and volunteers, are a unified force who will forget no one. No ignorant politician, cruel policy, or unconstitutional law can overcome the power of our solidarity or halt our march for justice. We affirm with author/activist Jonathan Smucker: “It is selfish to jump ship when there are not enough lifeboats for everyone. We must conspire to take the helm.”

From this day in January 2018 onward, in honor of the Women’s March, the Resistance, and the commitments that bind us, let us now turn to face with unity and resolve the challenges of the days leading to November 6, when we will take the helm together, and dance.

Margaret Toman is a retired union member, activist, and a volunteer at the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, where Jeremy Sprinkle serves as communications director.

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