How the Women’s March Became the White Women’s March

by Savanah Peykani

With enormous reluctance, I attended the Women’s March in Downtown Los Angeles the day following Donald Trump’s inauguration. But not because I’m some champion of the alt-right movement, or because I’m against women. (Can you imagine if I was either of these things?) My hesitance stemmed from the long-term dissatisfaction I felt after attending two anti-Trump protests last November. I wrote about those rallies for the “New University” with a much more optimistic and brave standpoint. I thought my community’s coming-together would signal a spiral of continued action. That the various voices shouting for equality would not only be heard, but be helped. From November to now, I have seen how naive such an expectation was.

The Women’s March really should have been rebranded as the “White Women’s March.” My friends and I immediately recognized the lack of diversity in the crowd of 750,000 — at least in comparison to the demographic cross-section that attended the rallies in November.

My friends and I headed to the Culver City metro station, knowing that public transportation would be the best way to get downtown. We didn’t know that by the time we got there at 8:30 a.m., there would be thousands of people already there with the same idea. Within minutes of standing in line, the crowd made us feel uneasy. Women were running around bragging about how proud they are of each other, commending each other’s bravery and activism. They wore pink knitted hats, in the shape of cat’s ears to represent vaginas, and held up signs celebrating their anatomy. My friends and I wondered how all of this pussy-imagery made trans and gender fluid marchers feel.

I wish I could have made a short film about the sociology inside the metro. We had no choice but to take the line going uptown and wait for it to stop in Santa Monica, then go back the opposite direction to downtown. This concept blew some people away.

“Doesn’t it have to turn around?” a young woman near us asked her boyfriend, who kept trying to explain to her how trains work.

For people who have never had to take public transportation before, suddenly doing so en masse caused a lot of confusion. At one point, we even heard this man literally waking up as he remarked, “Public transportation in this city is really inefficient; maybe that’s why people have such a hard time getting to their polling place.”

Opening your eyes to disenfranchisement and institutional racism one metro ride at a time!

It’s easy to fall back on cynicism and judgment in situations like this one, but I kept reminding myself that I have my own privilege of growing up as a first-generation American on my dad’s side of the family. My whole life has been a series of awakenings, in part because of my dad’s extreme sensitivity and keen awareness of how racial politics and economics works in the United States. Other people need to be open to learning at a different pace, but it’s up to those who do know to be open and willing to teach them.

At the last minute, we picked up my grandmother, who lives near Culver City, to join us. She fled Iran in 1974 as a single mother and is one of the bravest women I know. Throughout the morning, she shared with us stories of her own youthful protests. When she left Iran, women’s liberation was a far-off dream; upon coming to the United States, she met groups of women who refused to wear bras, to follow rules, to submit to standards. In the late 70s, she and my dad walked in miles-long rallies to resist the Iranian Shah’s rule, wearing paper bags over their heads so as to not be identified by the Iranian government or media.

Forty years later, the protest is peaceful, it’s safe. The problems are different and more complicated. I think the quantity of oppression in the United States overwhelms some people, people privileged enough to not be affected directly by intersectionality. They can pick and choose causes, the ones most accessible and digestible. Women’s rights? Of course, we love women. Let’s march. Black and brown women’s rights? Trans people’s rights? Now that, we aren’t so sure about.

I can’t say that I’m not part of the problem in some ways too. I didn’t go to any Black Lives Matter rallies in the last few years. I haven’t been involved in any sort of activism until the election — besides my constant reading and dialogue with others about issues. So I’m not out here writing from some sort of holier than thou place, one of moral impenetrability. I’ve been making these mistakes too but I’m set now on trying to fix them.

One of my professors recently stood on his soapbox for a moment and answered the immense question: “What should we do now?”

He told us that we have been doing something, this whole time. We have to read. We have to read everything about the social, economic and political issues in order to understand historically how all of these elements have coalesced. We have to understand that we have been building up to this rupture for decades. He said that the process goes like this: you observe and experience the world and you imagine it being different, so action is the gap between what is and what you want it to be. But if you misdiagnose the problem, then you cannot create an effective solution.

From what I saw, most of the participants of the Women’s March have misdiagnosed the problem. The problem isn’t that one man tricked the nation into voting for him. Trump is not an aberration; he is the offspring of the neo-conservatism that began in Nixon’s term, and probably even earlier than that.

When you remember the statistic that 53% of white women voted for Trump, you can realize that the issue is more than the divide between Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. Party lines and binary ideologies create a binary thought process: it’s either this or that.

What the United States needs to do now is dive into the grey area.