by Sharon H Chang
I’m waiting for the light rail in South Seattle. The morning weather is typical for a Northwest winter. Overcast, low 40s, threat of rain always imminent. If I’m honest, I’m having a lot of feelings that match the weather. Not very positive. I didn’t go to Women’s March 1.0 because, honestly, it just didn’t feel inclusive. A year later, that feeling remains. Why am I going now? Because this year in Seattle we will be lead by Indigenous Women and for this contingent, it feels crucial and necessary to show up.
Still, from the start, I can feel my lungs compress. In this wealthy, fast-gentrifying city, white feminism hangs thickly everywhere like diesel fumes in too much traffic. As I’m waiting, an elder Black woman in a padded jacket shuffles stiffly down the platform. Noticing pussycat hats, she pauses to speak with some non-Black women headed downtown. Smiles and friendly words are exchanged. The elder Black woman then shuffles in my direction and lowers herself painfully into the seat beside me. I ask about her day. “I’m okay. I would march but I have to work. Also, I’ve got this thing with my ankles.” She points to where the pain is coming from. I nod. The train arrives. We board. No one gets up to offer her a seat.
The air doesn’t clear. At Pioneer Square Station a new passenger squeezes in. “Wow! Where are all these people going??” exclaims a different elder Black woman now, peering wide-eyed around the inside of the packed car. This woman appears to be homeless which surprises no one in a city with the nation’s third largest homeless population which is 29 percent Black (but shhh, we don’t talk about that). She has no teeth, her speech is garbled and sometimes confused, stained clothes hang loosely off her small frame. She coughs into her arm and a white woman next to her moves away.
Still, this new passenger is cheerful and friendly, chatting with me and another woman of color. “It’s so crowded!” she says now. The other woman of color looks slightly irritated by the crowd but answers kindly, “I think they’re going to the Women’s March on Capitol Hill.” The elder Black woman returns, “Oh really?” She had no idea and doesn’t seem to know what that means anyway. She gets off at the next stop, immediately follows a white man back on the train, asks him for help (he gives her five dollars), then gets off for good at the stop after that. We don’t see her again as we ride on to Cal Anderson Park.
The park is the worst; a suffocating sea of mostly white faces dotted with pink-eared hats, pastel, to neon, to almost-maroon. I see multiple white women dressed as handmaids from the hit series “The Handmaid’s Tale” based on Margaret Atwood’s racially appropriative, white feminist novel (1985) of the same name. The costumed white women proudly pose for pictures on other admiring white women’s smartphones. I mutter under my breath, but keep walking, passing a deluge of handmade signs that say quippy things like “orange shithead” and “pussy power” which somehow don’t speak to me at all. I don’t feel like taking pictures.
Finally, though, I do make my way to the stage which is being held down by Native Women standing in their power and truth. For a moment, the smog lifts. They are leading Seattle’s Women’s March 2.0 in the name of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women ##MMIW; an epidemic of gendered violence against Native Women across the Americas that, though well-documented, remains mostly unknown to the general public. Pink has vanished, replaced by fierce, strong tones of red. Now, I photograph. I photograph as many signs honoring lost Indigenous Women as I can. The scope of that loss is horrific and though I knew numbers beforehand, bearing witness to the actual peoples holding that loss is profoundly different.
When the Indigenous Women move offstage toward the starting point of the march, noxious clouds quickly roll back in. I realize I’m hedged in by pink ears again and can’t follow. Backtrack, circumvent, hike ahead. Pine Street and Bellevue Avenue offer a good vantage point. I settle in to wait. Slow, steady tides of more pink-hatted people move up the hill to join in. Things are behind schedule which is unsurprising given the turnout. It starts to rain lightly and I stand under a leafless tree, covering my camera with a plastic bag from 99 Ranch Market.
After about a half hour, something stirs ahead. I position in the middle of the road and start snapping test images when an officer next to me offers, “That’s not the main march.” I look at him questioningly and realize, of course, he’s getting all the intel through his earpiece. He explains, amused, “Those people started before they were supposed to.” I look at what’s moving down the hill, coming into focus, and see a large procession of non-Native people cheering themselves on.
A handful of young white women lead the pack, jumping, leaping, skipping. They fly through the air, whooping and hollering, apparently oblivious of overwriting Indigenous Women in such a tired, colorblind way. Crowds lining the sidewalks whoop along. Some step off the curb and follow the young white women. The false start keeps going into the misty distance, pausing confused at Westlake Center. When Indigenous Women arrive later they will be diverted away from this crowd “for safety” with the promise of being re-routed back to the main march–but never are.
My time at this march is coming to an end. It’s too exhausting, I can’t breathe, and angry aches of my own are starting to clamor in my ear. But I don’t want a white-lead false start to be the parting note. So, I wait one more time for the Indigenous Women and when I see the wave of red (in a sea of pink) rise toward me in sacred song, step and dance, the feeling is so sharply dissimilar from the white women who just passed, it’s inspiring even as it’s a total shock. I march with the Indigenous Women a few city blocks, take a few more shots, then walk away in reflection.
The weather never did improve and neither did my critique. Version 2.0 has come and gone and, in my view, white feminism persists in being stubbornly self-centered while displacing Women of Color in consistently harmful ways. Obviously there’s much work to be done. That said, focusing solely on white feminism’s racism means we’re still not acknowledging how Women of Color survive and thrive in brilliant ways. So, while there’s a lot more I could say about the Woman’s March–I’m not going to. Instead I would like to leave this post with gratefulness and gratitude to the land’s Indigenous Women and People for leading us this year here in Seattle. Thank you, sisters, for your wisdom and guidance.