The following is a continuation of March On featured in Metrosphere’s March’s issue.
On January 21 a Facebook event turned into a global movement. The Women’s March brought together millions of women, men and gender non-conforming marchers all over the world to peacefully protest for equal rights. In Denver, the following women graced Civic Center’s Greek Auditorium stage. They shared their stories and spoke of struggle and hope. Most importantly, they focused on the need for action. Here they reflect on the record-breaking event and Women’s History Month. They also offer advice on how to keep the equal rights movement alive and well long after the Facebook posts fade.
Why should we celebrate Women’s History Month?
Nadeen Ibrahim- When you take a look at women, what are they? They’re our mothers. They’re our sisters. They’re our grandmothers. Women have an essential role within our communities. It’s important to celebrate them because over time we have marginalized them. We have stripped away their rights because they simply were not men. When we celebrate them we celebrate what they bring to the table. We celebrate the great advocates who sacrificed their lives and their energy and families in times when that was not welcomed. When we celebrate them we send a message that we will support you, as a woman, wherever you’re going to go.
Robin Kniech- Because too few of our history books really told those stories. When I was getting ready for the march and looking up the women who helped earn us the vote in Colorado they were not names that were on the tip of my tongue. I think it’s a way for us to understand where we’ve come from and honor those who’ve come before. And it’s part of that celebrating success. Until you can change the institution itself you need these focal points to create these opportunities that aren’t happening in the curriculums in schools.
How would you describe being at the Women’s March on Denver?
Ibrahim- It was beautiful and it was such a peaceful gathering. The smiles that you had, the signs that were held, the hugs that you were given, the pictures that we took, the music that was everywhere, it was a huge space of healing. It was a space of celebration. But, as a woman that wore the hijab, a lot of people told me, “Thank you for being here.” When I hear something like that it’s like I was not expected to be there, that me being there was a surprise. Seeing that before I got on stage I was like, this is why I’m here. I’m here to send a message that as a Muslim woman who wears the hijab I am in this. This benefits me and I am a part of this community and I demand for my voice to be heard and popularly recognized and advocated for within this community.
Kniech- Transformational. I felt so proud to be a part of this community, both as someone who lives in this community and someone who’s elected to lead. I felt like as much as some things in the world are going the wrong way, I felt really good that we in Denver are on a good path and that we have a lot of united energy and values.
What message did you hope to get across during your speech?
Ibrahim- One, don’t define me as a Muslim-American woman. Ask me. I wear the hijab but I have Muslim-American sisters who don’t wear the hijab. Give me my space for my personal narrative. Two, when we consider women’s rights we have to consider intersectionality. We need to dig into it and figure out the different facets. How can we advocate for people of color at the same time that we’re pushing for women’s rights? Three, we need to self-reflect. Understand where your privileges are and how you can transform them into tools for justice. This fight is a long one and a hard one. We need to make sure that we’re all a part of it.
Kniech- The theme of my speech was we are not underdogs. We are strong and we are already leaders. This is not like we are starting from ground zero in the fights that we have in this administration. There are things we need to be taking on that have nothing to do with being in the streets and that’s where it starts, talking to our sons about respecting women’s bodies. We have personal things we can all be doing. And then there are political fights and we too have the skills and the strengths and the numbers to be engaged in those.
In terms of the equal rights movement, what does success mean to you?
Ibrahim- I don’t look at equal rights. I look at equity. If we invest in equity and know more resources are needed in one community to bring them up that’s when we know we’re fair. What success means to me in that regard is that we’ve secured a platform for the very communities that need these equitable rights to express their voice and give power to their voice.
Kniech- I think success is institutional change. It’s the fact that contraception is a free part of every health insurance plan right now. Whether you want it or not, whether you believe in it or not, whether you need it or not, it’s there. That’s an example of institutional change. We aren’t relying on charity to do a basic human health need that women have. I think that for me the equal rights movement, I don’t think of as a women’s rights movement exclusively. It is about LGBT equality. It is about transgender dignity. It’s about Muslim freedom of religion. It’s all a piece of that so it’s a high bar. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why/Why not? If so, when did you know that you were?
Ibrahim- With social justice training I’ve switched from identifying myself as a feminist to identifying as a gender equity activist. Not a lot of people identify within the two dynamics of male and female. It’s out of respect that we take into consideration other genders and people can define themselves for who they are. I did identify myself as a feminist for a long time and I do stand by the same values in the sense that I do want women to express themselves in the way that they want and know that they’re celebrated in that, not tolerated, celebrated, but I also want to make sure that it’s across the board for all genders.
Kniech- I am a feminist and I am a feminist because I believe women have innate capabilities that have been held back by institutions and by perceptions and sexism and that those things need to be overcome. My mom was a factory worker so I never had this view that women couldn’t do hard work. That was a middle-class notion. That did not exist in my neighborhood. In my neighborhood, women did all the work. I think that I learned that there was a name for appreciation of those women and for the things that they fought for when I was in college. I got this academic background to understand real life.
What advice would you give to aspiring activists that don’t know where to get started?
Ibrahim- Let your passion take you where you want to go. Listen to yourself and engage in the networks to get plugged in. Know how you want to contribute. Do you want to call your senators? Do you want to organize rallies or do you only want to attend rallies? You need to spend time with yourself and know how you can contribute and where your skill set is. I don’t want to define that for you.
Kniech- I think you find organizations that already exist and are passionate about the issues you care about. If you care about women’s issues you can find Planned Parenthood and learn from them how to talk to your elected officials. One Colorado is there for LGBT communities. If you’re passionate about poverty, 9to5 works with folks who are working for lower bus fares and childcare funding. There are organizations that can help teach you ways that you can engage. Don’t try to do it yourself. Find others. And I do think voting matters. I am confident there were people at that march that didn’t vote in the presidential election. I know they didn’t vote on my city council election. We have to reject this lie that all politicians are the same and that it doesn’t matter who you vote for. It’s so not true. It makes a really big difference.