Questions of inclusivity linger surrounding Womxn’s March Denver

By Alexandra Cummings

Sep 30, 2021 | News | 0 comments

//Womxn’s March Denver’s logo. 

The Women’s March and its various iterations across the country have taken place annually since the day after former President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. 

With an estimated 1.0 to 1.6% of the U.S. population participating nationwide, the first 2017 Women’s March is still considered the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. However, the annual event has seen a decline in participants, with only an estimated 25,000 protestors in attendance at the 2020 event at the U.S. Capitol. Many believe the decline in participation can be attributed to controversy that surrounds the national organization. 

The fifth Denver Womxn’s March will take place Oct. 2 starting at 9:30 a.m., at the Colorado State Capitol. Womxn’s March Denver, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit made up of grassroots volunteers, will host the protest. The focus of this year’s event is reproductive rights and will be the second protest in the last month in response to the controversial new law in Texas. On the same day, similar women’s marches will take place throughout the country, including Washington, D.C.

While Womxn’s March Denver protests in solidarity with the national organization, they are not affiliated. Organizers also want to make it clear that it does not “utilize or encourage the pink pussy hats” that have become the symbol of the national movement.

This year, local organizers are determined to ensure everyone feels welcome. 

“We invite any and all who support overturning historic oppression and support reversing injustices that are rooted deeply in sexism,” said Suzie Schuckman, a Womxn’s March Denver leader. “We understand we might not always have the right answers, but we welcome the opportunity to address those and to do better for our community.”

Due to permit restrictions and the temporary closing of Civic Center Park, there will not be an actual march this year. Instead, Saturday’s event will feature several speakers, including Vicki Cowart, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and Amanda Carlson, abortion fund director and senior policy associate at Cobalt.

“People will hear on Saturday from providers and nonprofits supporting those from Texas who are already coming to Colorado to access reproductive services and care,” Schuckman said.

Texas Senate Bill 8 went into effect on Sept. 1, banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected by ultrasound, which can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy. Protests across the country will occur on Saturday to not only stand in solidarity with Texas but in support of the larger march toward gender equity.

In 2019, following criticism about the lack of inclusivity at the local and national levels, the annual Denver event was given a new name: Womxn’s March. This change was part of their rebranding effort to ensure they are reflective of all those targeted by sexism. The term “womxn” is often used in intersectional feminist circles to include transgender women and nonbinary folks. However, the term has recently come under fire for insinuating that trans women aren’t real “women.”  

The National Women’s March chapter has also had its fair share of criticism since its start in 2017. From allegations of antisemitism to being perceived as a space for primarily white, cisgender women, lack of inclusion has been a common theme. 

Womxn’s March Denver has made changes to become more inclusive. Their current board is majority Latina-led and is more reflective of the community they serve.

“Even with changes we’ve made, we are not perfect,” Schuckman said. “We still have work to do, especially with the trans community. We aren’t the authority to best address the communities that we don’t have representation on our board for yet, but we are actively recruiting and welcome these voices to join us to demonstrate what representation means for the Denver-metro region.” 

Mainstream conversations about gender and racial equality tend to gloss over how discrimination disproportionately affects women of color. In 1920, first-wave feminism secured the right to vote, but many women were barred from or unable to freely exercise that right for several more decades. A century and three waves later, white women still experience less discrimination than women of color in cases of pay inequity and being medically underinsured. Over one in five Hispanic women are without health insurance, compared to just 8% of white women.

Women of color have expressed that the failure to acknowledge these disparities has left them unseen in activists spaces, including the feminist movement.

“Anything that hits a white woman once is going to hit Black women five times because we’re doubly impacted,” said Amy E. Brown, a co-founder for Black Lives Matter 5280. “Black women have historically been erased from key activism moments, and the impact from that still affects us today.”

Historically, the women’s rights movement has struggled to adopt intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism centers the voices of those experiencing overlapping, concurrent forms of oppression in order to understand the depths of the inequalities and the relationships among them in any given context.

“The Women’s March is centered on white women,” said Becky Taha’Blue, a co-organizer of SlutWalk Denver and co-founder of Chrysalis House LCA. “Their feminism is one-sided, so it’s not really feminism.”

SlutWalk Denver recently held their 10th annual event at Cheesman Park. With a dedication to inclusivity, they refer to themselves as the feminist movement for consent-culture, body autonomy and pleasure for all bodies. While some members of SlutWalk Denver have participated in previous Womxn’s Marches, they still feel a lack of support from the organization. So much so that they have “disrupted” the march in previous years.  

“SlutWalk has been around for 10 years, and I don’t see many women from the Women’s March coming to SlutWalk, or BLM marches or Abolish I.C.E. events,” said Siren Sixxkiller, co-organizer of SlutWalk Denver. 

While a mix of emotions comes to mind for SlutWalk organizers, the need for allyship for those who feel on the outside of events like the Women’s March has driven members to show up and to do so loudly.

“At the end of previous Women’s Marches, people would tell us, ‘We heard SlutWalk coming from blocks away,’” Sixxkiller said. “We were fucking loud, and so everyone from women of color to trans people found us in the crowd because we were their people.”

Despite controversies that surround the movement, in 2019 about 80,000 protesters turned up for the Womxn’s March. In both 2020 and 2019, Indigenous women led the march in Denver to advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. In 2020, Womxn’s March held their first-ever IMPACT EXPO, an event to uplift the voices of those who are predominantly underrepresented. They invited over 200 local nonprofits to speak with marchers, share their stories and recruit volunteers for their causes.

“We had 75 nonprofits show up that served a variety of causes,” Schuckman said. “Everything from domestic abuse to reproductive rights to immigration. We certainly have tried to use our resources to provide ways to amplify missions that are serving populations that don’t receive the attention they deserve.”

Tara Manthey, a citizen of the Osage Nation and the executive director of Denver Indian Family Resource Center, doesn’t feel all the blame for the divide should be put on organizations like Womxn’s March Denver. In fact, recent headlines that compare the response to the murder of Gabby Petino to that of MMIW stood out to Manthey as part of the problem.

“We’ve been asked for interviews lately that do touch on MMIW but only in tandem with a missing white woman,” Manthey said. “The bigger issue is the invisibility overall of Indigenous people and people of color in all aspects of our society. Instead of making us a part of a story or event, why can’t we be the story or event? Why can’t the issues we face be enough to stand alone?”

Instead of wearing pink, Manthey will be wearing orange this Saturday, uplifting her community in honor of Orange Shirt Day officially known as The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Originally a Canadian statutory holiday, Orange Shirt Day, is part of an international movement to raise awareness of the lasting impacts of federal boarding schools that resulted in the removal of Canadian First Nations and American Indigenous children. Members of the Indigenous community will gather from noon to 4 p.m. on Oct. 2, at the University of Denver. Survivors and descendants will be honored and brought together in a healing-focused event.

“The focus is on the Native American community and the tragic history of boarding schools, but everyone is welcome to come to learn and heal,” Manthey said. 

While the state of Colorado still formally recognizes Columbus Day, the city of Boulder has officially renamed the day Indigenous People’s Day and will be holding a series of events from Oct. 9 to Oct. 11. While attendees will not be marching, those of all backgrounds are invited to discuss issues facing the state’s first inhabitants. 

Kelsey Lansing, a cultural outreach coordinator for Durango Sexual Assault Services Organization and a member of the Navajo tribe, is no stranger to the pain caused by white women in the feminist movement. But she wants others to know it doesn’t have to continue.

“I’ve seen so many women of color that are trying to bring justice and awareness but have been attacked or not included in spaces where their voices are needed,” Lansing said. “We’re not here to get revenge on those who have wronged us but instead are focused on how together we can reach our goals.”





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