The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Kimberly Simmons is an associate professor (part time) at the University of Southern Maine. This column reflects her views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.
Four years ago organizers of the first Women’s March on Washington scrambled to plan the largest one-day protest event in U.S. history. People flooded events around the globe, expressing visceral repudiation of the presidency of Donald J. Trump — a man known for misogyny and racism in his personal and professional life.
The size, creativity and passion of the Women’s March crowds seemed to rise out of nowhere, but the roots of feminist organizing span many generations.
This year we simultaneously commemorate the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, prohibiting states from limiting voting on the basis of sex, while launching new campaigns to expand voting rights. Young leaders are resurrecting the Equal Rights Amendment, which was introduced to Congress in 1923 but has languished since 1982.
Tarana Burke’s work to end sexual violence in the lives of Black women and girls stands on the shoulders of Rosa Parks, who drew on the legacy of Ida B. Wells and many others. Today’s feminist demands are unique to our time and place, but they are also part of a long project to demand all women’s full liberation, safety, inclusion and influence in society and the elimination of misogyny for everybody (aka #SmashThePatriarchy).
Conventional wisdom suggests it may be harder to organize under a “friendly” government — President-elect Joe Biden will stoke the visceral rage of feminists less often and less purposefully than Trump.
Yet the demands of contemporary feminists will not be achieved without sustained and strategic pressure — and we know it. And, since 2016, we’ve gained more skills, more relationships, more visions for shared liberation and simultaneously more experiences of inequalities to draw on. 21st-century feminist activism is just getting started.
In order to sustain our activism, organizers first need rest. Prioritizing the healing and well-being of frontline campaign staff and social justice workers in our communities is necessary. Women are disproportionately carrying the weight of our country’s failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as essential frontline workers and unpaid caregivers and organizers of mutual aid. Taking a break does not mean we are quitting. As the Nap Ministry makes clear, claiming the right to rest is activism for many.
We continually need to address racism and other oppressions within feminist organziing spaces, to animate the Women’s March unity principles in meaningful ways. We need COVID-friendly strategies to welcome new members.
People often join organizations for social connections and stay because they become sold on the mission — maintaining fun is crucial as the sorrow and struggles of injustice weigh heavily on our lives. More established social movement organizations should invest in training and leadership development, embracing grass-roots energy and leaders. We should fund creative spaces for visioning feminsist futures while strategically working to achieve specific policy and cultural goals.
For individuals wondering what to do next, there are great resources. Alicia Garza’s visioning guide for 2020 works for 2021. The Forge is an online newsletter about movement building. The Sojourner Truth School offers online social justice focused workshops. Momentum, Midwest Academy and many other groups offer skill building. Locally, the Changing Maine Directory can help people find local organizations to work with. Donations make great gifts, too. Opportunities to connect with other activists online are plentiful.
In her essential book “Pleasure Activism,” Adrienne Maree Brown encourages us to create activist communities within which trauma can heal, creativity can flourish and those most historically denied pleasure can experience more freedom, more joy, more power and more pleasure. Contemporary feminism is reshaping how we work together and what we accomplish. We may not be able to meet on the streets in 2021 as we did in 2017, but the movement for a more feminist future is far from over.