2019 Women’s March on Pittsburgh will focus on local community amid past and present national controversies

By January 17, 2019 No Comments

Scenes from the 2018 Women’s March. (Photo: Jake Mysliwczyk)


Amanda Reed
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer

Tracy Baton and the organizing committee for this weekend’s Pittsburgh sister march to the Women’s March on Washington, were inspired by the national theme of a “women’s wave.” The theme stems from the 117 newly elected women headed to Congress this year and relates them to the Pittsburgh march’s theme: “Building Bridges Stronger than Hate.”

“We talked about ‘what did we as women really want, and what did we think that it meant to be a wave of women?  What is the work of a wave of women and why is it different? Why does it matter?,’’” Baton told the Current recently. “We thought that in our time, the way that we can be safe against inrushing authoritarian regimes is by building bridges between communities.”

This year’s Women’s March on Pittsburgh takes place this Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. at the City County Building. At noon, the march will move to Market Square, with speakers like Dena Stanley, Director and Founder of Trans YOUniting, Michelle Kenney, mother of Antwon Rose II and Summer Lee, the newly elected state Rep. for Pennsylvania’s 34th District, discussing national issues affecting women and the community.

The regional march, however, comes at a time where the national women’s march is under fire for accusations of anti-Semitism in its leadership and a national co-founder’s failure to condemn anti-Semitic remarks made in her presence at a dinner she attended.

Regional chapters have cancelled their marches, Democrats considering presidential runs in 2020 are staying away from the national event and sponsors have dropped out amidst the backlash.

“Trying to dismantle oppression, while working within systems of oppression, is hard. We are deeply invested in building better and deeper relationships with the Jewish community. And we’re committed to deepening relationships with any community who has felt left out of this movement. We want to create space where all are welcome,” national organizer Linda Sarsour said in statement on Nov. 20, 2018 in response to the allegations of anti-Semitism.

These allegations also come in the wake of a local tragedy. On Oct. 27, a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill and killed 11 Jewish people over the age of 50. In the time leading up to the event, the shooter posted racist and anti-Semitic posts on social media.

In response to the controversy concerning anti-Semitism in the national march, Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Women’s March released a joint statement on Dec. 27.

“We are well aware that statements from national Women’s March leaders have raised concerns about anti-Semitism. But rather than allow this pain to tear apart a powerful movement for justice, we call instead for dialogue, for growth, for difficult and productive conversations. While we follow conversations on the national level, we act locally. Now more than ever, we are determined to build bridges, increase justice, and protect one another in our beloved city of Pittsburgh,” the statement said.

According to Baton, the regional march has featured representation from Pittsburgh’s Jewish community since the inaugural march in 2016.

However, this does not mean the regional march hasn’t faced its own controversies. In 2017, a separate march titled “Our Feminism Must be Intersectional Rally/March” was held in East Liberty after a splinter group felt the Downtown march did not stress the rights of women of color, the LGBTQ community and those with disabilities when organizing the event. This year, organizers were criticized for a GoFundMe page soliciting donations for a large balloon depicting President Donald Trump as a baby that has made appearances at events around the country. Critics said the balloon was a waste of money.

In response to this, Baton — a queer black woman — said past marches have had diverse representation during its organizing. The GoFundMe fundraiser was meant to raise money for this year’s march, and was also supposed to help fund future marches, since the regional march does not receive funding or direction from the national march despite being a recognized ancillary event.

The Trump balloon cost around $1,500, with the rest of the funds going to the march, according to the page description and Baton. Baton said the Trump balloon will not make an appearance at Saturday’s march.

“The idea was to fund the march itself and our ongoing work,” Baton said.

Dena Stanley, director and founder of Trans YOUniting—a local trans-based nonprofit resource organization that provides educational programs for trans folks and allies— and a speaker at Saturday’s event, said that discussions of intersectionality should be brought up every year. Stanley said women must “unite on one front” and fighting will not stop Trump’s regime.

“We have to start sticking together as one, especially as women,” Stanley said. “No matter if you’re a trans woman or you’re a cis woman. No matter if you’re a CEO or you work at McDonald’s. We all face injustice.”

Last year’s event drew an estimated 25,000 people. According to the event’s Facebook page, more than 1,000 people are going, and about 6,000 people are interested in this year’s march.

Regardless of how many people show up, Baton said march attendees must take continued action afterwards to fight against the Trump administration.

“If you’re making a sign, you need to vote, canvas and call as well,” Baton said.

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