Where and how do I enter this space? The expectation is for me to stand here and deliver a speech that highlights the ways in which white women failed this country on November 8, 2016. Some expect me to say, “While you, white women, were driving around with bumper stickers saying 'I'm with her,' 94% of black women and 63% of Latina women who voted were at the polls VOTING for her. Only 47% of you showed up.” I am suppose to ask, “Where were the rest of you?” For some, the expectation is for me to tell you how much we don’t trust you. How black and brown women are tired of cleaning up your messes just to be thrown out like trash and dismissed after the work has been done. Others want this speech to be about our refusal to form alliances with you until you apologize for historically putting your own needs and wants ahead of ours and other women’s--and for your role in oppressing the marginalized. But to ask me to do this is to ask me to step out of character and to be someone I am not. There are for better women who are far more qualified to have that conversation with you and to give that speech. So today, right now, what I have to offer you is me. I show up as a woman in a space of women. I show up vulnerable.
Today, I am standing at the intersection of many identities: black, bald-headed, full-figured, single mother of six children, four different fathers, poor…PhD candidate, entrepreneur…woman. Which one shall I channel for this occasion? Which part of me is welcomed here? Who shall I evoke? Who shall I leave behind? And what will my choice cost me? Which one of me doesn’t need health care, an equal and sustainable wage, clean air and water? To ask me to choose is a trick question. It’s to vote against myself. It’s to amputate parts of me in favor of an agenda that is not interested in all of me. That is unwise.
So, on this day, I make the choice to stand here: black, bald headed, full figured, single mother of six by four, poor…PhD candidate…entrepreneur…woman. And I give you all of me because it’s all I have to give.
I tell you this very personal decision because any good feminist knows that the personal is ALWAYS political. That means you, like me, are standing here at the intersection of many identities—all shaped and influenced by race, class, sexuality, ability. Which parts do we amputate? Which feminists do we promote here today: whites, blacks, Latinas… Who do we leave behind—feminist men, Muslims, Asians, members of the LGBTQUIA community? And what will our choices cost us? Who here does not need health care, an equal and sustainable wage, clean air and water? Are these trick questions? To choose one identity over the other will we in fact be voting against ourselves, against all women? Will we be amputating parts of a collective right to equality and justice, the right to overthrow oppression? And if so, we have to ask ourselves whose agenda are we serving if it isn’t recognizing all of us? And is that wise?
I agree that the measure of a society is how it treats its women and girls. But I believe that one of the best measures of a society is how it treats those women and girls most marginalized—teen moms, women on drugs, sex workers, women and girls experiencing homelessness, impoverished women, single mothers, women in low-income housing, women on welfare, women of color, women with mental and physical health challenges, women experiencing domestic abuse...victims of rape.
I believe that a healthy society is one in which those at the center screams in agony when those furthest away are cut. It hurts when they hurt. It cries when they cry. And it moves and acts on their behalves. Equally and more importantly, it is invested in making sure they have the tools and resources to act on their own behalves. And I believe this because I understand that most things—if not all things—in life are only as strong as its most vulnerable parts. And what I know, standing here at the intersection of so many identities, is that contrary to what we’d like to believe, at any given point pieces of us are always on the fringes. And if that’s not the case now, it’s only a matter of time. Your privilege will not always protect you. It will not keep your water clean or your mind sane or your body intact. It will not keep you from amputating parts of yourself to fit someone else’s agenda.
So what do we do? Is this a trick question? To answer is to assume that I know what you’re willing to give up for whatever needs to be done. It’s to assume that your stakes in this are the same as my own. It is to assume that you understand that your fate is tied to mine and that this march is not just one big cathartic moment that ends as soon as we all drift away. And wouldn’t all of that be presumptuous of me?
I want to tell you to read. Read wide and read deep about the oppression that now directly impacts you and the ones that have been impacting me. But will you? I want to tell you to put your dollars--with no strings attached--behind programs already doing the work like the YWCA, DAIS, the Catalyst Project, the Doyenne Group. But will you? I want to tell you to sponsor black businesses so that we can build up our communities and increase our chances of protecting ourselves in these uncertain times. But will you? I offer you no take aways or no calls to action because I don't know enough about how far you will go when you are no longer in a sea of pussy hats. Instead, I leave you with a message as uncomfortable as the one I began with. More specifically, I leave you with a question: What exactly are YOU going to do after today?
[This is the speech Sagashus Levingston delivered at the Women's March in Madison, WI on January 21, 2017. For many reasons, she improvised the final part in the live version. So it is not included here. But the final paragraph is its actual ending.]