photo courtesy of Sierra Burris
by Adria Walker
On Jan. 21, 2017, hundreds—nearing 1,000—of women, men and children descended the State Capitol in Jackson, participating in the Mississippi extension of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. In Washington, D.C. alone, the March attracted between 470,000 to 680,000 protestors, while more than 100 cities across the world held companion marches.
The Jackson March included multiple women who spoke in support of Black Lives Matter, immigrants’ rights, Planned Parenthood, disability rights, LGBT equality, abortion rights, and equal play.
Women make up a total of 19 percent across both chambers of the 115th U.S. Congress, while there are a total of 49 Black members, 38 Hispanic members, and 15 Asian-American members of Congress.
Because of the lack of national, state, and local representation of women and minorities, Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, implored women in the audience to run for public office. “If we get enough women in the right places, we’ll start getting paid the right amount,” Clarke said.
Isabelle Dillard, a junior classics and religious studies/sociology double major, from Memphis, Tenn., attended the Jackson March as well, using it as a form of catharsis.
“It was important coming off of the (presidential) inauguration to do something physical to represent anxiety and fear and sort of respond to that, what a lot of people were feeling—including myself. It just felt like a very tangible thing that you could get out and do and be with other people who were feeling the same way,” Dillard said.
Millsaps’ own Lucy Kaplan, a sophomore student from Memphis, led the crowd in chants of, “Show me what women like”, before Ebony Lumumba, Chair of the English Department at Tougaloo College, spoke.
For Lumumba, attending the March was personal.
“I am here today because my great-great-grandmother picked Mississippi cotton under the threat of an overseer’s lash,” Lumumba said. “My great-grandmother went to a racist sheriff and asked for her grandson’s body because she refused to have him murdered and discarded like Emmett Till had just been a few months earlier and a few miles away.”
Lumumba spoke about the need of Institutional support for mother’s pursuing college education. “We charge mothers with birthing our very society, and in many of our communities, women are given the charge of sustaining the lives of the children that they bare… I don’t see it as pity work, I don’t see it as a handout of a resource to a mother, I see it as justice,” Lumumba said, continuing to call for justice for students suffering from postpartum depression, for students healing from a caesarian section and for class scheduling that was cognizant of students managing work and/or family.
Felicia Brown-Williams, the director of public policy at Planned Parenthood Southeast and keynote speaker of the march, said that Planned Parenthood provides birth control, cancer screenings, sex education and sexually transmitted infection testing, while, in the State of Mississippi, the one Planned Parenthood clinic located in Hattiesburg, does not provide abortions.
For the last several years lawmakers in statehouses and Congress have attempted to defund Planned Parenthood. Brown-Williams said that this move directly targets specific groups of Americans.
“Women, folks who are already facing all kinds of barriers to care, folks who are low-income, folks of color, rural folks and people like me, when I first came to Planned Parenthood 14 years ago after receiving stunningly craptastic advisement from a medical professional who was appointed by the State of Mississippi. I have never had an abortion because of Planned Parenthood… because they were there for me when I needed them most,” Brown-Williams said.
Towards the end of the March, attendees sang and danced to a live rendition of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman”. While the crowd sang and danced, as someone danced on the platform with the speakers—beckoning others to join them.
“(They were in) a dress and heels and (they were) walking up and down the stairs and dancing and dropping it low. It was really fun to watch people have fun without having to worry about anyone glaring at them and telling them, ‘You can’t do that or that’s not appropriate,’” Bullard said.
Dillard found the number of attendees reassuring. “As a liberal in Mississippi, (sometimes you) feel isolated, especially at Millsaps. We’re kind of in this bubble of progressive. But it was really nice to see a lot of different people from Jackson turn out and a lot of different demographics of people as well,” Dillard said.
Dr. Nathan Shrader, who attended the Jackson March, is an assistant professor of political science at Millsaps.
“I thought that it was a very productive response to what’s going on right now in Washington with the Trump administration,” Shrader said. “The reason I phrase it like that is that sometimes you get the feeling when you watch political marches and political protests that sometimes it’s a protest for the sake of protesting, and it’s not connected to something larger.”
“That (hundreds of global and national coordinated marches) is atypical for how some of these things work… that indicates to me that this is a movement, and not just a flash in the pan. It’s something that is coordinated from the bottom up,” Shrader said.
Still, Shrader wonders about the lasting results of the marches.
“How do you take those 3 million or more people and turn it into a political movement? It’s one thing about marching, but it’s another thing about organizing at the precinct levels to win elections, to recruit people to run for office… You can say what you want about the Tea Party, but they did that part really well,” Shrader said.
Dillard plans on working with local communities.
“There’s a lot going on to already plug into, and sometimes I think that when we stick within the Millsaps walls, we feel like we have to (create new organizations), when really we could just step outside the gate and get involved with what’s actually happening already,” Dillard said.