On September 30th, thousands of marchers of all ages and races rallied together in the early morning hours to take part in the March for Racial Justice and the March for Black Women. The rallies began that morning in Lincoln Park and Seward Square, respectively. Despite the early hours and the threat of rain hanging overhead, the marchers raised their neon posters in the air, parents strapped their children into strollers decorated with Black Lives Matter posters, and protestors linked arms while singing chants about freedom and justice.
The two marches started in separate parks, but converged as an energetic drum corp chanting, led the March for Black Women to Lincoln Park, where it joined with the March for Racial Justice.
According to the March for Black Women’s website, the march was organized to bring attention to the violence directed toward both cisgender and transgender women in the community, to the mass incarceration of Black women and girls, and to the unacknowledged disappearances of young women.
The March for Racial Justice was focused on a broader message of fighting racism within the police force, justice system, and communities as a whole. The Women’s March organizers, in partnering with the March for Racial Justice, hoped to create a space for Black women within this larger movement for Black women.
The two marches, now paired in spirit and in message, marched down residential streets toward the Capitol Building and the Justice Department, all the while waving their signs in the air. They chanted while walking arm-in-arm with their fellow activists, and applauded passing drivers and pedestrians who smiled and waved, or even offered water and hot beverages to the crowd.
The march eventually made its way to the front of the Trump Hotel, where, following the start of a new chant of “Take a knee! Take a knee!” the entire pack of marchers kneeled in front of the hotel, making a reference to the previous week’s NFL national anthem protests.
After standing again, the marchers moved onto the National Mall, where they were greeted by speakers such as Valerie Castile (the mother of Philando Castile, who was killed by police in 2016), feminist activist Gloria Steinem, and local preacher Stephen Douglass. Some speakers cited the District’s own legacy of slavery and the fact that the city’s most famous buildings were built by slaves. Others discussed the violence that occurs on the streets or the lack of equal access to healthcare.
The District is a hotspot for activism against police brutality, gentrification, mass incarceration, and hate crimes. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, hate crimes in the city have increased since past years, reaching 107 reported crimes in 2016, a sharp increase from the 66 reported hate crimes in 2015. Although reported racially-based hate crimes did decrease overall, the number of crimes based on gender identity increased, largely because of violence against transgender women—a fact not dismissed by both the March for Black Women and the March for Racial Justice.
In order to bring intersectionality to the racial justice movement, the rallies for both marches included statements of support for the transgender community, and also took time to discuss the heightened violence toward and mass incarceration of Black women.
While every marcher had their own reason for coming—whether it was to mourn a family member killed by law enforcement, to educate, to advocate, or to act as an ally—a young woman wearing a “Michelle Obama 2020” sweatshirt and her friend stopped to talk about how injustices in everyday life drove them to spend their day marching and absorbing the stories and lessons that these speakers had in store.
“I’m here because, not just black women, but women period, we’re at a disadvantage. We’re not equal in the system,” she said. “There needs to be a change. White supremacy needs to stop… This system system is not set up for Black women; it’s not set up for for Black people, period. I just want to see change.”