Margaret Jacobsen has spent the last week trying to rebuild the Women's March on Portland.
Jacobsen, a 29-year-old activist and writer, took over Jan. 6 as lead organizer of the march, which will begin at noon Saturday, Jan. 21, in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It's expected to be the largest protest taking place in Portland this week after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump.
But Jacobsen inherited a march rent by racial strife. Activists complained the event's original organizer, who lives in Eastern Oregon, refused to give a platform to minorities, immigrants and trans people.
(That organizer, who asked not to be named because she fears being targeted by anti-government militias, declined to discuss those specific claims. "It's really sad that we have to be fighting these same battles again and again," she says. "The real reason that Hillary did not win is, she's a woman.")
As WW reported last week, the Portland branch of the NAACP removed its support for the march Jan. 11, even after Jacobsen took control. Branch president Jo Ann Hardesty said the march had been irreparably harmed by the previous organizers' failure to include discussions of racial discrimination, plans for a Muslim registry, and the plight of immigrants and refugees.
"Putting a black woman's face at the beginning of the march doesn't fundamentally change the reason we withdrew our support," Hardesty says. "It's always been the case that if somebody suffers a racist incident, you're just supposed to suck it up and then, for the sake of unity, let's all join hands and pretend it didn't happen. I'm just at a place where I don't think that's healthy or wise anymore."
The conflict in Portland reflected strife that also occurred among national women's march planners: An older generation of feminists disagreed with younger activists about whether there could be unity on women's issues without reference to discrimination against racial, ethnic and sexual identities.
Jacobsen says the Portland march is still worth saving—and attending. In an interview with WW this week, Jacobsen discussed what went wrong, what's being done to fix it, and why this internal debate isn't just a distraction from fighting Trump.
WW: When did you learn about the Women's March on Portland?
Margaret Jacobsen: A week before I was handed the organizing.
I knew there was a women's march taking place in Washington, [D.C.,] and I was really doubtful about it. Most women I knew who were going were white women. I felt like that was enough for me to know that it probably wasn't for me. And they weren't addressing people of color, queer people, trans people. It was just women marching.
What happened to alienate people of color during preparations for the march?
It was mostly the refusal to [have] open dialogue about if people of color were safe or if they were welcome, if there were steps being taken to make them feel like this march was also for them. Also, [organizers said] no political signs were allowed. So there were no "Black Lives Matter" signs allowed in the march.
In talking with the original organizers, there was just confusion: "I'm not racist, so I don't know why I need to have this dialogue. I said 'all women.'"
It needs to go a step further. You need to specify, "I understand you're feeling oppressed in this space, and I'm going to validate that. We want you there."
What happened when you talked to the original organizer?
She was very hurt and upset. She felt like we were taking something she had built away from her. They had worked really hard.
I tried to say it's very important people know they can come to a march, that they know their voices will be amplified, you can't ignore that. And she was like, "I care about all women, and I'm not racist."
We have a definition of racism that was taught to us. We were told that we're in post-racial America, and we had Obama. People are like, "I'm not actively being racist." It's not always understood that it's part of the makeup of our country, that our systems have been built off of racism, that our country was built off of racism.
How does educating Clinton supporters help defeat Trump and the Trump agenda?
Because they're all under the assumption we're on the same page. At least Trump supporters say, "I don't like this group of people." Hillary supporters are like, "People are all equal. I don't want to admit some people are being murdered at a faster rate. And I want to look past color."
Let me educate you, so we can move forward together in fighting Trump supporters. I really, really, really believe in educating people who think they're not racist because sometimes their racism is even scarier.
Most of us don't care for oppression Olympics. We would simply like to be validated where we are and have help and support so we can move forward. So we don't have to have fears daily.
Did you vote for Clinton?
No, I didn't. Well, my kids actually used my ballot. I let my son write in my ballot, and he did vote for Hillary. He's 6, and he's very obsessed with politics and presidents. He's obsessed with his sister too. So he was like, "I want a woman president." I stayed on the fence for a really long time. It just felt like I was doing violence to myself to choose someone who came from an era when there was a really high spike in black men being put in prison.
Where were you when you knew that Donald Trump had won?
I was moving between bars. It was a bit surreal, but also not surreal. That felt weird too: how not anxious I felt about it. I was looking around, and a lot of people were crying. I didn't have the same strong response that I noticed everybody else was having.
It took me until the next morning to realize: I was surrounded by mostly white people, [and] their experience was going to be significantly different from my experience, because my world was staying the same but finally exposed. A lot of people were having their bubbles popped.
How do the problems with this march reflect the problems Portland has with discussing race?
It's the perfect example of not just Portland but Oregon in general. We're always talking about the hippie mentality and "one love" here. And it's so harmful if you are trying to be seen and not be erased to have people shut you down and say that's too complex. That was a question that was asked of me: "When did feminism get complex?" When was it not, though?
What happened with the NAACP of Portland?
We were all aware that the NAACP was going to say they weren't supporting anymore despite me taking over. And so we were just waiting for their announcement.
I sent an email to Jo Ann [Hardesty] letting her know that as a black person I had no expectations of her coming back because I was taking over. I think there had been so much damage that had been done and there were so many chances that had been given and understanding why it wasn't OK to be silencing voices.
What was your reaction to the NAACP's decision to withdraw its support for the rally?
What was decided was really good for our city to see, just because Portland's history with race is so horrendous and horrifying. And I think it's getting to the point where people are done with the silencing and the liberal nonsense of "We're all the same, so let's not talk about the uncomfortable things." I was so supportive of what Jo Ann was doing. She in turn was supportive of me and thanked me for taking over.
What should people learn from the last week's friction?
I would love for them to learn that people are done pandering to whiteness. And that if we're going to be part of something, we actually have to be included in the planning. You don't just get to bring people of color in and check it off your list.
I want people to learn from this how it is possible to take something that isn't inclusive and make it so. It's really important to me to have an example. We don't have to settle for what Portland has given us and expected us to be.