Womxn’s March Returns to Downtown Portland, Seeking Diversity and Solidarity After Two Years of Tensions

The organizers asked marchers to remove those pink hats. Few did.

The Womxn's March on Portland, March 3, 2019. (Laurel Kadas)

Handmaids in red costumes were asked to pose for photos. Grandmothers walked arm-in-arm with their granddaughters. Portland State University students perched in their dorm windows. Women in pussy hats embraced—even after organizers requested the hats be removed.

This was the 2019 Womxn's March in Portland.

An estimated 15,000 people attended the event today, a protest designed to display solidarity during the presidency of Donald Trump. The first Portland Women's March, in 2017, was among the largest in the nation.

But this year's march followed more than a year of infighting over identity and finances. The first march was nearly undone by a debate over the visibility of transgender women and people of color. The 2018 march was cancelled, as the Oregon Department of Justice investigated $22,000 that went missing after the organizers' public feud.

This year's event saw new leadership—and a new name. It was dubbed the Womxn's March: a name that signals that women are independent of men, and seeks to include trans-women and women of color. Its organizers also sought to elevate black and indigenous people of color—or BIPOC—who they say have long been shoved to the margins of past events.

"This march is led by BIPOC and LGBTQIA women entirely," said organizing director Jessica Beckett. "It was a very conscious choice to make sure all the leadership in the committees was done with consciousness and inclusivity in mind.

"That is not to say anything bad about the organizers who put together 2017," Beckett added, "but it was absolutely a learning experience and this is an entirely different group of women with an entirely different purpose we want to take forward in years to come."

The Womxn’s March on Portland, March 3, 2019. (Laurel Kadas)

If not everyone embraced the new vision, neither did they resist it.

An organizer who took the stage early on asked that people remove their pink hats—saying those hats, an icon of 2017 protests, are not inclusive of BIPOC and LGBTQ people who don't have typical female genitalia. Few people took their hats off.

The speakers, featured before the marching began, pledged to amplify the perspectives of women who were previously ignored.

American Sign Language interpreters shared the stage with the speakers, including U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) and Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.

"I am ready not just to resist, but to insist—to insist that we are all connected, our fights are all connected. Unless everyone is free, none of us are free," said Jayapal. "In order for any of us to be free, the most marginalized among us must be centered."

The Womxn’s March on Portland, March 3, 2019. (Laurel Kadas)

The march itself was quiet. There were a handful of scattered chants, but mostly people walked in silence or in small groups. Towards the end of the march, right-wing organizer Joey Gibson showed up with a handful of allies and a police bike escort. He shouted at the women, but was largely ignored.

Keri Hakan, a Southeast Portland resident who also attended the 2017 march, noted that the energy was more subdued than it was two years ago.

"There were so many more women. I think the energy was different because of the sheer number of women," said Hakan. "It was great to see all the different generations, especially all the older women. But it was also like, fuck. It's 2017, and they're still doing this. And now it's 2019, and they're still doing this."

Teenagers appeared in full force for the march, strutting around the perimeters in groups of threes and four.

Fifteen-year-old Aarna Dixit of Sunset High School in Beaverton said she was marching to protest sexual violence.

"Given the current status of our country and the current social and political ethos, it's very important that we, as leaders of tomorrow, start taking initiative and getting  involved in things that are important," said Dixit. "Why should you wait until you're old to start change, when no one is waiting around to oppress and suppress you? Change starts with us."

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