Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

Speech at Women's March LA - Jan. 20, 2018

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
January 20, 2018
Print friendly

Hello, Women's March LA! You look beautiful!

I'm gonna go out on a limb here. I hope you let me do so.

I have a hunch that there's some people who are watching us, some people who might be even in our crowd who are worried. They're worried that with all this talk about racism and patriarchy and homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia – all of this difference is going to make it harder for us to unite under one banner. They long for those good old days when we'd all march together – I don't know when that was – under banner and to them this is a tragedy, a lost opportunity because we're all just talking about the isms

Well, I'm going to make that tragedy worse in this moment. Because I'm a black woman, I'm going to talk about black women and I'm going to talk about intersectionality. [cheers]

Some would tell you about what the real tragedy is. The real tragedy is how destructive it is when our movements march to one-stick drummers. We miss things, and when we miss things it harms us. That's how we wound up with this diminished democracy in which the fundamental right to vote has been undermined.

Did you know that the number of people who lost their right to vote was more than the margin that determined the outcome of the last presidential election? People like 100-year-old Grace Hardison of North Carolina, who had voted every year for 24 years but was turned away when her name was purged from the polls.

Now, we'd be wrong to think that this problem just started last year. No, it's much older than that. Let's think about the Supreme Court and that fifth vote that gutted the Voting Rights Act – the most cherished victory of the Civil Rights Movement. Let's think about that fifth vote that gutted campaign finance reform, turning elections into markets in which billionaires win.

And let's remember while we're thinking about this fifth vote – that one Supreme Court appointment that changed everything. The man who was narrowly confirmed after a black woman named Anita Hill showed that he was not the man for the job. If we had only listened. But we couldn't.

We couldn't because we were divided between race and gender. Painfully some folks – black folks – argued that harassment just wasn't something that black women cared about, demonstrating a profound ignorance about the fact that it was black women who fought back, black women who made sexual harassment the law that it is, black women like Carmita Wood and Michelle Vincent and countless others who suffered abuse at work since we arrived on these shores. [cheers]

And too many of our feminist friends thought race had nothing to do with it. We were divided and we were conquered because the history that held our movements together for too long has been ignored.

But today, let's imagine a different possibility. What if we had known about how Recy Taylor's tragedy became the linchpin for triumph. Recy was the black woman who was gang-raped by several white men on her way home from church in 1944. But as Danny McGuire tells us, it is not what happened to her that changed history but her refusal to be silent about it. [cheers] Recy insisted on justice and along with another courageous black woman founded in an organization that would become the backbone for the Montgomery bus boycott. And you all know that bus boycott changed the world. [cheers]

That woman who stood beside Recy Taylor, the one who refused to be silent, was the same woman who refused to go to the back of the bus eleven years later. [cheers] Her name was Rosa Parks.

See, see – quiet as it's kept, Parks didn't refuse to give up her seat because her feet were tired. She wasn't a quiet seamstress who merely stumbled into history. She was a social activist who cut her teeth by resisting the oppression of black women. [cheers] She spoke the truth when too many white sisters averted their eyes and too many black ones held them in shame.

That truth grounds the social revolt that we inherit today. So this moment is part of Rosa Parks' legacy. Recy Taylors and Ida B. Wells and Pauli Murray and Flo Kennedy and Aileen Hernandez and Shirley Chisholm and so many others [cheers] who refused to allow themselves to be divided and conquered so we don't have to. We can wake the sleeping giant that is us and take back our future. [cheers]

We will know we're on the right path when we are as outraged about sexual abuse in prisons and patrol cars as we are when it happens in Hollywood and in colleges. [applause] We'll know we're on the right track when we mourn the loss of Aiyana Stanely Jones as well as Tamir Rice, when we can say the name of India Kagar and Kayla Moore and Michelle Cusseaux in the same breath as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castille. [cheers]

And if we reach this goal, future generations will look back on us as the ones, when faced with growing hatred, obscene inequality and human extinction wove a tapestry of resistance out of our difference, lifting up for God and legacies to take back our future. [cheers]

And it's happening. Its beginning in Alabama and in Virginia. It's going to happen in California, Nevada and across this country. When we take leadership from the margins, things change.

So as we go forward into 2018, let's honor Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks and the nameless "sheroes" on whose shoulders we stand. Find your inner black woman and vote! Vote! Votes! [cheers and applause]

#SayHerName, #WomensMarch, #PowerToThePolls