Amidst turmoil, two Saturday rallies for women in Philadelphia

Amidst turmoil, two Saturday rallies for women in Philadelphia

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For the third year, the Women’s March will flood the streets of more than 200 cities across the country on Saturday, Jan. 19, and the organizers of Philadelphia’s rally said they are making it a point to be inclusive to all women.

While making sure the day is inclusive, independent local organizers also hope to dispel separateness after they had initially encountered a hiccup when the national Women’s March organization decided to hold its own march.

In what began as a nationwide protest to the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017, more than five million women have marched in solidarity, advocating for women’s rights, immigration reform, racial equality, LGBTQ rights and the rights of all women from underrepresented communities. Organizers of the Women’s March on Philadelphia said an average of 60,000 protesters participated in the rally, each of the past two years.

Although the inaugural march had more than four million protesters all across the country — the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history — the rally has come under fire for its lack of representation of women of color and transgender women.

The signature pink pussy hats worn by march participants have drawn some criticism for symbolizing the erasure of women of color and trans women because not all women have vaginas and not all vaginas are pink, said critics such as international trans model Munroe Bergdorf.

Deja Lynn Alvarez, co-president of Philly Women Rally, the independent Philadelphia contingent marching, said, “If we’re going to be pro-women, we have to be pro-all women.”

“With me being the co-president of the board, as far as we know, we’re the only women’s march in the country that has a trans woman that’s in charge of the board,” Alvarez said. “We’re making sure that we have representation of all women that sit on the margins of different communities.”

Alvarez joined Philly Women Rally’s executive board for the 2018 march. She was one of the speakers at the first march and said she intended to join the board “because if one of us gets in, we all get in.”

Alvarez emphasized the march should be in support of all women, saying “There can’t be any anti. There can’t be any anti-Semitism, anti-trans, or anti-immigrant because that means you’re not pro-women. You’re pro-some women,” she said. “You’re equal to the racists and every other discriminatory group.”

Despite the board’s efforts in being diverse and inclusive, Philly Women Rally has faced internal strife among its members. Emily Cooper Morse, one of the founding members of group, was voted off the board early last year “for conduct,” Alvarez said. In December, Philly Women Rally released a statement accusing Cooper Morse of making “racist, transphobic and other bigoted comments” as well as “stealing” $19,000 from the organization.

“As far as we know, she’s still in possession of the funds. She was not a part of the board at the time. We removed her name as an authorized user on the account at the bank. The bank should not have allowed her to take that money,” Alvarez explained.

Cooper Morse refuted the allegations about the comments she allegedly made and said she was concerned about the intentions of the board members’ use of the group’s funds. She said she removed the remaining money from the account, which was made out as a check to Philly Women Rally.

“I was concerned about the mismanagement of funds. The funds are with my attorneys until the state decides who owns the money,” Morse said.

Alvarez said she and the remaining board members are working with the Philadelphia Police Department, the District Attorney’s office and the Attorney General’s office to get the money back.

Philly Women Rally’s march will start at 17th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway, and travel to Eakins Oval. This march will feature speeches from an extensive list of politicians including Mayor Jim Kenney, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and State Rep. Donna Bullock (D-195th).

Two events, twice the support

Philly Women Rally won’t be the only group joining women together in Philadelphia on Jan. 19. The Women’s March Pennsylvania — a regional chapter of the national Women’s March Network — will be holding its own rally at the same time.

Women’s March Pennsylvania has a permit to demonstrate at LOVE Park and the surrounding area. The demonstration will include resource tables hosted by local organizations and speeches from special guests.

The groups are not affiliated, but Alvarez said “We’re not here to tell anyone who they should or shouldn’t go or rally with. [Both organizations] have agreed that we don’t have to fight with each other or attack one another. We don’t have to collaborate and be one, but we can still respect and support one another.”

Alvarez mentioned the national group did not inform Philly Women Rally of its demonstration but she said in the future, “We need to prove that we can communicate better, prove that we can think things through better and be more levelheaded. We’re here to show that unity and camaraderie is possible.”

Shawna Knipper, executive director of Women’s March Pennsylvania, said it was “important to highlight Women’s March as an organization and maintain our own event.” Knipper said she oversaw a lot of the “sister marches” across the state in the last two years, but this will be the first demonstration the national organization has held in the city since its creation.

Despite the challenges leading up to the march, Alvarez said “we’re trying to move on from the negativity. The march is bigger than any one of us — bigger than internal fights or fights with the national group. There is a bigger cause here.” 

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