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Ready for Women’s March T&T

Published: 
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Tabitha St Bernard-Jacobs:
A scene from the Women’s March in Washington on January 21.

There is the notion that women are sometimes their own worst enemy, but on January 21—one day after the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald Trump—women showed astonishing solidarity when thousands of women from all walks of life took to the streets of Washington DC to make one thing clear: Women have rights, and those rights must be recognised and addressed.

Officially called the Women’s March, the action was viewed in real time via Facebook Live.

Scores of women and even men marched with placards with phrases including: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Rights.” Other placards spoke to domestic violence and revised polices on abortion.

Within just a week, the movement gained overwhelming momentum on social media, throughout newsrooms and on talk shows.

The website www.womensmarch.com states that five million worldwide and over one million in Washington, DC, came to march, speak and make their voices heard.

The movement plans to project ten actions in 100 days. That is, every ten days, it plans to bring to the fore an issue that is pressing and worth addressing.

The phenomenon started with the post on Facebook by one 60-year-old woman in Hawaii called Rebecca Shook, who expressed her displeasure and frustration the night after Trump was elected.

Her note simply read: “Could women march on Washington on Inauguration Day? They sure as hell would.”

She then created an events page for the march, and shared it in the sprouting Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. In no time, four feminists took over the planning, and the result was the official march.

Endorsed by female activist celebrities who were present at the march and vocal on platforms, the formation gained a thumbs-up from defeated US presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, who although not present at the march, made it clear on social media with a series of tweets speaking to the march and encouraging women everywhere to join forces.

Clinton tweeted on January 21: “Thanks for standing, speaking & marching for our values @womensmarch. Important as ever. I truly believe we’re always Stronger Together.”

She told People Magazine last week in an interview: “On Saturday we watched women and men across this country and the globe stand up, speak out, and peacefully march for those values with one voice. It was awe inspiring. We have to keep up the momentum.”

While all this was happening, what about the voices of women in T&T?

Recently we have seen an increase in violent crimes meted out to women with no real discussion or action to mitigate this. Could we have an #IMarch Trinidad or #IMarch Caribbean for that matter?

Thirty-four-year-old Tabitha St Bernard-Jacobs would love to take up that mantle, as she did on January 21 in her role as youth initiative coordinator at the women’s march in Washington DC.

She is a wife, mother, fashion designer and graduate of Bishop Anstey High School who migrated to the US at age 19 on an academic scholarship. She told the T&T Guardian in an interview: “Women in Trinidad have tremendous power and strength and need to flex their muscles and let society know that their rights need to be respected or they will take action.

“I think it is a question of mobilisation and I would be honoured to help with that. As a mom, wife and business owner, it was hard for me at first to find the time to get active with societal issues that were affecting me, but each person has a powerful voice and should not be afraid to speak up!”

We put the young vibrant activist in the hot seat where she spoke directly from her heart.

 

Q: Tabitha, this march went completely widespread from just one sixty-something year-old woman voicing her concerns on social media. It spread like wildfire throughout the globe. What was your reason for becoming involved in this march? And how did you obtain the post of youth coordinator  for the event?

A: It is rather amazing and speaks to the power of one voice.

I became involved in the march because after the election, I felt very disempowered and depressed. I felt like as an immigrant, my concerns did not matter to most of the country. The march was a way for me to regain my voice and seek to make change in the world around me.

When I became involved, I was challenged with the task of figuring out what I was passionate about and how I could use that passion to benefit the movement. My first love is fashion but my second love is helping young people. I spent many of my teen years feeling misunderstood and unheard, and I wanted to create a space to tell the youth that we as an organisation wanted to find a place for our voice. Youth perspective is important to this international conversation around women’s rights. 

 

What did the march mean for you? What were your responsibilities?

I led a team of eight people who worked with me on the youth ambassador programme, which is a way for young activists to get involved.

I also created a parents Facebook page for the march to answer their concerns with the help of one person.

We created a Teen Outreach Team which led a group of teens to the march.

We also collaborated with organisations to ensure moms had places to rest and nurse their kids.

We worked with the press to highlight the work of the youth ambassadors in Teen Vogue, Rookie, The F Bomb, Women’s Media Center, Metro, Vox, MTV and more. 

 

The march attracted celebrities like Madonna and Ashley Judd, as well as thousands of others. What did this signal to you about the woman’s voice?

It is important and we need to be heard. Women’s rights are human rights. We literally are the vessel through which life is brought to this earth. That’s a pretty significant job that gets downplayed by policies, laws and practices that seek to govern our bodies and take our rights away. Women from all over the world came together as one, because feminism isn’t one-dimensional. Women are affected by many factors but we can stand up for each other in a unified manner and build each other up. That was the goal of the march. 

 

We understand that even though the intent of the march began in one vein, it involuntarily became a platform for other groups in society who felt their rights, too, were being stifled or neglected. This included minorities and the LGBT community. Why do you think these groups piggy-backed on this specific march to let their concerns out?

I touched on this before but I think it is very important. Feminism is not one-dimensional. We welcome other groups to our movement because women can be affected by many things that affect marginalised groups.

They can be affected by the infringement of LGBTQIA rights. They can be affected by issues relating to immigration policies. I am a black woman in America who is affected by the murders of black people by the police. I am also an immigrant and I am affected by immigration policies. I’m also a mom so I want paid family leave. I don’t need to choose a cause. We are stronger together as a movement. 

 

Why time the march one day after the US President’s inauguration? Was it a way for people to protest Trump’s utterances about women during his electoral campaigning in 2016? Was it also a way to react to his utterances concerning other groups considered to be “less than conservative?”

Yes. We did so to send a clear message to this government that we will not sit idly by for the next four years. We will work hard to protect our sisters and brothers, no matter their gender identity, orientation, ethnicity, immigration status or age. 

 

On a personal level, how has this impacted you?

Before the march I had many excuses for not getting more involved in my community. My work with the march showed me that we need all hands on deck, even the smallest ones. 

 

Do you believe the march has achieved what it set out to do? If yes, explain how?

We are humbled by the impact of the march—but the work is just beginning. The president has made that clear in just his first week in office. 

 

What now? Where does the march go from here?

The hope is to mobilise these new and seasoned activists from all over the world to work together towards actionable change.

Our first action is to send postcards to elected officials. Trinidadians can take part too. You can organise to have postcard drop-offs, maybe where fete tickets are purchased, and large numbers of postcards can be taken to the offices of elected officials to let them know what matters to women.

My heart breaks that a woman has to fear for her life when stopping off at a store after work. Elected officials need to work with communities to keep them safe. We elected the government. They need to know that we expect them to work for us. 

 

What’s the backlash? Has the event received any scorn? We know of Linda Sarsour’s unkind reception expressed by some on social media, just for her being a Muslim woman. How is her situation being addressed and how does this movement/association intend to handle these reactions that we believe will continue? What’s the plan? 

#imarchwithlinda was trending on Twitter this week. Everyone from Bernie Sanders to Russell Simmons tweeted support for her. We will not be intimidated by trolls and smear campaigns. We are stronger than ever together. 

Who is Linda Sarsour?

Linda Sarsour  is a Palestinian-American activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Sarsour was one of the activists and coordinators who mobilised women for the Women’s March on January 21, 2017.

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