Root to Rise – The Women’s March, and How to Move Forward

History was made on January 21st, 2017, as millions of people took to the streets in solidarity to protest the new US Trump administration. GAIA’s US and Canada Regional Coordinator Ahmina Maxey was in Washington DC for the unforgettable day, and had the opportunity sit down with one of the marches’ speakers Melissa Miles, a respected community organizer and powerful advocate for our work. Here’s some of the wisdom she had to share with us:

Ahmina Maxey (AM): What originally brought you to the March, and what did you take out of it?

Melissa Miles (MM): I knew it was important to come here to bring to the forefront a broader set of issues – women’s rights, reproductive rights, environmental racism, police brutality, immigration rights – issues that poor communities and communities of color have been dealing with for decades.

I was hesitant to even come at first! I never really wanted to be radical. I’ve spent my whole life playing respectability politics, being good and saying and doing the right thing. And then to be in a situation where we’re rallying, in the middle of the opposition, out in the public eye… I found this sense of responsibility that I have to keep doing what I’m doing to protect others, and I have to put my voice out there. We need to talk to as many people as possible and do whatever we can to hook them into our struggle.

I found this sense of responsibility that I have to keep doing what I’m doing to protect others, and I have to put my voice out there. We need to talk to as many people as possible and do whatever we can to hook them into our struggle.

AM: How can we move forward after the Women’s March?

MM: I think certain changes only come when we really understand the problem. Our new president and his corporate cabinet have been pulling political strings for years, because they have had the money to lobby. But now, all of that information is out there, this alt-right, racist, misogynistic, patriarchal, colonial language. Now that it’s all out there, and people are uniting across issues, creating coalitions and alliances that I’ve never seen before in this country. Federal agencies are turning their back on the president. State and local govts are saying they won’t enforce unjust laws. We now have the chance to make change that we would have never been able to make under a more moderate government where we were sort of slowing dying from the various slow solutions that were coming about to end war and injustice. Now we’re all in it together.

I really see this as an opportunity for us to move into community-based self-sufficient systems of food production, waste disposal, policing… all sorts of things. We’ve been suffering from this extraction economy for a long time, and now we have the opportunity to tap into the resources in our community and to bring forth the solutions that are already there. Now I think it’s a time to look inwards to find out how we can be the models and the solutions right now, because we might not be able to rely on federal aid like we used to.

Now we have the opportunity to tap into the resources in our community and to bring forth the solutions that are already there. It’s a time to look inwards to find out how we can be the models and the solutions right now.

AM: What challenges do you anticipate, and how will you overcome them?

MM: There will be actions designed to oppress and repress people, take away our rights to gather and protest, beat us down and make us feel like we’ve lost. But I think there’s a lot to be said about the resistance that’s already happening everywhere. I also think it’s important to act locally wherever we are. We might not be able to change everything, but we can act locally, unite with others where we live, and make sure our impact is positive. People in affluent communities can talk to each other about strategies to prevent trash being sent to poor communities, and on ways we can cut down on consuming more than we need, the waste products of which end up in poor communities. If you’re in a front line community, then your work is to strategize with others about the problems you’re facing. I also think it’s important to have plans for raising leadership outside of organizations – leadership that’s based one the fact that people care about where they live and care about their neighbors.

AM: What advice do you have for others who are joining in the resistance?

MM: In my religion, Buddhism, there is a saying, “If you care about your own safety, wish first for peace throughout the four corners of the land.None of us are safe while some of us are at risk and harm. We need to ground ourselves in our practices of hope and faith, whatever they are. That’s what I’m starting to do right now.

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Melissa Renee Christie GAIA banner

Melissa Miles (far left) is an organizer with GAIA member Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC), whose mission is to engage and empower individuals, families and groups in realizing their aspirations and, together, work to create a just, vibrant and sustainable community. Both Melissa and Ahmina were a part of the #ItTakesRoots to Grow the Resistance delegation, an alliance of grassroots activists and frontline community leaders who protect the rights people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, and workers.

Author: Kristal Caballero
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