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River of Resistance

By Cheryl Johnson-Odim

“Little by little the raindrops swell the river.” (African Proverb)

All over this country, and the world, women (and some male allies) marched on Saturday, January 21st, 2017. Each woman who marched was a rain drop in a river of resistance to an increasing turn by demagogic leaning world leaders toward policies that trample on human rights. For us in the United States those world leaders are Donald Trump and Mike Pence and their allies in the Republican led Congress: Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and others.

Cheryl Johnson-Odim (left in grey sweater) with other March organizers leading a chant from the stage
Cheryl Johnson-Odim (left in grey sweater) with other March organizers leading a chant from the stage. Photo credit: Adilah Bilal

As with many other women of color, I had to make an affirmative decision to march when part of my gut was suspicious. Suspicious of what you might ask? Suspicious of the fact that early on many organizers of the march seemed to be all white and middle class and not voicing the intersectionality that is so critical to addressing the oppression of women of color as well as any white women who are LGBTQ or poor. There seemed to be, once again, a feminism that identified patriarchy as oppression but not racism, homophobia or xenophobia — of which even some women themselves are guilty.

Protestors holding signs that read "We Shall Overcome" and "Yes We Still Can"
Photo credit: Alice Kim

Ultimately I decided to march rather than cede a major political action to those whom I might not trust to articulate what I wanted such a march to protest. And I decided to become closely engaged with the organizing committee of Chicago’s march. I was also very motivated by what happened with the national march in DC — women of color came to its leadership and the mission statement was radical and progressive. I know, for a fact, that my involvement and that of other women of color in the Chicago march made a tremendous difference in the speakers at the march, the representation at the press conference, and the expression of full support for the DC march’s manifesto. I was still dissatisfied with a number of things. But our participation mattered in concrete ways. And when the march ended with a call to prayer by a Muslim woman, my heart was lifted high!

I also believe that as we move forward we must learn to distinguish our enemies from our allies, because they will often look alike. And, sometimes our enemies will even look like us.

So, I marched in Chicago. I marched because, like so many women and men, I know that a good citizen is an engaged citizen. As a citizen of the world it is not just my right, but it is my responsibility, to shape the world as I wish it to be.

Ailinn Pulley of Black Lives Matter speaking on a stage
Ailinn Pulley of Black Lives Matter speaking “truth to power.” Photo credit: Cheryl Johnson-Odim

I marched to fashion a world free of racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. I marched to fashion a world where there is freedom to practice

whatever religion one chooses, or not to practice any religion. I marched because humans are entitled to decent housing, health care and education; and are entitled to clean and accessible water, sufficient food and sustainable policies to maintain the earth that houses us all.

As I once heard Angela Davis say: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am working to change the things I cannot accept.” These marches were a beginning, not an end. I know that we will continue to resist a politics that seeks to return us to policies of the 1950s and that threatens our commitment to human rights.

In Mozambique when they struggled against apartheid South Africa’s invasions that sought to de-stabilize their independence, they said “A luta continua, vitoria e certa” (The struggle continues, victory is certain.)  Yes, that is why I marched.

Cheryl Johnson-Odim is Provost Emerita and Professor of History at Dominican University (Illinois). She was formerly Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Columbia College Chicago and Chair of the History Department at Loyola University Chicago. She has served on a number of boards including the African Studies Association and Illinois Humanities Council among others, and is a founding editor of the Journal of Women’s History. She has several books and published articles and is a long term activist in the Civil Rights, Black Power, Women’s Rights and Anti-apartheid movements.

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