Portland writer and photographer Margaret Jacobsen is one of the organizers of tomorrow's Women's March on Portland, the local sister march to the national Women's March on Washington. Jacobsen spoke with me this week about the intersectional mission of the march, final logistics for a march of this size (it'll likely be one of Portland's biggest), and how participants can stay activated long after Saturday. I'll be at the march tomorrow. If you're there too, say hi.
MERCURY: What are you and your fellow organizers up to?
MARGARET JACOBSEN: I believe all of our big stuff is handled. We're setting up our stage [today] and our sound. We'll have our Porta-Potties delivered then. We've got our banners made. We are finally confirming and firming up our speaker list. Our MC is really wonderful. Congressman Blumenauer [will be there]. We just did our press conference and that went really well with the mayor and with the police chief, and we just sent off our medical emergency plan to the fire department, we have our ambulances that will be onsite on Saturday. It's all coming together and it's going really well and our volunteers are all organized and they're excited, and we have a lot of buses coming in.
Do you have a final estimate of how many folks you think will be there?
Right now it's at 32,000.
That's a lot.
It's a lot of people! Yeah, it's one of the biggest marches Portland has ever had. Maybe, who knows? If it rains, and people change their minds... but that really doesn't stop that many people in Portland right now, or ever.
I've been looking at a lot of the coverage of the Women's March and there's been a lot of focus on the leadership transition that happened. And I'm not interested in rehashing that.
I feel like that's kind of old news at this point.
I mean, it is.
It is old news! Real things are happening in the world...
Yeah. So maybe you could speak to what you're hoping for with the direction of the march and how people are responding to it. One of the things I've heard about the national march is that the platform is one of the most intersectional platforms we've seen in a long time. How will the Portland march fit in with that? How are those conversations going now rather than three weeks ago? I want to hear more about the intersectional focus. There's been so much discussion of how it didn't start out that way.
I think that the reason why it didn't start out that way was because it was being led by a white woman and she didn't—at the time when she started it, she was like, "Cool, we're all gonna march, we're just gonna gather women." And people were like, "You can't just gather women and overlook all these other things, we need to have it be intersectional," and that's when she passed it on to other organizers, people of color who could help with that and so the planning wasn't just by her and other white women, it was everyone's welcome at the table to help.
It took a while to come up with language to be inclusive... people want to pretend that talking about these things [is not] important to the movement, that it's not important to us moving forward or having change, but that makes no sense to me. It's selfish to want to go back to a way of doing things where you completely erase so many groups of people because you want to stay comfortable.
But marching and protesting something isn't comfortable. It's not something that you just drive up to and you hold a sign for five minutes and you did your thing. It's so much more than that. It's an active thing. It's something that you do hopefully past Saturday, and on Sunday, and on Monday, and on Tuesday, and for the next four years, for however long it takes.
And I think that that's kind of a shock to people when you have to actually put in this work to dismantle things. And that in order to put in work, you have to be educated on "What are all the issues? What are the ways that people are oppressed? Why is the system built to oppress so many people?" Not just... Planned Parenthood being taken away will affect me in this way, but also there are mothers who are separated from their children when they're deported, and there are mothers who have watched their sons being murdered, and there are so many other narratives.
And my desire with this whole thing is to open up worldviews so that if we're actually going to be marching for each other, we're actually marching for each other, with an understanding that it's not just a surface thing. You can't just say "all women" and that's good enough. You have to be clear and specific. You have to address all of the different people, because if you don't, they're not going to feel a part of it, and they're not going to want to march with you. They're not going to feel safe. They're not going to feel seen or heard. And yeah, it sucks when people tell you that you're probably racist and ableist, yeah, that's shitty. But also, it's really important that you address those things.
Or else there's no point in your marching. There's no point. This is not a time to just hold hands and think that that will heal anything. That's not good enough. We have to be better, and we can. It's so possible.
One of the things that I've found really questionable about some of the coverage that the march has gotten is just this idea that disagreement or actually talking about race is somehow the problem when actually it seems like these are really necessary conversations.
And I believe that and it's really... it's hard. And there's so much discomfort and no one likes to be uncomfortable. And I think it's especially hard if you come from a generation where talking about race was just not a thing that you did. It was impolite and if you talk about it then somehow you're racist and I think people have such a fear of this idea of being racist without realizing that we're all just inherently racist and prejudiced because we have been conditioned in America.
And in order to understand that it's okay to be racist, and you actually can unlearn all of that, you usually have to trace it back to these are our roots, this is how things were built, and even if you aren't consciously going up to a person of color or [someone who] looks differently than you and shouting in their face and being degrading, it doesn't make you not racist.
And we've been having these really interesting conversations in our Facebook group and there's been a lot of racism coming out towards me and other people, but people are still under the assumption that they're not being racist and... it's not just racist in our language, it's also sexist and we also are ableist all the time and we all do it. And so I think it's hard to have someone point it out to you, and you're like "It's not just me! I'm not racist!"
And also we have an idea that being hateful looks a very particular way we've been taught... And we don't always know that we're doing it in ways that fuck with people's psyches, and microaggressions are such a good example of that. It's just accepted racism. And Portland is one big microaggression after another. And my goal is always to prod people and encourage those conversations because I am past the point of it being uncomfortable and I know that everyone else can get past that point. And white guilt is real, but so is white fragility. And that should not stop you from wanting to be a better person who cares about actual humanity and that's sometimes when I'm like, when you're going to this march, are you actually marching for all women? Are you marching for yourself? Because if you were actually marching for all of us, then you would listen.
That's hard too. Apparently it's "oppressing."
But it needs to be said.
In feminist movements, there's a history of excluding women of color and excluding queer women. It's a shameful part of the history of the movement. It's great to see intersectionality being centered, even if it's hard for some people to wrap their heads around. It seems like it takes so much patience.
I think when you feel like there is this attack on your life, you get really desperate. I mean, I lose patience but also I'm like, the only way I can do this is with all of you and the only way I can move through the world more safely with my children is if we are all doing this. So I need you to work with me. And I also think I just possess a lot of patience, somehow. I feel like I could have these conversations for so long. You know it got to the point though on the Facebook page when people were like, "I'm leaving!" I'm like, well, that's old. Just announcing when you're leaving? Just go! Just leave. That's not very kind, but...
Well, it's not very kind not to examine one's internalized racism, so.
It's so true!
You've said this has to go beyond Saturday. How can people stay involved when it's over? And not just pat themselves on the back?
I don't want that at all. I want them to know that that was not enough. That showing up is great but it's not enough. So we are actually compiling a list right now to go on our website of groups that people can join, donate with, volunteer with.
We are definitely going to keep organizing together and we're going to keep our website up, these groups up, because I want people to keep being involved. Because we've only just begun and we have to take this momentum and we have to keep building. We have to do it and it starts here with our community and in our own city and then we can move out from there. So yes, definitely the message is, "You all have to be involved. You're all active members of this now."
Anything else to add?
I guess I would say, you know, this is a march for anyone. If you care about women's rights, this is for everyone, and you're definitely expected to show up and march.