Reaching Out and Defining Our Future
In November 2016, a small, ad hoc group of volunteers joined forces with the shared goal of organizing a Toronto event in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. Our group’s collaboration was serendipitous and organic, and our past and present members are a diverse group of women/women-identified people ranging in our race, age, sexual orientation, experiences, religion, education, class, and social location. For some of us, this was our first foray into activism. Others brought a lifetime of activist experience to the table. We were all united, though, in our shock over the results of the U.S. election; our desire for positive social change and the rejection of colonialism, anti-black racism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia, sexism, ableism, and other forms of hate and oppression; and our core belief in the importance of building bridges among the multitude of diverse communities here at home. We were heartened as well to witness all of the sister marches being organized across Canada, which shared the same entrepreneurial, grassroots spirit as our own Toronto committee.
With limited resources and a very short timeline, our committee was able to make the 2017 Toronto Women’s March happen, and were overwhelmed by the enthusiastic turnout of an estimated 60,000 people. Our 2018 march had more of a local focus, rallying Toronto to demand justice in the face of hate and oppression in our own backyard, and looking ahead to a more hopeful future with an inspiring lineup of speakers under the age of 30.
As we plan for the future, we are hoping to clarify who we are and our role moving forward; specifically, to distinguish ourselves from Women’s March Canada. Women's March Canada was formed in response to the American election and became an ad hoc umbrella for groups planning local marches and others who organized bus trips to the march in Washington, DC. However, following those marches in 2017, that ad hoc umbrella abruptly transformed into a new entity whose, in our opinion, structure and direction differ greatly from the collection of grassroots groups who worked hard to organize the local marches in communities across Canada.
Over the past year, we understand that, without the active participation of local march organizers, Women’s March Canada has incorporated itself, adopted a top-down structure and sought corporate sponsorship and opportunities for value branding, operating under trademarks now owned by their American counterpart. The “Women’s March Canada” brand derives its worth and legitimacy in Canada from the labour of all the grassroots organizing committees who brought the Women’s March movement to communities across this country. Unfortunately, this new entity, with its ownership culture, is in our experience, unwilling to give credit to, or work cooperatively with, the local teams who helped build this movement. It was local organizers with their authentic knowledge and relationships within their home communities—not Women’s March Canada—who built the momentum and logistics that gave this movement a powerful and meaningful presence across Canada.
We believe that the values of this new corporate entity called “Women’s March Canada” do not align with our own deeply held belief in inclusive and intersectional grassroots activism. As a result, we wish to publicly declare our official distinct existence from Women’s March Canada.
Many other local organizing committees across Canada, having come to the same conclusion regarding their own distinct existence from the Women’s March Canada corporation, have united under the banner of March On Canada, staying true to the values of inclusive, intersectional grassroots activism. This collective is a network of local teams and individuals who work collaboratively, yet autonomously, with no centralized ownership, to continue the work of creating campaigns and actions in support of women’s rights in Canada and beyond. Women March On: Toronto is pleased to work in cooperation with March On Canada.
The current members of Women March On: Toronto are planning to organize yet another event in Toronto on January 19, 2019 before we consider next steps and how best to move forward. This time, we can’t do it without you. We need your help. We are now actively recruiting volunteers to fill a number of key roles on our committee, for which we will happily offer hands-on training. Ideally we hope to assemble a team that reflects the diverse population of Toronto, with members bringing a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. If this opportunity appeals to you, please do get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you.
Send an email to womenmarchonTO@gmail.com and tell us how you’d like to help. An initial planning meeting will be scheduled in September.
For more information about why we have to make this statement, please see the following sources:
Statement from Shannan of Lethbridge, Alberta: https://www.facebook.com/ShannanL/posts/10212082150599418.
“It’s Been Six Months Since the Women’s March. What’s Happened to the Canadian Movement?” by Sarah Boesveld. FLARE. July 20 2017. http://www.flare.com/news/womens-march-update/
“Who Owns The Women’s March?” by Tessa Stuart. Rolling Stone. January 20, 2018. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/who-owns-the-womens-march-204038/
“One Year After Women’s March, More Activism and Less Unity” by Farah Stockman. The New York Times. January 15, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/15/us/womens-march-anniversary.html