Over the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen some mention on social media of the upcoming Women’s March on Washington. As the date for the March—January 21st—quickly approaches, I reached out to Emily Patton, the State Outreach Chair for the Virginia chapter of the Women’s March on Washington, to find out more about the March, its goals, and ways in which we can all support women’s rights going forward. What follows is some of our conversation, which has been edited for length and for clarity.
It almost seemed like the idea of a march on Washington became the Women’s March on Washington almost overnight. How did it move from idea to a planned action?
In Virginia, it really moved into planned action in early-mid December. Several members of the community from around the state decided to step forward and fully develop the March on Washington-Virginia chapter. We used social media as a means to communicate with each other, as well as engage our fellow Virginians. We used and continue to use the national march organization as a starting base and then develop our own action plans modified for the unique needs of the state. Once we started having weekly planning calls and the leadership team filled out, we all just basically took the initiative and ran with it. Each of us are given a lot of latitude on how we want to approach each task—i.e. transportation, outreach, housing—and then report back to the rest of the team. The march for Virginia brought together a unique and diverse group of people who came prepared with a variety of different skills and backgrounds, but who all have one goal in mind: to make sure Virginia brings the largest group possible of women’s rights activists to the march!
How did you get involved with the Women’s March on Washington?
I had signed up for the general march on Facebook and then saw a Virginia Chapter page pop up. Someone posted about needing volunteers so I said I would be interested. I joined a conference call asking for someone to take over outreach for the northern Virginia region (where I grew up and live currently) so I said sure, why not! About a week later I received an email from our Assistant State Chair asking if I would take on outreach for the entire state. I love a challenge and am deeply passionate about women’s right and equality. I felt like this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and was thrilled to take on the task of mobilizing Virginia!
Which, if any, organizations are affiliated with the March and what is the context of that affiliation?
National partners include multiple amazing organizations who have signed on with the march, such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Also, several activists and celebrities have joined, including Gloria Steinem, Harry Belafonte, and America Ferrera. A full list of march partners can be found on the national page.
In Virginia, several of our state senators and delegates have offered their support for the march and agreed to message their constituents about our efforts.
As you and your chapter see it, what issues are intended to be addressed by the March?
In Virginia, the main issue that we would like to address are the continued attacks on women’s equality, manifested through regressive legislation and policies that effect our reproductive rights, healthcare access, wage inequality, sexual assault policies, and human rights and dignities. The march is a way to unify Virginians that support progressive policies that enable women to have full autonomy over themselves, their bodies, and their decisions.
How can folks continue the work of addressing those issues after the March takes place?
There are many groups in Virginia who are mobilizing to continue this wave of enthusiasm for activism after the results of the November election. One great way is to sign up on our website and join our Take Action Virginia group, which will support rapid response strategies to legislation introduced in our state and at the national level!
***Sweatpants’ note: Outside of Virginia, check out your state and/or local Women’s March chapters and National partners for engagement opportunities going forward.
It looks as though cities across the nation that are planning to hold sister marches. Can you tell us a bit about those?
Sister marches are a great way to get involved if coming to DC isn’t feasible. We currently have three official sister marches in Virginia, details available on our website! If you want to find a sister march in another state, the national website has provided a search option for that.
In light of the official name being the “Women’s March on Washington,” are folks who do not identify as cisgender women welcome to participate?
Absolutely! The only qualification to attend is that you believe in women’s equality. In Virginia, we welcome people of all backgrounds, race, gender expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability status, economic status, or religious affiliation to attend this march and show their support for women’s equality.
***Sweatpants’ note: “We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.” — Women’s March Mission and Vision page.
Often, even in activist circles, disability issues get overlooked. Has the March given thought as to how to make the event as accessible as possible? What resources will be available for folks with disabilities?
The Virginia leadership team is working hard to make sure that the needs of all Virginians are being met. We will update our Day Of page once we have finalized information specific for Virginia. I would encourage anyone concerned with disability access to check the Accessibility page on the national site to review the efforts they are taking to ensure that all marchers feel welcome and able to participate.
***Sweatpants’ note: You can also take a look at the Women’s March on Washington – Disability Caucus’ page on Facebook.
What should potential marchers keep in mind about participating in the March?
Remember that the goal of this march is to show our national leaders that we believe in and support women in this country and that we will work to protect our rights and progressive values.
This is intended as a peaceful demonstration and as a way to come together and express solidarity with our allies across all communities.
Several Sweatpants and Coffee staffers and contributors, myself included, are planning to march in Washington, D.C. or in a local sister march. Be on the lookout for our photos, videos, and stories during and after our peaceful rabblerousing! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!
Emily is currently the Statewide Outreach Chair in Virginia for the Women’s March on Washington. She earned her M.Sc. in Clinical Psychology from Swansea University (2011) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Criminology from the University of Edinburgh (2012). She has spent her professional career conducting criminal justice research and data analysis with a specific focus on Human Trafficking. Emily is deeply passionate about criminal justice reform, women’s reproductive rights, and gender and racial equality. Outside of work, she spends her time as an activist with NARAL Pro-Choice VA and also volunteers as a clinic escort for a private women’s healthcare facility. She has two cats that she absolutely adores, Lil Mac N’ Cheese and Lil Hillary Rodham Kitten.