In the tight confines of a small airline cabin, a diverse group of women were able to find unity and strength among themselves as they traveled to the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday. Aída Hurtado’s seat was between two women who used all of their frequent flier miles and took extraordinary measures to make it to the protest.
Hurtado said her job as an academic was to be present that day, but “here was a plane full of individual citizens with no support or structures to ensure their participation in the March; they were simply answering the call of what they thought was right and moral.”
Throughout the five-hour flight, Hurtado and the two women she met on board confided in each other about the political and social consequences women would face from the new presidential administration.
Organizers of the march put together a panel of over 40 celebrities and activists including Angela Davis and Scarlett Johansson to speak against President Trump’s administration and his rhetoric toward women and marginalized communities. UC Santa Barbara professor Aída Hurtado was set to speak among those high profile speakers.
As the department chair of Chicano and Chicana studies, Hurtado’s work has focused primarily on gender equality and Chicana feminism. For her, the Women’s March had a clear purpose: women are not going to give back their rights and they will not stand down.
She was invited to speak at the march by organizer Carmen Perez, who studied under Hurtado in the early 2000s at UC Santa Cruz. Perez became her research assistant after taking Hurtado’s undergraduate course in Chicana feminism.
Hurtado said feminism and criminal justice have molded most of Perez’s career. Perez is the executive director of the nonprofit Gathering for Justice, founded by Harry Belafonte.
In the midst of so many high status speeches and the 470,000 people that were marching, Hurtado did not think there would be time for her to speak. She thought that if unscheduled guests like Madonna had not gone up to speak at that point, then she wouldn’t either.
The program was running behind so she decided to put away her typed speech and enjoy the moment. Taking in the grandeur of that day was important to her, she said. She was watching her former student navigate a historic movement.
A few moments later, Perez texted Hurtado and told her not to leave the stage because she was going up after Madonna.
Her original speech was going to be about the incredible “feminist victories” throughout history: obtaining the right to vote, abortion and contraceptive rights and sexual harassment legislation were just some of the topics that Hurtado was going to mention. She found it necessary to highlight women’s “efficacy and resilience.”
But, when she approached the podium, she chose not to give that speech. Instead she spoke on Perez’s accomplishments. Hurtado said, if it were not for public education, which is under potential threat by the new presidential administration, Perez would not be here today to organize the momentous demonstration.
Hurtado expressed the significance the UC system has in the world as a public institution. “We are one of the biggest public university systems in the world,” she said, “and there is a risk that it could be privatized.”
Hurtado was referring to President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos. DeVos has a history of being tied to the privatization of education. According to The Atlantic, DeVos’s family poured $1.45 million into preventing Michigan from adding oversight for charter schools.
The racial divide in the country was also a concern to Hurtado. To her, it is homogenizing to say that white women were the only ones at the march when the participants were diverse in age, gender and race.
According to Hurtado, the media was expecting a strategic formula to what the march itself achieved. But she doesn’t believe social change is that simple. It isn’t effective to expect a simple equation to define how social change works, she said.
Hurtado wants the focus on the fact that individual citizens showed up and said “not in my name; you are not going to do this to us.”
According to Al Jazeera’s Trump Tracker, within the first five days of Trump’s presidency he has already passed a bill with the support of the House to stop federal funding for abortion and block tax credits for individuals and businesses buying abortion coverage under federal health care law. The anti-abortion bill was originally enacted during the Reagan administration and has since been revived by every Republican president after him and subsequently dismantled by every Democratic president.
The “dismantling” that the administration is doing instead of “building” is her main concern. She said she doesn’t think we should have a “list” of demands just yet when there are so many executive orders being made to take away more of citizens’ rights.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but what did happen was magical,” she said. “I want to sit on that for a while.”
A version of this story appeared on p. 1 of the Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 edition of the Daily Nexus.
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