SFU Institute for the Humanities panel goes beyond the Women’s March

On Monday, January 20, a room in the Woodward’s building was packed with guests to listen to just under a dozen panelists as they discussed and debriefed the Women’s March on Washington – Vancouver which happened just one month ago.

As The Peak previously reported, there were some concerns over the Women’s March on Washington – Vancouver over observations of a lack of inclusivity in regards to the transgender and black communities in Vancouver. This event hosted by the Institute for Humanities and mediated by SFU student Samaah Jaffer intended to unpack the nature behind some of these exclusions, and how further movements, marches, and interventions can move forward from this.

Daniyah Shamsi, a panelist and organizer at the event told The Peak, “We wanted to keep momentum going and the goal was to discuss what happened with the march, what went wrong, what we saw in our own words — and how we, as activists, organizers, and everyday people, could learn and heal, grow, and move forward (as opposed to rhetoric of ‘moving on’ or ‘getting over it’) from such instances.”

The evening began with an address from the Institute for the Humanities director, Samir Gandesha, followed by a welcome from Audrey Siegl, sχɬemtəna:t, St’agid Jaad, acknowledging the space on unceded Coast Salish lands.

Panelists described their role, or lack thereof, within the Women’s March. Each represented various communities, including the black, Latino, Aboriginal, and LGBTQ communities, as well as those with accessibility needs across Vancouver.

During the event, Shamsi explained her experience while volunteering for the stage set-up and sound for the Women’s March. She explained that the Black Lives Matter organization was not included because she quotes “and I quote, ‘there weren’t enough black people in Vancouver to be represented.’” The audience gasped following this statement, as other panelists including members of the black community recalled the lack of diversity present at the march.

“I didn’t really get the impression that enough people saw the problems that I saw. . . it takes more than one voice to speak up and say ‘hey, that doesn’t sound right, can we talk about that?’ It’s an easy way [to] just open dialogue, to really make sure we are doing things the right way.”

Shamsi went on to express her concern over the response that the organisers of the Women’s March exhibited. This was following a Facebook post from some Black Lives Matters members criticising the event which garnered around 100 comments. The comments, which examined the discourse and exclusivity of the march, were deleted from the event page.

Daniella Barreto, an organiser for Black Lives Matter Vancouver, described the reasoning behind the statement that was made on the Black Lives Matter website in regards to the Women’s March. She added, “We just wanted to say, ‘Hey! This is an issue.’

“Throughout the history of feminism, black voices have been erased, and it is so important to centre the voices of those who are most marginalized — this wasn’t happening in Vancouver, so we wanted to open up that conversation about who is at the table, who gets to be at the table.”

“The erasure that we are hearing about right now is hitting me because it’s been ongoing,” stated Stephanie Allen, a real estate developer who is currently working to address the displacement of the black community when the Georgia viaduct was created, working with the black community.

She reflected upon her experience attending the march as a black woman: “I was happy to attend the Women’s March the day that I attended. While I was there with a number of black women, we went together because we wanted to be visible together, because we know what it’s like in Vancouver.” 

While the night focused on exclusivity within social justice movements as a whole, a discussion on the transgender community and under-representation of the Women’s March was another highlight of the night. Morgane Oger, who works as an entrepreneur in the high-tech sector and is also the BC New Democratic Party candidate for Vancouver–False Creek, discussed her position as a transgender individual.

“Throughout the history of feminism, black voices have been erased, and it is so important to centre the voices of those who are most marginalized” – Daniella Barreto, an organiser for Black Lives Matter Vancouver

“The organisers [of the march] clearly had the very best of intentions in mind. . . and it’s obvious that it came from a good place, but it came also from a place that was limited by their lens,” expressed Oger.

Oger addressed the lack of foresight of the organisers by explaining one simple quote by a former minister of defence in the United States, Donald Rumsfeld: “There are known knowns.” She explained that what’s more unstable are the “unknown unknowns, what you don’t know, you don’t know, and that’s the thing that gets you in so much trouble.”

This idea was reiterated by Mia Susan Amir, writer, interdisciplinary performer, curator, cultural organizer, and educator who suffers from chronic illness expressed her concerns over accessibility during most events. But she added the importance of educating others, “When we don’t offer information, we create a wall of exclusion.”

Final thoughts from the panelists in moving forward in creating social change included understanding the gaps created when making events, marches, and initiatives and how we can better understand those missing pieces. As suggested by Shamsi, one way to encourage greater inclusivity was “queer[ing] it up” in order to understand how to break out of binary thinking.

Judi Lewinson added how important technology is in connecting one another, as the conversation wrapped up for the night. To move on from the what was expressed as exclusivity following the Women’s March, she stated, “We are coming together to do something bigger than this immediate moment, and bigger then Jack Poole plaza; but it was a good start. So embrace technology, ask people to show up, and then when they say they are coming, welcome them in.”

Jaffer, moderator for the event, told The Peak following the event that “audience members expressed that they learned a lot,” despite the fact that some panelists didn’t get as much time to speak as others. She added, “I hope that this event has encouraged people to have more of these difficult, yet critical, conversations among their peers.”

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