By Cillea Houghton
NASHVILLE, TN — Along with the themes of empowerment, unity and activism, there was another important message in the Women’s March 2.0: vote. The 2018 march serves as a launching point for action throughout the year, with the goal of increasing voter turnout during midterm elections and inspiring women to take on political roles.
“We’re engaging in a lot of voter registration, civic engagement work, all geared towards Women’s March 2018 national agenda which is #PowerToThePolls. We have a very ambitious goal of registering 1 million new voters this year across the country,” said Darlene Leong Neal, Director of Women’s March Tennessee and member of Power Together Tennessee.
New to the march this year was a variety of workshops aimed toward activism, politics and providing women with the tools to run for office.
More than 1,000 people registered for the workshops led by local leaders on areas of focus including using art as a form of activism, the basics of running for office, how to build momentum for equal pay and how to be a white ally. A voter registration desk was set up inside the venue where the conferences were held. “We wanted to give women tools so that when they go back to their communities, they can start working immediately and make a positive difference. So if there’s any message to go out is solidarity, unity, vote and run for offices,” Women’s March co-chair and State Rep. Brenda Gilmore said. “It gives them the tools so they won’t have to make the same mistakes that we have made, that they can go out and they can feel strong and empowered…We want to encourage the young ladies to go out and to run. You don’t have to wait until somebody asks you to do it, you do it yourself.”
“I used my voice as a rapper, actor and artist and activist to promote what we’re doing,” said Black Lives Matter Memphis chapter founder P. Moses about her seminar on using art to create change. “The goal was to inform, educate and organize and to encourage and enlighten people when they leave out the room to make themselves an artivist.” She encourages women entering the political sphere to vote and find social justice organizations to donate time or money to. “If you don’t use your voice, you’ll lose it,” she said.
Zulfat Suara, chair of the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee, emphasizes voting in bringing about change and supporting women running for office. She says the presence of women in the political world is vital in making decisions that affect the masses, hoping the march inspires voter turnout. “We have to be a part of the conversation, more than anything, we have to vote. And I think it’s good for people to know that you cannot be on the sidelines on something that is affecting your life, you have to be an active participant and so that’s the goal of the workshops,” Suara said. “I think that people should just know that this is not just a one-day thing, this is something that they have to consistently be doing. When they see injustice, they have to speak up, when something is happening they have to pushback and I have to say they have to go vote.”
Neal said the momentum from the march helps propel activism throughout the year. Neal and her fellow Women’s March coordinators across the country will now focus on voter registration as “huddle leaders,” leaders of small groups who gather regularly and focus on areas of expertise. The Nashville Huddle focuses solely on voter registration, with activists registering people every week across the community. “So we’re taking all this momentum into our regular organizing work that so many of us, including our leadership team, have engaged in this for years and years and years. But we’re having a special focus on voter engagement and for Tennessee, it’s so important,” she said. “That’s a model for the whole state, we have to be doing this work every day. If we want to win, that’s what’s required.”