Embracing Intersectionality: Portland women work towards an inclusive reality

Margaret Jacobsen (left) and Erica Fuller. Photo by Alyssa Campbell

“Feminism without intersectionality is white supremacy,” read the sign.

This specific message from the Portland Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 21, resonated most with an incident that occurred before the event:

Deleted messages from persons of color on the Portland March’s Facebook page not only sparked controversy, but also resulted in the NAACP pulling their support from the event.

This ultimately led to the decision to bring a new leadership, including writer and photographer Margaret Jacobsen.

Estimating more than 3 million participants nationally, the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere was the biggest protest in U.S. history.

Portland had about 100,000 people marching that day, creating what is acclaimed to be one of the largest marches to take place in the city.

According to Jacobsen, this was the largest event she’s organized.

Margaret Jacobsen (left) and Erica Fuller. Photo by Alyssa Campbell

“There were around six more organizers and like 50 people helping us,” said Jacobsen. “We’ve had a lot of support and a lot of hands in.”

For Jacobsen, being brought onto the event was overwhelming and intimidating, but she said she was really happy and content with it overall.

History shows the inequalities and hardships women of color face are silenced and ignored by the feminist movement, making this an issue that transcends beyond the Portland community, many experts agree.

“We can make feminism more intersectional by having the really hard conversations,” said Jacobsen. “When we’re organizing, and when we’re planning, making sure every voice is at that table and that it’s the first thought when you’re like ‘I want to build this thing with my community, let me make sure that I invite everyone to that.’”

The feminist movement’s agenda has focused on: women’s suffrage, gender equality, equal pay, women’s reproductive rights, sexual harassment, and domestic violence, but many experts agree the movement is dominated and represented mostly by cisgendered, middle-class, white women of privilege.

“They’re not going to be able to speak to the experiences or the narratives of someone who doesn’t look like them,” Jacobsen said in an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

What exactly is intersectional feminism?

Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate who is known for coining the term, described it this way in a Washington Post column, “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait”:

“Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power. Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them.  Intersectional erasures are not exclusive to black women.”

She continued: “People of color within LGBTQ movements; girls of color in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline; women within immigration movements; trans women within feminist movements; and people with disabilities fighting police abuse — all face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, ableism and more. Intersectionality has given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion.”

Angelica Lim, a student at Portland State University, contacted the organizers of the Portland Women’s March to be featured as a speaker after hearing there would be new leadership for the march.

Lim is chairperson of the grassroots fellowship GABRIELA Portland, which organizes around human rights violations that affect Filipino women and all oppressed people.

“What I’m hoping for is that everyone takes today’s energy, and chooses to organize,” said Lim. “To take whatever they’re feeling today, their sadness, their rage, their anger, and transform it… my biggest hope is that the march is a catalyst for a world where we organize to liberation.”

Erica Fuller also reached out to get involved with the march when news hit that the NAACP disengaged. She is an OSU student and an independent diversity, inclusion, and equity consultant/transformational speaker.  

“I felt very strong that our voices were being taken away once again, and it was going to be this white march of this kumbaya,” said Fuller. “That’s something I didn’t want to happen, I wanted to make sure my voice was heard.”

Her advice to students who want to organize is to make sure you’re organizing about something you’re passionate about, make sure safety is the number one concern for you and your protesters, and to make sure you have tough skin due to the negative feedback that will be received along the way.

“I am here because my ancestors fought so hard for me to be here,” said Fuller. “I am here to stand in solidarity, to make sure our voices are heard today because they haven’t been heard in the past, and we will overcome.”

Story and Photos by Alyssa Campbell