Sinking The Stigma: Corvallis Women’s March Spearheads Challenges With Community Engagement and Inclusion

Around noon on Saturday Jan. 19, bellowing voices ascended from the Central City Park gazebo for the Third Annual Women’s March in Corvallis. An estimated 600 to 800 women and allies rallied to listen to women speakers and performers, then marched together on the sidewalks toward the downtown Corvallis riverfront.

The 2019 annual march was organized by Brandy Lea Fortson, who is the event planner for Heart of the Valley Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Fortson was the last speaker before the march commenced and discussed their overlapping experiences as non-binary, losing a child and the financial trauma that comes with lack of healthcare. Other speakers included Ella Morton, Ava, Stevie Beisswanger, Dharma Mirza, Luhui Whitebear, and Nasim Basiri. There was also a performance by The Raging Grannies.

Brandy Lea Fortson and Heart of the Valley DSA pushed for a Women’s March that was based on intersectionality in feminism.

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One of the speakers, Dharma Mirza, Founder of Haus of Dharma, LGBTQ Programming & Services Liason at Corvallis Park and Recreation and Board Member at Valley AIDS Information Network, Inc., was asked to perform drag but chose to speak instead. Mirza was a first time speaker and participant in a Women’s March due to previous disappointment in the movement’s lack of inclusion and involvement.

On her decision to speak instead of perform she stated, “There is so much more important stuff to say and I wasn’t able to say it in an artistic way so I just decided to say it… I needed to show people that some of us who are the most marginalized are doing the most work… Honestly, and it’s so disheartening to just see people show up, act like they are in solidarity and it’s really just a farce… It’s cool, show up, but do more.”

During her speech she argued for white, cisgendered women to do more than expect changes to occur by way of marginalized groups that were organized by women with less economical and social resources.

When asked how a new approach to changes could be facilitated within communities she listed, “The first part is to listen to folks who are more marginalized than ourselves, to listen to women of color, to see women also as trans women, indigenous women. Listen, but then teach yourself the stuff you don’t understand instead of relying on them to really make it this easy to learn because it’s not easy to learn, and you have to really dig deep and be critical of yourself and examine how you engage with structures of oppression, systems of oppression, in order to dismantle them… And then understanding people’s’ place in institutions and understanding the abilities and actual abilities of what these institutions can do for you. And realizing what they can’t do for us as well.”

The Corvallis Women’s March platform of intersectionality came at a time when the Women’s March National was experiencing sponsorship loss, a few days shy of the planned national marches. Sponsorships were pulled from the national organization by the DNC and Southern Poverty Law Center due to co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez forming an association with Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan and his known anti-semitic comments.

When asked to define the difference between associations within the national women’s organizations and the local Corvallis organization, Fortson touched on the intersectional meaning behind the Corvallis Women’s March, “So I know that there has been a lot of controversy around the National Organization for the Women’s March and we are listed as a sister march on the website. However, with the controversy that’s come around with anti-semitism, as well as xenophobic issues with only having older white women speak, we really took that to heart at the Heart of the Valley DSA to ensure that our speakers really embodied who Corvallis is.”

“So we had all women, of all color of race, folks that were not biologically born as female who are trans; we were very fortunate to have some great local trans activists who were willing to speak and it’s just so embodying of what Corvallis [is] and what it can and should be.”

Fortson further reasoned that the 2019 Corvallis Women’s March was successful in that the platform of intersectionality extended toward LBGTQ+ communities and different classes. “It wasn’t just everybody from the same tax bracket. And ensuring that there were no barriers for who our speakers were, that was really important to me.”

On January 9, 2019 Fortson started a gofundme campaign for $600. The proceeds were to go toward permits, sound equipment and booth rental spaces for the event. They met $335 of their goal and were able to get sound equipment and booth rental. The march ended up taking place on the sidewalks without access to the streets or a police escort service.

Despite missing their fundraising goals and marching by way of sidewalks, Fortson expressed sentiment in the economic compromise, “Still along with where we are now, we were able to get our message across in a really positive way.”

Fortson added jokingly, “Also, you should definitely plan a march with two kids.”

Story and Photos by Angela Scott