2017 Literary Gala: The Women’s March, PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award
The Women’s March, which took place in Washington, D.C., and in cities around the nation and the world on January 21, 2017, mobilized millions of women and men of all races, creeds, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and disabilities to use the weekend of the inauguration to, as the organizers said, “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.” More than two million people joined the Women’s March worldwide, with a staggering 1 in 100 Americans marching in solidarity for human rights, dignity, and justice. National Co-Chairs Bob Bland, Tamika D. Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour, along with a dynamic, powerful, and diverse group of national organizers, helped galvanize a potent global movement to resist infringements on the rights and dignity of women and many other groups, and to issue a clarion call that Americans would not sit back in the face of threats to values and freedoms. The Women’s March moved beyond an assertion of the power of women, growing into a symbolic assertion of the resistance movement. Bland accepted the award at the 2017 PEN Literary Gala on behalf of the Women’s March. Below are her full remarks, with an introduction by Toni Goodale.
Toni Goodale: Thank you. I was so proud and excited to march in the New York Women’s March, which was also about 500,000, just so we know, with my daughter and my 12-year-old granddaughter—three generations. And we are delighted to present our Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Bob Bland, one of the major organizers of the march. And she will receive it on behalf of the Women’s March, in her pussy hat.
Bob Bland: Thank you so much to PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel and to you today for presenting this award and also for the poignant introduction and that beautiful video that you just showed.
On behalf of my fellow co-chairs; Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez; our national committee, including Paola Mendoza and Cassady Fendlay, who are here tonight; state organizers; partners, including PEN America; and over five million marchers who peacefully assembled in Washington, D.C. and in over 673 sister marches across the nation and the world. I humbly accept on behalf of all marchers the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award.
When we first heard that we were receiving this prestigious award, it caused me to consider the nature of courage, which is defined as strength in the face of pain or grief, and alternately, the ability to do something that frightens us.
The pivotal black writer, womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
The rhetoric of the 2017 election cycle insulted, demonized, and threatened the majority of people—all women, immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Jewish people, those of diverse faiths, LGBTQIA and gender nonconforming people, indigenous people, black and brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault, and so many others—leaving communities hurting and scared.
I was nine months pregnant, and a total beginner at activism and movement-building, the day after the election—just waking up to my extreme privilege as a white, cisgendered, able-bodied, and straight woman in this country. But like Teresa Shook, the Hawaiian grandmother, I could not allow outrage and grief to consume me, and I knew that all women must fight for our freedom, and for the freedom of our families, children, and communities. My second daughter, Chloe, was born just nine days into the march planning and into an instant family of women who had been strangers only weeks before. During that time, we received the heartfelt counseling of Dr. Bernice King, legendary civil rights activist and the daughter of the Reverend Martin Luther King, who advised us when organizing to “think of every human person that has come into this earth, came through the womb of a woman, every single one … this is a very unique opportunity to be at the forefront of leading and birthing some healing in this nation and helping to elevate the consciousness of this nation.”
In eight short weeks leading up to January 21, we did not sit idle while hate, fear, and intolerance took control of our country. Instead, we leaned into our fear and grief head-on and came together around a shared vision of unity, acceptance, and love to embrace and center the most marginalized communities among us. Thanks to our shared resilience, commitment, and some intensely courageous conversations, we were able to overcome every obstacle and answer Dr. Bernice King’s call to “show a new face to America; a spectrum of color, consciousness and inclusiveness like never before.”
What resulted was not only the largest mass mobilization in U.S. history, but also the cathartic birth of a transformative women-led movement, and a shared experience that our collective voice is our power. That day, we provided each other with a wellspring of inspiration and strength that we must always remember to tap into during these dark and difficult times. As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently reflected, “it was a joyful day of clarity and a lightning bolt of awakening for so many women and men who demanded to be heard.”
In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we joined in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington sent a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world, that, as Hillary Clinton famously said, women’s rights are indeed human rights. This is not a partisan issue or an opinion; this is a fact, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age, or disability. We continue to stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending us all.
This intergenerational, intersectional, women-led movement continues, and we ask that all of you stand with us in solidarity to continue to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change. We march forward as an essential grassroots movement of nonviolent resistance, committed to dismantling systems of oppression and building inclusive structures guided by self-determination, dignity, and respect.
We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society, from city council to the board room to the White House. We will work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all. Thank you.