The Million Woman March: One Woman’s View

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Since there was very little coverage of the Million Woman March that took place on October 25,1997, in Philadelphia, PA, I thought it would be a good idea to write about what I saw and heard there.

The Journey

Quite a few of CHA’s women employees were going to the Million Woman March. I accompanied them on the bus that they had chartered. During the long 15 hour ride, some of the women discussed a few of the issues that were to be covered at the march, while others either slept or watched videos in between stops. We were given T-shirts made by Cabrini Green Textile Works to commemorate the occasion. One of the ladies even read a poem to help inspire us. We finally arrived in Philadelphia at 9:20 p.m. Friday.

History in the Making

I awoke around 4 a.m. Saturday morning to the sound of a ringing phone. It was the trip coordinator calling to let me know when I should check out of the hotel. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I turned on the television to watch the news. The weather man said that it was raining but would subside later in the day.

A live broadcast from Penn’s Landing showed quite a few women already there waiting for the march to begin. Despite the rain, the women were determined to march and be heard. I checked out of the hotel, boarded the bus and headed for Penn’s Landing, where the majority of buses were parked. We then took a street bus to Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the march was to take place.

The March

We arrived at Benjamin Franklin Parkway around 10 a.m. Saturday. Women were everywhere marching and chanting and holding banners. Vendors and hustlers were also there seeing who they could get to buy their goods. We missed the beginning of the march but more women with their children were constantly coming into the park, marching, chanting and waving their banners. On my way to the podium where the speakers and media were, I spoke to quite a few of the ladies, took pictures and observed the happenings.

The Speeches

Twelve issues were to be covered at the march, including human rights, health facilities, support for U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), homelessness, housing, and senior citizens programs. There were quite a few people who spoke at the march including actress Jada Pinkett, who was also the mistress of ceremonies, activist and writer Sistah Souljah, who had the women rolling when she bluntly said that Black women shouldn’t give up their sex organs so readily to men.

There were also speakers of the Black Muslim faith. For one instance, I thought I was at a Nation of Islam recruitment rally; there were a lot of women in Muslim attire handing out literature. One of the speakers talked about her Muslim beliefs so much that some of the women in the crowd shouted “All praises to Allah!”

Ava Muhammad, a Nation of Islam attorney, responded with anger to an article criticizing the Million Woman March from USA Today syndicated columnist Julianne Malveaux. In the article which appeared the day before the March, Malveaux expressed concerns about the Nation of Islam’s role in the march and that there might be a hidden agenda. Malveaux said that the money it took to finance the March could have gone toward helping some of the issues that were addressed. Malveaux wrote that it was a waste of time and resources to go to Philadelphia to march for issues that plague our communities as well as the problems that African American women face daily because the problems would still exist after the March and need more of a commitment than just a one day affair.

The article obviously upset Ava Muhammad, who said that Malveaux ”sold her soul for a job!” Muhammad suggested that the women should make a list of all “traitors to the cause.” Activist Ramona Africa, Louis Farrarkhan’s wife Khadija Farrakhan, actor Blair Underwood and Dick Gregory spoke as well.

In between speeches, artists sang. Murdered Rapper Biggie Smalls’ wife, Faith Evans, sang, “His ye is on the sparrow.” A special salute was made in honor of Rosa Parks. I didn’t get a chance to hear South African activist Winnie Mandela speak because we had to leave. Before I left, I tried to interview some of the speakers but was told by a Nation of Islam guard that I couldn’t approach the podium, let alone be allowed on it, unless I had a VIP press pass.

The Marchers Speak

I have to admit that I felt the same way about the March that the columnist Malveaux did. But being the objective reporter that I am, I wanted to hear from the marchers themselves why they thought it necessary to come to Philadelphia:

“If we can get this many sistahs together in one place, then something greater can come out of this event,” said Sarah Plowden from Brooklyn N.Y.

“It’s a once in a lifetime event,” said Philadelphian Denise Jefferson. “I came to get together with the sisters of the nation for peace and harmony.”

Michelle May and Barbara Miller, both from Washington D.C., had this to say, “I’m here for sisterhood and unity,” said May. “I’m here for togetherness,” said Miller.

“I came to bring unity to my sistahs,” said Sylvia Cunningham from Staten Island, N.Y. “And jobs to everyone!”

“I came because I want to do something positive and get the message to take back with me for the sistahs that didn’t come,” said Marvina Baskin from New Haven, Conn.

Food For Thought

I must say, though, that it was good to see women, and so many of them, together for once getting along without any fighting, cursing and arguing. There were no reported incidents that day, except for a few children who became separated from their mothers during the event. Ladies, why can’t that be so every day?

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