Concerns Over Kavanaugh and VAWA’s Expiration Loom Large At March For Black Women

Chelsey Sanchez Oct 1, 2018

It was 1991 when Anita Hill, a black law professor, faced off against the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct. Last week, 27 years after Thomas assumed his lifetime seat in the Supreme Court, history reared its head once more. This time, it was Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor, who testified that Brett Kavanaugh, the latest Supreme Court nominee, attempted to rape her when they were both teenagers.

The ghost of Hill’s decades-old hearing and its echoes in Ford’s recent testimony was ever present at the March for Black Women on Sunday in Manhattan. Held on the outskirts of City Hall Park, in conjunction with marches in Washington, D.C. and other cities across the nation over the weekend, protesters carried signs bearing both Ford’s and Hill’s names and organizers referred to the hearings in their speeches.

“What a time we are living in with the fiasco that is taking place in and around our highest court and the expiration of the Violence Against Women’s Act,” said Gina Belafonte, an actress, activist and the daughter of famed singer and Civil Rights leader Harry Belafonte, at Sunday’s rally. “These are precarious times and we must harness the legacy of what is good, fair and righteous.”

The singularity of the March for Black Women lies in its name, its core focuses on the unparalleled plight of black women.

As Republicans attempt to push through Kavanaugh — an accused sexual assaulter who may wield the power to strip American women of their reproductive rights if confirmed to the Supreme Court — the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expired on Sunday, spurring on a call for action that manifested itself into this weekend’s march. The VAWA, a piece of legislation instrumental to the funding of social services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, has been renewed and expanded ever since its inception in 1994. Currently, the Senate has passed a VAWA extension until Dec. 7 but critics are demanding its full reauthorization.

“The Violence Against Women Act was allowed to expire today knowing that many of us would be put in danger,” said Farah Tanis, co-founder and executive director of Black Women’s Blueprint, one of the protests’ organizers, during her opening remarks at the march. Tanis recalled a “world with VAWA,” a moment in her childhood where her mother attempted to flee domestic violence, bringing Tanis and her siblings out into the cold rain in the dead of night, only to return home not long after.

“I believe that night my mother cried tears that gave me [a] voice today,” Tanis said.

While the March for Black Women rides in at the crest of the #MeToo wave and under the shadow of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing, it still ultimately departs from the #MeToo narrative. Speakers offered what may be considered more radical ideas, emphasizing demands like the need to decarcerate the United States, uplift indigenous communities and foster intersectionality within the movement.

The singularity of the March for Black Women lies in its name, its core focuses on the unparalleled plight of black women.

“The most marginalized women often have it, obviously not just the worst, but the most painful and the most silenced,” said Natalie Matos, a member of the New York Branch of International Women’s Strike, an international organizing network for marginalized women. “So, there’s a particular importance to this movement that you can’t really replicate in other spaces in New York City.”

“The most oppressed among women are black women and black trans women,” Belafonte said, “and our voice in protest keeps a spotlight on our condition and is critical to changing that condition. This march is not just about black women. It’s about all women.”

The New York City rally began at City Hall Park before moving across the Brooklyn Bridge, clogging bike paths and gleaning supportive honks from passing cars. On Brooklyn Bridge, Jackie Brown, a professor of anthropology at Hunter College, encountered the protesters while on a bike ride after a day of work. Instead of switching routes or standing aside, Brown hopped off her bike and joined the stride of protestors.

“This is very important,” said Brown, who offered Ford her full support but added: “We have to realize also why it is that she’s seen as so sympathetic and Anita Hill was not. But no matter what, I’m just very happy that we have a moment where women are really speaking out.”

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