In 2019, there were accusations of anti-semitism amongst organizers of the national Women’s March. While the Lincoln Women’s March is not apart of that national chapter, it appears the issue of religious inclusivity coming up while organizing the Women’s March is a common theme. In fact, prioritizing Christianity in our state seems to be all too common and if you’re from Nebraska, you may be familiar with this. Unfortunately a rather rancid flavor of religiously exclusive hypocrisy mixed with the obvious reek of transphobia has creeped its way into the organizing committee of the Lincoln Women’s March and left a disgusting taste in my mouth that I’ve just gotta spit out.
Over the last 3 years since its founding, many have claimed that the Lincoln Women’s March hasn’t been inclusive of all women. I wasn’t involved in the first year because I had to work on the sunny Saturday that they had the first march, as did many other working class people who I’m sure would’ve loved to attend. The second year the march was held, I attended the Women’s March, but this march wasn’t in Lincoln; I attended the march all the way in Berlin, Germany while studying abroad. It was incredible and I enjoyed the empowering feeling I felt marching for women’s rights, so the following year I planned on attending the Lincoln march. Before the march, I heard from my friends that the march wasn’t inclusive; in fact that is was being exclusive of people of color, transgender women, nonbinary people, people with disabilities, sex workers, and the list goes on. Being dissatisfied with what I was hearing, I took to the march Facebook page and posted something along the lines of this:
“Who is organizing the Lincoln Women’s March? Are there women of color? Trans women? Working class women? Indigenous women? Non-binary people? Queer women? Women with disabilities? Muslim women? Immigrant women? Sex workers? If the organizing of this march isn’t intersectional, then the organizers of this march need to step down.”
The post got a lot of pushback with people tone policing me, telling me that I should be happy the way it is; that I should be appreciative there is even a march at all. Even with the pushback, I stood strong to my message and called on the organizers to be inclusive and for the event to be intersectional. This resulted in one of the organizers reaching out to me, asking if I wanted to help with the march. Of course, I talked the big talk so I had to walk the walk; who am I to call out organizers for not being intersectional if I’m not willing to offer my own time and labor to the cause? So I started helping with the 2019 Lincoln Women’s March! I invited more friends to participate and we spoke on behalf of the march on the Servative Hour (a leftist talk show that airs Tuesday nights at 11pm on 89.3, KZUM) and we even ended up carrying the banner and leading the march to the capitol (as depicted in the previously shared image above). Overall, the march seemed to turn out well despite the rigid cold and the fact that I was marching just a week after having abdominal surgery, but nothing could keep me away from rallying for the rights of women and femme people.
From July to December of 2019, I was involved in the organizing committee. By the December meeting, I had taken on the responsibilities of organizing accessibility accommodations and sound/audio equipment set ups, but also was the volunteer coordinator and fundraising director when we learned we had received 501(c)3 status as a tax-exempt, non-profit organization. Frankly, I was doing a lot, but only because I jumped in to take on the role when no one else would. In honesty, I was overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility I had taken on, but was excited to be apart of the committee and to be able to partake in the decision making processes. I wanted to give my input and perspective from my experiences as a disabled, transgender and queer, working class, rural Nebraskan who has survived living below the poverty level, struggled with self harming and multiple suicide attempts, and multiple experiences with domestic and sexual violence. By no means was I trying to speak for everyone who shares those identities, but give the input of how these experiences have effected me in order bring as many perspectives as possible to the table when we organized.
One of the head organizers that I was organizing with is a well-known organizer amongst Nebraska liberals and leftists, Pastor Janet Goodman Banks. Every single march meeting she started off by introducing herself and reassuring the other organizers that she may be 63 and young people are expecting her and others to pass the torch, but that she’s “still got a little bit more skin in the game.” While working with her, I respected Pastor Banks deeply and admired the tenacity and energy she brought to the room. She is a very strong Black woman who has endured a lot in her life and who I supported in her position as a leader of this march, until there came a decision that I could not support at all because of it’s exclusion of individuals of various religious and spiritual backgrounds and beliefs.
In the December Lincoln Women’s March committee meeting, a question arose regarding something that had happened at the 2019 march: after rally-goers sang the national anthem, local Native activists that were in attendance began a prayer. The intent of the prayer had been to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW), who affected by violence at a rate of 4 out of 5 women. This prayer was brought to the attention of Pastor Janet Goodman Banks, who quickly said “no, no, we can’t have that happen again,” and continued on to announce that she had already arranged for a Christian prayer to be said at the opening of the rally. Many people protested this announcement and argued against it; as the argument continued on and it seemed tensions were extremely high, somebody changed the subject to something else on the agenda. At the end of the meeting (after nearly everyone had left because the meetings always were scheduled for one hour but lasted three), about four of us remained in the room with Pastor Banks.
The topic of the prayer was brought up again, and all four people present told Pastor Banks that having just a Christian prayer wouldn’t be inclusive of people of all religions. Pastor Banks expressed that she had tried to reach out to a female rabbi that was unavailable for the date, and that she had already contacted two other women pastors that have agreed to conduct the prayer, so that what’s done is done. She further said that at our first meeting, she had told the group that “there will be times when [she] will have to make difficult decisions.” I respect Pastor Banks and her willingness to make those difficult decisions; a decision regarding inclusivity and representation of women and femme people, however, is not a decision that should be made by executive order, rather by a diverse and intersectional group of individuals who can offer multiple perspectives on the matter at hand and then collectively decide on something that is best for the group as a whole. This is how I partake in democratic organizing to insure that all voices are being heard and represented, especially those that are typically suppressed like non-Christian voices when it comes to issues of religious inclusivity.
On the issue of religious freedom, those who have the most privilege on that front are Christians. Separation of church and state my ass; government buildings and currency have “In God We Trust” inscribed on them, the unicameral starts off days in session with a Christian prayer, and the governor announced an official day of prayer for the anniversary of Roe V. Wade. Christian holidays are the ones that people receive time off for, both in schools and at most places of work (unless you’re in one of those lines of work that has you always working holidays like the food service industry, retail, the medical field, and other under-appreciated work, thank you for your service). Christianity is the religion that was forced onto America’s indigenous peoples through the banning of their religious and cultural practices; they experienced genocide and the erasure of their religion was a strong part of that experience. Until 1978, with the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, certain native religious practices were still outlawed across the United States. Pastor Banks efforts to silence Native people’s voices in prayer during the rally and instead proceed with a Christian prayer is reminiscent of this reality. I later found out that a local native activist that was involved in the organizing of the previous marches was never contacted when the committee began meeting again.
In order to appease all people who have religious or spiritual intent, I suggested a compromise of having a moment of silence for all individuals to offer up whatever prayers, thoughts, intentions, vibes, or whatever they want to call it at the beginning of the march. My religious background is that I was raised Catholic in the Lincoln Diocese, left the church while in high school, identified as agnostic for awhile, and am now ordained through the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Personally, I find this option of a moment of silence to be ideal as it respects those who want to have some sort of spiritual/religious intention and also respects those who are non-religious/spiritual; a secular event that would be inclusive of all people who participated. Someone suggested doing both the Christian prayer and a moment of silence, but that is still prioritizing Christianity over other religions by giving Christianity the microphone and all other religions the silence.
After things at the meeting escalated and got extremely heated, a few of us suggested that we table it for the next committee meeting when all the members of the committee were there. After the meeting was over, however, Pastor Banks messaged me on Facebook and in the message said that, “Next meeting will not address this at the beginning of the meeting, because we just have too much to get done, if I mention it at all.” Pastor Banks intended on not bringing this issue up at the next meeting and instead, continuing according to her own plans of having a Christian prayer at the march. When I said that I would not be part of organizing a march that wasn’t representative of all women (which I meant that this march WILL be representative of all women, including women of all religious backgrounds), she said that she was sorry to hear that and that I could hand over the women’s march committee materials. She then informed one of the committee members to remove me from the Women’s March email listings and instructed me that I was “not allowed” to speak to other committee members or contact them in any form. So naturally, I contacted the rest of Lincoln Women’s March committee and informed them of what was happening.
When Pastor Banks responded to the email I sent out, which summarized all that you know now, she proceeded to misgender me after I had said my pronouns (they/them/theirs) in the email that I sent and had corrected her at every single Women’s March committee thus far. This transphobia has made me extremely uncomfortable, even more so that Pastor Banks has made no attempt to apologize for the transphobic rhetoric. During the argument about being inclusive of people’s religious beliefs, she condescendingly pointed out that since she was inviting a gay woman to speak at the march, she is obviously being inclusive of everybody; she said this, despite her attempts to silence those with different religious beliefs than her. This use of tokenizing a gay woman as though she represents the entire LGBTQIA+ community was gross, and a homophobic and transphobic attempt at inclusivity. I understood then and there why I was the only transgender person involved in the organizing of this march.
In the many emails Pastor Banks sent to members of the committee and to myself, she accused me of “going rogue” and “holding the Women’s March Committee items hostage” (they were just in my attic because I was asked to store them there, but okay). As for the people who agreed with me on this issue and chose to speak out about it, they were all removed as well. With those individuals, we organized to find out where the next meeting was and in order to attend it to speak with the others who might be more reasonable. Upon showing up to that committee meeting, Pastor Banks called the cops on myself, my friend who was there to support me, and another organizer that was on my side, and had us escorted off of the property while trying to make our voices heard. Other members of the committee were obviously uncomfortable with her calling the cops. One woman asked why it was necessary and two others ended up being asked to leave after we were gone when they were asked how they felt about it. The others made no attempt to argue against her exclusion of other religions in the march and her blatant transphobia. Instead, a few of them had even asked for my patience as they learn to be more inclusive, which I gave them; yet they were completely silent as the cops showed up and made us leave. Around 7 people in total have been kicked off of the committee.
I’m writing this because I’m a patient person, and I tried to have meaningful conversation with the leaders of the Women’s March. Instead, I was silenced by Pastor Banks as she used the police as her personal security guards to keep quiet anyone who critically questioned her decisions and methods of leadership. This style of leadership is one we cannot allow to continue. Generation Z is the next generation of up-and-coming organizers, and the 20-somethings that are entering this world of organizing in Nebraska are the ones leading the next revolutionary wave of intersectionality and progressive ideas. That means in our organizing, we will be inclusive of people of all religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sex, sexuality, disability, nationality, legal status, level of education, and geographic location.
I’m planning on staying in Nebraska because I see that there is a lot of work done to be here in regard to educating, organizing, and mobilizing the working class. As my mom always told me, “when you see something that needs to be done, do it,” which is why I took the time to write this today; Nebraskans and Lincoln residents should know what’s going on amongst their community organizers. Accountability, transparency, and inclusivity are key to democratic organizing, and with the current leaders of the Lincoln Women’s March Committee, we are receiving none of those things which is extremely disappointing to see as an up and coming community organizer. However, not everyone has had the front row seat to see this injustice and people can’t do something about that issue if they don’t know about it. Now that you do know about it, do something.
This is my call to action for every single person reading this. Get involved with your local community organizers, work to make your organizing inclusive, and uplift marginalized and underrepresented voices. Do all of this while constantly critically analyzing the power dynamics of the organizing, as a democratic approach shouldn’t cease in our organizing, rather it should be prioritized. This only works if you are involved in your community which can happen in a variety of ways: knock doors and/or make phone calls; register people to vote; host a sign-making party; call your representatives; organize a rally or a food drive or a voter registration drive; offer people rides to the polls; heck, just send a Facebook invite to an event, or chat with your neighbor to see what they know about your representatives. Just do something to try and better yourself and your community, because we can’t do this alone. It takes a movement to make change, and you’re part of that bigger movement whether you know it or not. Vote local, vote women, and vote for intersectionality.
Bellow are some helpful links and tools you can use to get involved!