Ayebatonye Abrakasa and Katy Taylor - Women's March Sydney
19th January 2017
Introduction by Laura La Rosa
In conversation with Ayebatonye Abrakasa and Katy Taylor
You may have heard that this Saturday 21st January, hundreds of thousands of women and allies across the globe will march in solidarity with one another during and just after the US presidency inauguration. One of the most recurrent questions posed to those involved in the Women’s March Sydney is simply, ‘why are Australian women bothering to march?’ given both the physical and political distances between here and US election.
The question is a reasonable one.
What’s often missed in this dialogue (one too often instigated by your typical keyboard warrior or ‘truth telling’ columnist), is the extent of the sheer energy and power of collective mobilisation. One of the key missions of the global Women’s March is to encourage more people to become better informed and active within their communities. The marches also serve as a natural continuation and tribute to the historical narrative involving those instrumental women who have struggled and made way before us.
Amidst a lot of door-knocking (of the social media kind, mostly), relationship building, grassroots-style marketing, and welcomed long days and nights, it’s often difficult to find the time and energy to engage with said question for too long – there is a lot to get done between now and Saturday!
And certainly, we can be spared yet another Oxford dictionary definition of ‘democracy’ thrust upon us in online threads by another avid deliverer of simplistic facts and ‘logic’.
We also know that if we don’t continue to speak loudly - as collectives and individuals - engage with politics, create vastly improved spaces, safety and representation for ALL groups across our beautifully diverse communities, then we enable a very real level of complicity within a system designed to maintain a keen interest in sustaining capitalist dominance.
The result? A patriarchy that continues to thrive and an all too conditioned political discourse premised on autocratic hyper-power, hatred, bigotry, sexism, and racism.
In short, the repercussions of Trump and his Republican entourage and their signalled war on reproductive rights and minorities, all echo the precedent for what is frighteningly becoming an embolden process of normalisation.
That much we know.
We’re already seeing an arguably more confident - and dare I say cocky – Australian 'far right', and the rhetoric derived from the likes of our own local caricature in power, Pauline Hanson, is just one example of many parallels we have with the US.
In essence - this is why we will march in Sydney.
We caught up with two of the co-organisers of the Women’s March Sydney, Ayebatonye Abrakasa and Katy Taylor, who shared a few thoughts on the behind the scenes organising, and the feminist movement in our local communities here in Sydney.
Ayebatonye, this one is for you. A lot of people are really excited about the women’s march, but want to put into context exactly why we are marching on the 21st, can you shed some light on this?
Ayebatonye: Yes I am really excited as well! So it all began with the Women’s March on Washington, which spread to a global grassroots movement. Female-identifying people and allies from all around the world will be marching to show support for the rights of women, minorities, and immigrants. This march is part of a positive and empowering crusade that condemns bigotry; hate speech, misogyny, and the persecution of marginalised groups.
Although a lot of people align this movement as quintessentially American, my feeling is that a lot of people aren’t overly tapped into the deeply rooted issues within our own government and society that need to be addressed, so this is us standing together to become part of the catalyst for greater change in our socio political environment, nationally, and on a global scale. For instance, Australia has one of the highest counts of domestic violence in the ‘western world’. We have innocent people escaping persecution or death from their own countries and being put in detention in Nauru or Manu Island, under despicable conditions. We have Indigenous people experiencing hyper incarceration, and dying in custody at the hands of the system and its authorities. These are the reasons I personally choose to march this Saturday, and these are only the tip of the iceberg.
Katy, you are one of the co-founding organisers of the women’s march. How did the planning for a Sydney event come about?
We actually started as two groups. The group I was involved in was a very small group of feminists who had heard about the sister march movement and wanted to get together here in Sydney in solidarity with Washington. A group of American women who are residents here and who were devastated that they couldn’t join the march in Washington decided to start their own march here as well. We soon found one another on facebook and joined forces.
It’s really blown up in the last week hasn’t it? It must be pretty cool watching that unfold...
Ayebatonye: It is very empowering to see like-minded individuals from all over the world, in completely different situations, being proactive about making a difference. It gives me strength to keep fighting the good fight.
Katy: It is vivifying to witness so many people from different walks of life come together.
What kind of communication and alignment have you had with other marches across the global? Namely, the Women’s March on Washington, and other sister marchers?
Katy: Our social media team have really enjoyed connecting with our sister marches across the globe. There are over 50 marches outside the US and 170 across America. That is a formidable brains trust of feminist energy; we’re committed to continuing this international dialogue of how to engage our local communities on issues ranging from health, economic challenges, representation, and safety for women.
Ayebatonye: I actually just got off a Skype call with the women’s march global social media team. We are in direct contact with one another through various communication channels and yeah it’s been great to hear their ideas and swap stories. Its also very empowering to talk to a passionate group of women who are based in different time zones, yet working towards the same goals.
There seems to be a lot of social movements bubbling away in Sydney, including various feminist-based groups. Can you speak to that?
Katy: I truly feel that in addition to the wonderful groups that are recognised as being a part of the feminist movement, we also need to honor the unpaid community work done by women in our city. Think of all the after-hours work that goes into keeping our local schools, live music scenes, and sporting clubs alive. We will be marching with and for these women too.
Ayebatonye: Having recently come back to Australia, one of the first things I became aware of was how alive and well feminism in Sydney is, and I love it! To come back and see the support networks for those who identify as female and this genuine focus on making sure everybody is included, accepted and acknowledged, feels really good.
But having said that, I totally agree with what Katy said, supporting the women in our community who do all the unpaid work is important – it goes without saying that they are an integral part of our communities.
With one of the objectives of the march being to get more people ‘active’ in feminist and social orientated issues, what tangible things can you suggest people do to become more engaged?
Ayebatonye: Support women in your community, write to your local politicians/MPs when you see something you don’t agree with. You may not feel like one person makes a difference but it really can, and when we all come together - I don’t want to sound cheesy - but we really can achieve anything!
There are many community groups and programs that you can get involved with for instance. I’ve been looking at the National Council of Women Australia, and the Sydney Feminists since I arrived back.
Katy: We’ll be asking marchers to join us in a pledge on Saturday. We’ll be committing to firstly: to volunteer in our communities, secondly: to pay attention to what our politicians are doing and tell them what we think, and lastly: to support women, be it through buying their art, supporting their businesses, or showing up to their sporting events.
We are urging everyone to advocate this everyday, and take action today.