Tamika Mallory is no stranger to leading a revolution. As the daughter of parents who were founding members of Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, her formative years were spent attending protests and rallies. At just 15-years-old, she had become a staff member for the National Action Network (later becoming its youngest ever Executive Director). Mallory has since been a prominent civil rights activist and has worked closely with the Obama Administration on gun control legislation. Her most recent community leadership finds her serving as National Co-chair to the Women’s March on Washington, which will coincide with Donald Trump’s inauguration weekend and plans to see thousands of protesters march against the racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric initiated by the Trump Administration and its supporters.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, together with her fellow co-chairs and activists Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Bob Bland, Mallory will hit the streets once again to join thousands of women gathered in Washington D.C.—as well as at sister marches nationwide—to fight on behalf of disenfranchised and marginalized communities. Mallory spoke with Complex by phone to talk the power of protest and holding our governing forces accountable for assaults on civil liberties.
You’ve been protesting your entire life. What are some of the parallels you’re seeing between this march and past marches on Washington?
I think the parallel is that people understand that we need loud voices to push back on the issues that we see happening today—the threat that people are feeling, the imminent threat that communities are up against. The parallel is that we did it then in 1963—there was a march on Washington that spoke to black liberation issues—and [on Saturday] there will be a march in 2017 that speaks not to just black liberation issues, but to women and women’s families and several issues that matter to the woman: the whole woman and the whole community, her whole family.
What are the biggest differences between this march and other historic protests?
The difference is that there was a time where we really needed organized structure to make these things happen. We didn't have social media where you could just put up a post and thousands of people could join. I remember a time someone would say they're organizing a march and you would get a lot of resistance. Who are you? What type of event is this? Who's going to be speaking? And although we have faced some of those same questions, many people came to this without knowing who organized in the beginning. They just wanted to be a part of something that pushed back against what they believed is the face of hate. They wanted something that they could be a part of that addressed their concern.
It’s been made clear this march is intended to do more than simply addressing Donald Trump. Can you speak to that?
We have to go Washington D.C. to address all the different branches of government. You’re looking at the fact that the Senate just voted this month in January to repeal the Affordable Care Act. So if you go to Washington and talk to Donald Trump, and you don't deal with the Senate, the Congress, if you don't go there to deal with all different branches of government, you've already missed the mark. We've failed. And so that's why we've been very clear that this is not just about dealing with Trump, although he is certainly bringing new light and giving voice and power to what white supremacy looks like, what racism looks like, what sexism looks like. At the same time, we know that Donald Trump is not the disease, he is a symptom of a disease that has existed long before he ever stepped onto the national stage. We want to make sure that as we lead our community, we’re giving them the right focus. We’re not calling this a march on Trump; it is being called the march on Washington for a reason.
What do you tell people, and specifically the white liberal community, who are shocked or astounded that Trump is president now?
I tell people, ‘Welcome to my world. Welcome to what it feels like to be Muslim, to be undocumented, to be black, to be a black man. To be a black woman or a woman of color carrying the entire weight on her back of the entire community. Welcome to what it feels like to be a Mexican-American, a Latino person in this country. We've been here. We've been dealing with the Trumpisms.’
There was a recent article in the New York Times that addressed white women forgoing the march because they felt attacked on matters of race. Comments made on social media had reportedly led them to believe the issue had become “white women don’t understand black women.” What are your thoughts on women who have failed to support the march as a result of, or in spite of, their own socioeconomic privilege?
There's been a lot of courageous conversation happening on social media and I think that’s also a goal. That's one of the things that all of these four cultures involved—as well as the national organizing body—want to see happen. We want people to have difficult, challenging, and courageous conversations with one another. And we understand we're not going to always be able to get people to continue to walk down the path with you. Because maybe at some point you get to a place where they don't feel that the path is any longer for them. But we know that what we're doing and the conversations that were having, they’re right. It’s righteous conversation.
It’s time for us in this country to talk about the issues of white privilege, to talk about the issues of people of color being oppressed. And everyone needs to be talking about it. It is not our fault that in this particular election—we know based upon the numbers that have been reported—that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump. That's a real thing. You actually have to deal with that. You can't just show up in the movement and fight together without people asking where you've been. That's why I think for us, we’re ok with the fact that we're going to lose a few people along the way. Because what's important is the committed few versus having the masses of folks who may or may not be really seriously about the cause. We've always lived in that space. Black folks always been fighting with the committed few. And we've made major strides with the committed few.
What do you tell people who are critics of protest or claim that marching doesn’t enact any actual change?
I tell people to look back in history and look at what marches have done in the past. Even if you don’t want to go far back, let’s just look at how the Black Lives Matter movement—specifically through marching, through resistance—changed the conversation around what criminal justice reform looks like in this nation. You can't tell us there's not a direct link between the marches, the protesting, everything that you see happening. The fact that they were in New York state, for instance, we now have a special prosecutor who has been appointed to look at all cases where police engage in firing their weapons where there's an unarmed person—that’s a direct result of people hitting the street.
It doesn't take throwing a brick; being a symbol as taxpayers, as citizens, is super important. And the number of people that we hope will come together in Washington D.C. is going to be a real eye-opener. People think, ‘Well, do you think Donald Trump is going to be moved?’ I don't expect Donald Trump to be moved. But I do know that there are Congress members and senators and local governors and local elected officials who will see all those people in Washington D.C. and understand that their positions are going to be threatened unless they uphold our rights.