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Tucson Weekly One in a Million

Remember the Million Woman March? A soldier from the ranks tells all.

By Khivka Pratt

JANUARY 12, 1998:  I HEARD RUMORS of the Million Woman March about a year ago. It wasn't until last August, though--while surfing the web of all things--that my urge to participate was rekindled. The national headquarters for the March had set up a website that included everything from their mission statement and platform issues to available hotels and parking spaces. I entertained the possibilities for a week, realizing that hotels were already filling. I made a decision and my friends did as well--it looked like I'd be going alone.

News of the march didn't make its way to Tucson until October 25, 1997, the day of the event. Though less publicized than the Million Man March on October 16, 1995, the number of participants in the Million Woman March, by some estimates, seemed to be double. There's some discrepancy there: Police reported a scant 200,000 to 700,000, while organizers gave the more favorable estimate of two million. However many people it takes to flood the streets of Philadelphia, for miles, that's how many were there.

My insulated life here in Arizona made my Philadelphia experience even more fulfilling than expected. Not knowing where I was or what I was doing (the promised orientation packet would not arrive until long after I'd returned home), and having to do it alone, was truly terrifying at first. I'll never forget going to the headquarters the day before the event, a small office on the fourth floor of a stately building. Women filled the fluorescent-lit hallway, while elevators on either side unloaded bundle after growing bundle of smiling women. Security officers, provided by the Nation of Islam, were dressed in all black with black berets, just like the Black Panthers of that earlier era of civil rights activism.

Women rifled through T-shirts, banners, bumper stickers and posters, while others filled out pledge forms and donated their hard-earned cash for the cause. News crews pushed their way through the crowd to interview organizers and participants alike. It was only in these final hours of planning that the real spirit of the event ignited. We were ready for whatever the next day had to offer, even if that meant disappointment.

It's true, the sun didn't shine on our parade. Women and men from all places gathered in a cold, gray drizzle to celebrate sisterhood and unity, and to offer solutions to the myriad problems still marginalizing women, especially those of African decent. These are lofty goals, indeed.

The march began before dawn and continued through the night, spreading across the city. Guest speakers, including Winnie Mandela and Jada Pinkett, elevated the height of enthusiasm, while Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California brought matters closer to home. Her personal platform issue postulated that the U.S. government intentionally introduced crack cocaine into predominantly black urban areas such as Watts.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to hear Waters, or any of the speakers, until later that night on the local news. The crowds were so large, and so eager to talk amongst themselves, that they drowned out the speakers' inadequately amplified voices. It didn't really matter, though. The important thing was that I was there.

Of course, I would've been there a lot earlier--say, for the opening ceremonies at dawn--had there actually been transportation available. Unfortunately, the first trains and busses from my somewhat distant hotel didn't start their rounds until an hour after the ceremonies. But these are small matters. The important thing was that I was no longer a trivial member of the human race. I was that day, and remain, a proud woman.

Joining an assembly of such huge numbers of mothers, daughters, sisters and friends was, by far, the most incredible, enriching experience of my life. Despite the cold, dreary weather and the fact that none of us could really hear the program, there seemed to be a shared feeling of safety and a universal optimism that gleamed for miles. Brightly dressed women as far as the eye could see and in all directions filled their hearts with the hope and joy of a million (or so) sisters doing the same. Say what you will of the march, these were not women to be taken lightly.

I don't know how many people it takes to turn a gesture into real change. But if a million women could come together for progress and equality, surely three million have an even better chance.

Say you never heard about the Million Woman March? That's really no surprise. It didn't reach our nation's capital or flood headline news. But our women have been marching on, speaking their minds with or without the limelight.

Log on to the official Million Woman March website at http://timesx2.com/mwm/ for more information.


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