Images of last year's Women's March were dominated by pink pussy hats. This year, organizers are subtly encouraging marchers to consider a wider variety of accessories. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

In its second year, the Women’s March that dominated the nation's capital last January has decentralized, focusing on local issues in cities large and small.

The sea of pink pussy hats that swarmed Washington, D.C., for the first inaugural Women’s March last January will look a little different this year.

The locus of resistance is moving out of the president’s backyard and into Las Vegas, Nevada, where women and allies will stage an event elevating women and progressive candidates, called “Power to the Polls.” Unlike last year, when many women took cross-country buses to unite in one central location, this year the Women’s March organizers are placing an emphasis on organizing locally. And instead of a one-day event, the Las Vegas rally will be the first of several events held in swing states across the country, in a race to register 1 million voters.  

“It would have been very easy to do an anniversary march in D.C., but we wanted people not just to think about marching for women once a year on January 21st,” said Bob Bland, co-president of the Women’s March. “We wanted women and allies and everyone who marched last year to know that activism is a thing they can do every day.”

The simultaneous decentralization of the movement and the recalibration of power among its ranks is not a coincidence. The Women’s March is not about Trump anymore, nor is it really about pussies. Women’s March activists say they’re more focused on engaging women, communities of color, and new voters in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections. And just as each woman has her own reason for standing up—“The spark is usually a woman’s outrage,” says Bland—each locality has its own issues to champion.

Large liberal cities like Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles are of course the ones that expect especially large turn-out again this year. But Women’s March National is not looking to build hubs, says Bland: “We want to look at races that are local—where we’ve found the most exciting examples of women and women of color who are unapologetically aligned with our unity principles.” They’ve observed the strongest organizing in red and purple states like Michigan, Iowa, Tennessee, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Utah, she says.

Last year’s Women’s March on Tulsa, Oklahoma, featured indigenous speakers and local women activists. (Peggy Pianalto/Courtesy of Tulsa Women's March)

The National Mall will still host its own event, as will other cities across the country and the globe. As of this week, 290 groups have signed up to host their own marches, rallies, small meetings, and activist fairs. The same grassroots organizers that in 2017 mobilized people to the march on Washington (or organized sister marches in their own area) now helm almost 5,500 hyper-local organizing chapters.

As a symbolic center, however, Las Vegas was chosen strategically. The city is teeming with domestic workers, hospitality workers, and sex workers who are fighting for workers’ rights, unions, and fair pay. The city has also been a flashpoint for immigration issues: Its expansive policies to protect undocumented immigrants were recently threatened when a petition to ban sanctuary cities at the state level was proposed in Nevada. The bill was invalidated this month.

After the city experienced a gun massacre in October, in which a gunman killed 58 people and wounded more than 500, Las Vegas became the center of a national conversation about bump stock bans, gun violence prevention, and weapons regulation. And it’s had its #MeToo moment, as well, after Nevada congressman Rueben Kihuen stepped down amid allegations that he had sexually harassed and inappropriately touched a female staffer and a lobbyist.

Las Vegas is “a microcosm of what’s happening in the rest of the nation,” said Bland.

Along with moving West, another evolving feature of the march is the presence of the pussy hat, whose hue (pink) and shape (that of a female reproductive organ) were criticized as emblematic of a very specific—white, biologically female—kind of woman, alienating women of color and transgender marchers. This year, the national Women’s March leaders have subtly encouraged women to phase this headgear out of their wardrobes. “We’re certainly not here to tell people how to dress,” said Bland, “but we expect people to have an open mind, open ears, and open hearts and listen to real lived experiences of trans people in this country.”

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but we’re thinking about: How can we look towards national and come up with something local that’s meaningful, and go beyond the idea of a march,” said Mariel Ferreiro, an organizer of Topeka, Kansas’ Sister Women’s March. “Last year, it was a movement, but now we’ve kind of rewarded ourselves before the work.”

Similar criticisms of the march have led to a schism of sorts in the broader women’s organizing network. This year, a group called March On was formed after women from red states said their needs were not being met by national chapters.

“We can march and take to the streets and yell about all the stuff we want to change, but unless we’re getting people elected to office who are going to make those changes, we’re not really doing anything,” Lindsey Kanaly, an organizer in Oklahoma City who now sits on the March On board, told the New York Times.

It is unclear whether the Women’s March has had to pivot because of March On or if the move is independently motivated: March On reportedly launched their “March on the Polls” initiative in October, two months before the Women’s March announced their theme would be “Power to the Polls.”

Women organizers from Tulsa, Tuscaloosa, Topeka, and Dallas who spoke with CityLab, however, say they have been able to work under the Women’s March umbrella without being smothered—and with this autonomy, they’re trying to push the conversation to a more progressive level.

“I’m a woman of color, I’m Latina, and so trying to navigate that and also put that into the Women’s March on the national and local levels has been challenging,” said Topeka’s Ferreiro. “When I was in D.C. [last year] I didn’t see a lot of people like me, and that was hard to come to terms with.”

So instead of organizing buses to D.C. out of Kansas, this year she’s bringing the conversation home. Amongst the speakers: an African American running for re-election as state representative; a fifth-generation Kansas businesswoman running for U.S. Congress; and an indigenous, first-generation college graduate and activist. The event will be dedicated to the DREAMers, TPS, and undocumented immigrants of this country, said Ferreiro, and they will also be collecting donations for those communities on Sunday.

“[The Women’s March has] the reputation now that we’re not as intersectional as we thought we were, so it’s important to be really addressing that, really being strong and supporting those communities and offering our services to them,” she said. “Rather than holding up a sign, or posting on Facebook.”

When Tulsa, Oklahoma, held its own march last year, it was organized last minute, says nurse, activist, and organizer of the 2018 Tulsa Women’s March, Nancy Moran. What started as a plan for a group of women to do yoga and drink tea grew overnight to a crowd of over 2,000 on January 21. This year, Moran is working with 30 other local organizations to put together an activist fair—with participants ranging from Families Helping Families to Women Helping Women; Indivisible to the The Sierra Club; women’s art collectives and prenatal collectives. There will be music, and spoken word poetry.

Oklahoma has a large population of indigenous and Native American women, and an economy based on the oil and gas that pollutes their land. The state also has the highest female incarceration rate in the country. It’s those issues—and voices—that will be featured. “Why listen to the same voices and see the same faces when we want to hear from people that perhaps are most affected by the adverse legislative policies of the Trump administration?” said Moran. “Why not learn from those who are dealing with overlapping identities like race and class and ethnicity and how those factors affect how they experience discrimination?”

Dallas’ women’s march was organized in just two weeks last year—and almost 10,000 people showed up. On Saturday, their anniversary march will start at the oldest and first African-American church in the city—“hallowed ground,” as Rhetta Bowers, a co-organizer of the Dallas March describes it—and travel through the Little Mexico neighborhood. On social media, 4,000 people have confirmed attendance, and 15-18,000 more are interested.

In Texas, women are outnumbered 75 percent to 25 in statewide elected offices. But in 2016, Women’s March organizer Victoria Neave was able to unseat a three-term Republican male incumbent as a representative for Dallas County. “I was able to author and pass legislation to address the backlog of thousands of untested rape kits in Texas,” said Neave. “This shows that when we have women in office we focus on issues that impact women.”

And in Tuscaloosa, women are holding an organizing meeting for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America on January 21 instead of a march. “One of our goals is to close loopholes in our background check system, so domestic abusers don’t have access to guns,” said Anne Leader, head of Tuscaloosa’s local chapter. (Montgomery, Alabama will be holding a more traditional march.)

The 365 days that followed last year’s march have been eventful ones for women. They’ve risen to elected office, especially in Virginia; and signed up by the thousands to run in the future. They’ve disrupted some of the most insidious power dynamics in Hollywood, politics, and the media; engaged in a #MeToo conversation that has slowly trickled into the sphere of domestic workers and Ford plants. “We’re being unapologetic about our values and beliefs,” said Bland. “We’re speaking up in a way that we didn’t before and then not apologizing for it afterwards.”

But this year’s march is not a celebration of progress—it’s a commitment to future work. “We have this incredible opportunity in 2018 to continue to hold men accountable for sexual harrassment, to redefine the way men see themselves in feminism and then also to get more women into office,” said Bland. “A lot of men know their number’s up now. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be sending unapologetically progressive women who can inspire other women in their place.”

In Las Vegas on Sunday, speakers like U.S. Representative John Lewis; Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards; Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter; and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (who will appear via video stream) will address a crowd gathered  at the Sam Boyd Stadium. In Tulsa, Allison Ikley-Freeman, the youngest State Senator in Oklahoma history and the first openly gay elected official in Tulsa county, will speak. In Topeka, Sharice Davids, an indigenous woman who served as an advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, will address the crowd. Many of these voices are not known nationally, and that’s the point.

“Change can sometimes take place very rapidly because enough people have gotten behind it,” said Tulsa’s Moran. “It’s like water freezing: One moment, it’s crystals, and suddenly, it’s ice.”

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