Bob Bland Of The Women’s March On Raising Children In The Resistance, & Much More
Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
Photography by Photographed by Jackson Hyland
With a reported 5 million-plus marchers on January 21, 2017, the Women’s March on Washington is estimated to be the largest single-day demonstration in history. It’s also a day that marked a wave of activism (against Trump, and for women and other marginalized groups) that continues today and will continue well beyond tomorrow.
One of the most instrumental characters who brought the Women’s March on Washington to life is Bob Bland, a Brooklyn-based mother of two (Penny, 6, and Chloe, 8 months) and founder of Manufacture NY. On the first night post-election (November 8, 2016) Bland, like so many of us, found herself on Facebook, mourning and connecting with others and wondering what to do next. She knew she couldn’t do nothing.
Thanks to the viral success of her Nasty Woman t-shirt design just a few weeks prior, Bland had amassed a few thousand politically active Facebook followers, to whom she proposed the idea of marching on Washington on the day after the inauguration. After setting up a Facebook event page to gather RSVPs, she got instant traction, and was also alerted to the fact that another woman, Teresa Shook of Hawaii, had created a similar march page. Once the two women combined their pages into one event, they had amassed a combined 100,000 marchers in just 24 hours.
Below, Bland discusses how the march evolved over those first few days to include a powerful and diverse group of co-founders and how the stress of the situation spurred the birth of her “march baby” Chloe three weeks early. She also provides ace advice for first-time activists and those of use who are parenting in the age of resistance.
On going viral…
“I didn’t care if it was just a thousand or 10,000 people who said they were going [to the march]. Even if it was just me and my friends, I would have been there no matter what. And Teresa [Shook] started her event by just emailing it to 40 friends. But then we started to see the numbers go up. I started getting dozens and then thousands of Facebook messages. Then we had 10,000 people going, then 40,000, then it was 100,000 and this was all happening within 24 hours. We didn’t even have time to reflect on it. Anytime someone would email us, like, ‘I want to represent South Carolina,’ ‘I want to represent Pennsylvania,’ ‘I was to help organize people in Oklahoma,’ we were like ‘Okay, great, here’s the process, put up the page, use this graphic…’ None of us had ever done activism or organizing before. So, we didn’t know what we were doing was field organizing. We just knew what had to happen and we were doing it as fast as we could under these incredible circumstances. I heard that Amtrak was completely sold out and all of the airlines. People were asking, ‘Is this actually happening?’ But they had already bought their tickets. It truly was a crowd-sourced march.”
On expanding the Women’s March team…
“We had just jumped into it together as folks who had never done something like this before. We then noticed, ‘Oh, we’re all just a bunch of white women.’ So, that was something that came up, as well as our inadvertent appropriation of the name Million Women March, which was actually the name of the march in 1997 in Philadelphia. We were also scrambling to get someone to help us, because it went from just a Facebook page to a huge, serious thing in just 48 hours. It was great that people were able to get in touch with us, whether they knew us or not, because then we were able to connect with folks who we wouldn’t have known how to get in touch with or even know existed, like Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsou, who were introduced to us by Vanessa Wruble. It was Wednesday night when the Facebook page went up. By Saturday morning we were in a room with Carmen, Linda, and Tamika, and having this big meeting. By the end of the weekend, we had a manifesto written.”
On her “march baby”…
“By the time that first week was over, by that next Wednesday, I went into labor. I wasn’t supposed to go into labor for 3 more weeks. I was terribly upset. We had so much more to do, I was like, ‘No baby! Stay in.’ But I think all of those 20-hour days had gotten to me. There was a reason I was having the baby early and it wasn’t a good one. I was in medical distress. I went to my midwife and she said, ‘The baby is coming out today.’ I was like, ‘The baby is not coming out today.’ But she made me go straight to the hospital. I was so upset. I was supposed to drive straight to the hospital and check myself in. Instead, I double-parked in front of Izzy’s Diner and got the biggest plate of pancakes and bacon and eggs and coffee and every other thing you could possibly think of. I must have looked so ridiculous. I was this giant woman, crying over her pancakes. People didn’t know what was happening, so they kept coming over and they assumed I was crying because of Trump winning, but it was like, ‘Actually, not this time.’ From there, I had an awful 40-hour labor. During that time we were still trying to hash things out with the march. I remember at 3 a.m. I had a meeting with Breanne Butler, who went on to be our national state and global coordinator. The next day, I was in active labor and having contractions every couple of minutes and Tamika Mallory came all the way to the hospital and we were having a meeting in the middle of the labor and delivery room, because there were things that had to be hashed out. It was crucial business between whether the march actually happened or not. Chloe ended up having jaundice and a few other things. I took the three days in the hospital to be with her. And then we ended up taking the lights home and having her be under the lights for another week. I had also just had a baby, so I was physically exhausted and just not in good shape. I am still recovering from it, because I put everything I had into the march. I just knew that it was the most important thing I might ever do in my life.”
On her personal post-election experience…
“I have to say, I was one of those folks who had heard some warnings, but really up until the day of, I couldn’t really conceive of Trump winning. Like every other mom out there, I took my daughter Penny [then 5-years-old] with me to vote. There was just this sense of history and accomplishment. I was crying and showing her how to vote and saying ‘You’re voting for the first woman president of the United States,’ thinking that that last big push would be enough. But then that night when we were looking at the results, my daughter was heading to bed and she said, ‘Hey mama, tell Hillary Clinton I’m sorry.’ And I said, ‘Why baby? What are you talking about? It’s going to be totally fine.’ And she goes, ‘Well, because Hillary has 23 and Donald has 104,’ or whatever the results were on the TV at that time. And I was like, ‘But the night is young, this is just the beginning.’ But she knew. I was still in denial, but she knew. The next morning, she got up and asked, ‘Did Hillary Clinton win?’ And I just couldn’t hold it in. I started crying and just really sobbing. I was trying to say it, but I couldn’t really get it out. She could see how upset I was, so she started crying. We were sitting there just sobbing together. And no one knows how to get upset like my daughter Penny, so it was so sad. I had to walk her to school, with the saddest face and heaviest feet. I was wearing all black because that’s how I felt. I didn’t even know how I could get through the day. And I didn’t know how she could get through the day. I think I had to carry her to school.”
On talking to kids about the resistance…
“The resistance is about loving and protecting each other and really coming together to let those who are marginalized know that they belong here and that we will not allow them to be vilified and be made to feel like this is not their country. And we’re fighting for women of all different intersectionalities. We are 51% of the population, but we have been treated as less than for millennia. And that has to end. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice King spoke to all of our state organizers for an hour at the beginning of December. It was one of the most memorable hours of my life and one of the things she did was quote her mother, Coretta Scott King: ‘Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.’ So, I want to teach our daughters to take up that responsibility as women to be the soul of this nation and to be the leaders that this nation has always deserved. And I want our sons to grow up to learn to be great allies, to be feminists, to not learn to hate the word or think that it means something that it doesn’t. It just means that women deserve equal rights. I want everyone to grow up loving equity, and justice, and real freedom—which is the collective liberation that we can all feel and enjoy in seeing each other be free, that’s not predicated on the subjectgation of one group of people.”
“On our site, we have some great resources and reading lists for kids. We also have a video that is made by children for children and adults on the Kingian nonviolence principles, which the march was based off of. These principles are a great guide not just for resistance work, but also for life in general. For kids who are younger than elementary school, I would start talking about the resistance and what’s happening politically and socially in this country when they start noticing it. Because every kid is different and childhood is a special time that you never get back. I remember in my childhood there were certain things that my parents shared with me, in my consideration, a little too early. But if your kid is asking you about it, then don’t lie to them. Don’t pretend that it’s not happening.”
“Another way you can engage your kids in the resistance is educating them on the real history of the civil rights movement and the way this country was founded. That’s an education they’re just not going to get at school. And that’s also a part of the reading list we have online. And for your teenagers, just get them a subscription to Teen Vogue. They are killing it. Kids in middle and high school today are just incredible. I couldn’t believe it when I had a highschooler come up to me and say, ‘Yeah, I’m the president of my intersectional feminist club.’ And I was like, ‘Wait you have an intersectional feminist club?’ And she’s like ‘Yeah, I’m the new president.’ And I’m like ‘So, there was another president before you…?!’ So, the future is female, but the future is also definitely these kids. They are incredible and I don’t know if we need to be teaching the middle school and highschoolers, or they need to be teaching us. Certainly, all of this is rooted in the rejection of fear and hate and the uplifting of empathy and love and a sense of collective responsibility for the future of this country. And those are certainly things we can discuss with kids of all ages.”
On becoming active in the resistance…
“I did not identify as an activist or organizer before this. I was very much not woke. But even in the 2 months leading up to the march, I learned so much by really diving in with both feet and not allowing my inexperience be an excuse for doing nothing. So, I would say, first of all, don’t let your hesitations or insecurities be an excuse to do nothing. You do have skills. You have your profession. You have your hobbies. Think about the things you’re good at, and then think about the way you can apply those skills or areas of experience to the resistance. The resistance needs accountants, legal folks, people to do copywriting, to write org charts, people to screen print, people to do PR, the resistance needs people to cook for people, I can go on and on. The resistance needs anything that you are good at and that you have time to do.”
“If you only have a very small amount of time per week that you can commit, then there is a great newsletter called 2 Hours A Week. Sign up for that. They list things that you can do remotely, and a lot of that is phone-calling, which is really important. Another thing in that bare minimum category is signing up on your phone for Resistbot, which allows you to write letters that are then faxed to your representatives. That’s something you can do every day or 2-3 times a week and it’s so easy.”
“The reason why people like myself were not involved with activism previously is that we weren’t directly impacted enough to be outraged. And that’s a problem. Because there have been communities that have been fighting for decades. We need people to show up for communities other than their own. Not just for issues that they are directly impacted by. For instance, it’s not enough for me to just show up at a Planned Parenthood rally. I really have to be there for my Muslim brothers and sisters around Muslim Ban 3.0 rallies. I really need there to be on the front lines for Black Lives Matter.”
“I highly recommend everyone look at the Unity Principles on our site. It’s the most fantastic, pro-woman platform that I’ve ever seen. The first principle is ending violence. As women, we have an opportunity to have a healing influence on the nation and to end this violence—physical violence, emotional violence, sexual violence. We owe it to ourselves to try. We need to be willing to take risks and to feel uncomfortable. That’s what allieship is really about. And that’s what I’ve learned as someone who wasn’t a part of this before. Until I gave myself permission to take risks and be uncomfortable, I wasn’t really contributing to freedom and liberty in our country.”
“We are also launching a tool kit called Daring Discussions. What we would like for women and their communities to do is to have some uncomfortable conversations. You can start with your family. It’s really just getting to the heart of our differences, instead of just skirting them under the rug and pretending like they are not happening. Because we really are a divided country right now and that’s not good for anyone.”
“I love being a mother and I can’t imagine going back to the way things were before I was a mother. You get to see the world through a completely different perspective that is really fresh. You never know what’s going to be next with kids. I love the joy. I love the inherent goodness in children. Seeing that and having daily rituals that reconfirm on a daily basis that this fight is worth it, that humanity is worth it, that there is a reason for all of this. That’s what I love about being a mother. You have a reason in front of your face everyday, to push and make this world a better place.”
On raising girls…
“It’s wonderful to see their camaraderie with each other. Their love and delight with one another, just knowing that they’re going to have this relationship. They’re growing up in a time where it is terrifying to have kids. There’s so much uncertainty. At times it looks like we’re going down this terrible path as a nation, and maybe as a world and civilization. But then you see them and you see how much potential they have. You see the women around them who are showing them these incredible examples of leadership, and you think, whoa. If my dream is to achieve gender parity in leadership, in all forms, we need to raise strong girls and strong women to be able to fulfill those roles. It’s so wonderful to me to look at my daughters and imagine all the different options that they’ll have in their future. And also how they might support each other as they grow. I think that’s my favorite part so far. And I would still love to have a boy someday.”
For more on Bob Bland and the Women’s March, follow along here and here. Also, be sure to check out the organization’s brand-new conference, the Women’s Convention, coming to Detroit next month.
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