This time last year, Brittany Oliver wasn’t among the millions of women putting the finishing touches on her protest sign or adjusting her pink pussy hat in the mirror in preparation for the Women’s March. Instead, her name was popping up in publications across the country as an active opponent of the movement — not as a Trump supporter, but as a black woman.
Her viral blog post, “Why I Do Not Support the Women’s March on Washington,” outlined her misgivings with the March, emphasizing its co-option of the names of black cultural movements (“Million Woman March,” “March on Washington”), exclusion of nonwhite voices and purposeful ignorance of historical context.
Now, almost exactly a year later, Oliver is slated as a speaker at the second annual March … but don’t think she’s gone soft.
“When they asked me if I would be a speaker after the controversy last year, I sent them a list of demands,” she says. Key among them: “Make sure that black and brown women and LGBTQ women are part of the organizing process.”
Another? “I asked if they would pay for a bus to bring black women and anyone who supports black women from Baltimore to the March in DC and back,” she says. “They said yes.”
The 56-passenger bus will primarily comprise members of Not Without Black Women, the group Oliver formed in the wake of her political dissatisfaction and another, more personal tragedy: the loss of Oliver’s uncle to gun violence.
“I would describe both as tragic moments,” Oliver says. “I’ve been working in Baltimore for several years for racial and gender justice, but I felt I wasn’t doing a good job of connecting with and being in community with other women. I was feeling distant from the work.”
Her solution was to be proactive and bring black women together — after all, if she was feeling this way, she was sure she wasn’t alone.
“The name came from how I was feeling,” she says. “I felt like society was moving forward without me and without black women. We give so much to society, and society doesn’t give back to us the way it should.”
She scheduled a few hours for a meeting at Teavolve, putting out a call for women to “build some sisterhood” and discuss social and political issues on their minds. She expected about 10 women to show up, but was surprised with a crowd of 40.
“This multi-generational group of women came together to talk about life, social issues, relationships, being black women, and especially everything that was going on politically,” she recalls. “At first, it was a social gathering that met once a month, but whenever you put women together to talk about issues, we start talking about how to take action.”
Soon, the group had mobilized, playing an instrumental role in the Baltimore Ceasefire, female youth mentorship, and most recently, the issue of heating in schools.
“We’re a movement of women that wants to see black women have their voices uplifted,” Oliver says. “One of the main things that the women of the organization were talking about initially is that black women feel they’re not taken seriously when it comes to politics in Baltimore. We’re being used for photo opps and different initiatives, but we don’t really have a seat at the table.”
“People say ‘Baltimore is under black female leadership, so what’s the problem?’” she adds. “The problem is intersectionality. Class matters. Socioeconomic status matters. Even in a majority black city, the majority of black women in Baltimore aren’t being placed at the forefront.”
And that’s a shame, she says, because black women offer an important perspective on what she calls “the most underserved, neglected issues.” That includes equal pay, child care and intimate partner violence, to name a few, which primarily affect women but are often lost in the “male-dominated narrative” about how to effect change in Baltimore, she says.
These and other issues arose at last week’s NWBW-run event, “The State of Black Women in Baltimore.” Though Oliver says the organization is “not a lobbying group,” many women expressed interest in becoming involved in policy changes that affect the black community.
“We’re trying to organize a Black Woman’s Lobby Day so that women can talk with legislators about the Fight for 15, Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, bail reform and other issues,” she explains. “We want black women to have the experience of traveling to Annapolis and talking to their representatives.”
After all, she says, Not Without Black Women is proof of just how powerful this under-served group of people can be.
“When you mobilize black people, especially black women, you can do some really amazing things. I thought this was going to just be a social thing — and there are women that don’t’ want to get involved in the activism, which is fine too — but this has turned into something much bigger,” she says. “This organization is volunteer-based, and we’ve done so much. That goes to show you that even when we’re not being paid, we’re willing to put in the work.”
“When you hire black women, when you elect black women, we make things happen without reciprocity. When you uplift black women, you uplift everyone else, too.”
To learn more about Not Without Black Women, visit their Facebook page here.
I am excited to become involved in the NWBW Movement. After serving in public education for 38 years and retired for seven years, I am feeling a calling…I am blessed to have known both of my great grandmothers, both grandmothers, still with us is our strong 89 Year-old Mother; I am the proud mother of one daughter and one smart six-year old granddaughter…God has sustained me to represent the powerful black women in my life. So grateful for God stirring the notion of service in my soul