Though inspired by the ‘Million Man March’ of 1995, one profound fact about the ‘Million Woman March’ was how its organization was not centered on any star power. There was no influential figure whose appeal triggered or gathered the impressively huge crowd that turned up for the cause, but the untamed determination and efforts of grassroots organizations and everyday women on the streets. The organizers, Phile Chionesu and Asia Coney, wove the objective of the march around the teething community issues that affected the majority of women to rally them to demand their rights. On October 25, 1997, they attracted over 500,000 African American women to Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia to embark on a day’s long march.
Though criticized for deliberately sidelining prominent names for the march, the issues championed by the organizers had a tacit endorsement from the black community. Chief among the concerns was a push into a probe of the alleged CIA workings with drug lords to supply black communities with crack cocaine. The organizers also wanted to counteract the negative stereotypes built around African American women in popular culture and the media. All the notable speakers on a historic day, from the wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Jada Pinkett Smith, Attallah and IIyasah Shabazz, and Sista Souljah, urged the gathering to come together to rebuild a resilient black community. Other personalities who threw their support behind the march were Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Dr. Betty Shabazz, and Height.
Though organized decades ago, the ‘Million Woman March’ continues to generate national conversation. The reason is not far-fetched, its nature has been described as ‘uncommon.’ Before the emergence of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, computerized bulletin board systems were in vogue. The organizers leveraged its reach to connect with many African American women in Philadelphia and many other states. The news of the “million women” marching got the system buzzing with many shares, and numerous women enthusiastically desired an opportunity to be part of the history-making event. Whether from the East Coast, the South, or the Midwest, many women supported one another with means of transportation to get to Philadelphia.
Its organizational prowess was not the only exceptional feature that kept the public buzzing when it came up for debate, but how women were instrumental in crafting the vision statement for the implementation of the march. They were unknown women activists who felt they needed to take a bold step to address the pressing issues affecting them, and since the day they marched, they have inspired many African American women to work on their own progress as well as their neighborhoods.