Kesho Scott Speaks at Women's March in Des Moines

On Saturday, Jan. 21, Associate Professor Kesho Scott stood before a cheering crowd of 26,000 in Des Moines to discuss the history of the 123 marches on Washington, D.C. What followed was a reminder of the significance that every action in a social justice movement has to move our country forward.


I'm from Grinnell College, and I have a lot to say. (cheers) I see a bunch of nasty women out here! (cheers) I see a lot of pink hats out here. (cheers) I see a lot of men out here. (cheers) I see a lot of children out here. (cheers)

So my question is, what brought you here today? Reflect on that for a moment.

For me as a professor who teaches about social movements, social change, and social justice, I knew I wanted to be part of an ongoing movement. Is that why you're here today? (cheers)

Let me begin with a a Webster dictionary of what a rally is, because that's what you're at today. A rally. A rally is a mustering. Check that word out. Mustering of scattered forces--raise your hand if you're one of those scattered forces. Absolutely. So it's a mustering of scattered forces to renew our effort--raise your sign because that's your effort! (cheers)

If you've been feeling like a lot of the gains that have been made in the last hundred years are being rolled back cross your hands to say absolutely no. We need to draw a line - come on, let's draw that invisible line - we will not move back.

I want you to know you do not have to feel alone. look around, hug somebody because you're not alone. Take a moment. You are not alone. You are not alone...Nobody's going to hug me, wait a minute. You are not alone, but there are times in which we feel alone.

I think what will help is for us to review our historical past. It is estimated-I want you to remember this- that there have been a hundred and twenty three marches on Washington. What was that number? (123)

They've been part of the US history from 1849 till this very day. What was that number? (123)

That first first march on Washington was about economic justice for Ohio quarry workers and there were 500 people there. That's no little feat. But they were the first to do a march. Out of about - what was that number? (123) Out of 123, 11 marches have been marches organized and executed by women. Isn't that fabulous in our history? (cheers)

It's been reported yesterdaythat over 620 in 80 cities all over the United States look just like you. (cheers) It is estimated there would be almost two-and-a-half million people all over the all over the United States marching just like you! (cheers) And because the issue of unity and equality is an issue that's transnational, there are demonstrations in at least 30 countries all over the United States. Just like you. (cheers)

I'm gonna give you a little history real fast. Can you take history lesson? Say yeah! (Yeah!) All right, so the first women's march was a suffragette movement. There were 5,000 women, and guess who led it? Ask me, who led it? Helen Keller. Helen Keller. The next big march that women were part of organizing was in 1968. The Women's International League for Peace. There were 5,000 women there in Washington. In 1970 there was a women’s strike for equality. 20,000 women there. In 1978 there was an equality of equal rights amendment. 20,000 women were there. Now the Equal Rights Amendment did not pass and this is very interesting - many women didn't vote for it. Does that sound familiar? (yeah) I was there. I was 25 years old. In 1986 the first march for women's lives to protect reproductive rights - remember that? In 1986? There were 250,000 people. That same number of people that listen to the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King. (cheers)

In 1989 another March for women's lives, there were 400,000 people, and in 2001, the big year, put your arms up for the big year - that was the Million Moms March. 750,000. Any moms out there? Absolutely. The next march in 2000 was the Brides March Against Domestic Violence. Is that important? (yeah) That was the million family march for racial unity and families is that important? (yeah) And then the big one, come on bigger! Put your arms up bigger! Keep them up!

The biggest march rec - keep your arms up - ever recorded in US history was in 2004. How many marches have there been? (123) It was estimated that there was a million and a half people for reproductive rights and pro-choice. Awesome. I was also there! Also Whoopie Goldberg was there. Ashley Judd was there. Peter, Paul, and Mary was there. The Indigo Girls were there. Susan Sarandon was there. Holly Near was there. Madeleine Albright was there. Gloria Steinem and our own ceiling-breaker Hillary Clinton was there!

So I want to go back to that definition. We renew our offensive to do the work. Raise those signs again because that is the work that you have to do. Raise them high! Shake them up!
So I want you to know that women have been symbolically and institutionally part of half of the population of how many different - how many rallies? (123) They have fought for women's rights, equal pay, anti-war, workers solidarity, there was even a march on Washington against the KKK and bigotry. And most important, LGBT rights. Our symbolic history of renewing our offensive also comes in song. Will you sing a little bit with me? You ready?

In 1913, the suffragettes sang a song that went something like this, (singing) "I am standing on the shoulders of the one who came before me." Go! (crowd repeats) In the sixties, we held hands with our multiple faces and religions, young and old, and we say, (singing) "We shall overcome" Again! (crowd sings) Again! (crowd sings) That's enough for time! In the 1970s - I gotta remember the time - Helen Reddy, she bellowed out I am woman, hear me roar! Come on, say it again! I am woman, hear me roar! Great! In the 1980s one of my favorite, Gloria Gaynor, said that as long as we love, we will survive! Isn't that right? In the nineties one of my favorite girl groups was Sweet Honey in the Rock and they sang in their deepest, deepest voice, join me - (singing) We will not bow down to racism. Again! We will not bow down to racism. One more time. We will not bow down to racism. (singing) I'm goin' change. I'm goin' change. I'm goin' change. You remember that song? All right. My favorite year - one more time - 2000 - big year - "yuge" year - Destiny's Child sang Independent Woman Madonna sag What it Feels Like for a Girl. Britney Spears sang Stronger. Remember them? All right. In 2003, Missy Elliott said, "Work it Baby, Work it!" In 2004 Christina Aguilera and Lil' Kim sang Can't Hold Us Down. Cheetah Girls thing about girl power, and in 2006 the Pussycat Dolls sang I Don't Need a Man. Well, maybe not, we have men here. I love that song. one of my favorite, Alicia Keys sang Superwoman and in 2013 where would we be if Katy Perry hadn't reminded us to - what? - ROAR! Do it again - ROAR! She said something about being the eye of a what? (Tiger!) you got it - and in 2016 Beyonce's song Freedom was equally as important. And when she says - repeat after me - (clapping) freedom, freedom I can't move/ freedom, freedom I can't move/freedom, freedom cut me loose/freedom, freedom who are you/‘cause I need freedom too! Got that

And you probably know it better than me, so my last remarks, because we're about to march, is that a real a rally is really a renewal of our offensive - remember that line? Draw that line. We are not moving back. We are not moving back! We are not moving back! We are part of an ongoing American women's movement to form a more perfect union. (cheers) That has always been our job. The founding people said that. Other people have said that. Our outgoing president said that. It is about that task of making a more perfect union. I bring -

This brings me to the end, to be mindful - put your hands up - of the three cautions. What did I say? The 3 what? (cautions) When we're part of a movement we have to remember that we bring our differences as women and allies and all the -isms and all the privileges are part of the dynamics we don't want those things to undermine them. Number one: put your energy into the things that you can change. Let me say that again. Put your energy where? (into the things that you can change) Reject the idea that there's one size that fits all for the social justice role. Every thing we do counts! (cheers) And finally manage your own despair and disappointments. Remember - hands up! - movements ebb and flow. Take the oaths you need to take, work with others, lead, manage, work out, stay up late at night. Do what you can, when you can, and know that when you march today, you put yourself in history.

Thank you! (cheers)

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