It’s impossible to dismantle an oppressive system if you partner with its agents.
And yet, the Santa Cruz Women’s March (SCWM) is partnering with the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) for a march that will, apparently, advocate for intersectional women’s rights.
The choice to collaborate with the police department raises questions about the march’s integrity. SCWM and SCPD cite traffic control and logistics, as well as a discounted event permit, as reasons for police involvement. But are these benefits worth ostracizing communities who the police target more often than they protect?
In its past two years, the Santa Cruz Women’s March hasn’t been a beacon of representation. Last year, student activists responded to the white feminist rhetoric used in the national Women’s March movement by organizing a more inclusive march. SCWM organizers continued to boast values of intersectional feminism that, in the eyes of many, weren’t reflected on Pacific Ave. the day of the march.
Their most recent decision proves they talk the talk, only to walk with the police force.
Police intimidate and surveil Black and Brown bodies with unmediated force. They infiltrate safe spaces and assert their dominance even when no threats present themselves. They threaten undocumented individuals. They’re patriarchal and
oppressive. To assume their presence is welcome is to invalidate the experiences and fears of such communities.
Police brutality and the inherent patriarchy of the police are systemic issues. To stand in solidarity with women of color, trans women and other marginalized groups, we can’t give the local police department a pass because the new police chief is making efforts to collaborate.
Mere awareness of the moral rot in the institution you serve is not sufficient. Local police partnership tells women to overlook national trends of police violence and oppression.
Take Standing Rock, a protest with nonviolent civil disobedience as its foundation and peace as its goal for example: Police weren’t protecting these protesters. Instead, they aimed rubber bullets, fire hoses and tear gas at the unarmored bodies of Indigenous peoples.
When police departments offer support, it’s only after a movement has established its compliance with governing forces and confined itself to pacifism. This year’s Women’s March isn’t the only example. Last year, SCPD co-hosted the local Martin Luther King, Jr. March with the NAACP. Nationally, officers are choosing to now join in Pride events and disregard the history of Stonewall.
State-sanctioned activism is neither worthwhile nor productive. When we let police claim a stake in our fight, we concede that they have something to offer us. We add kindling to their rhetoric, which claims militarized law enforcement exists to protect us — not to keep us in our place. By welcoming police at the Women’s March we would be allowing a space of activism to be colonized. This immediately alienates our sisters and gender nonconforming individuals for whom the presence of police means the presence of violence.
The police do not deserve to link arms with those they’ve oppressed and, in many cases, continue to oppress just because social justice is a good look for them. They might want to build bridges, but we won’t overlook decades of violence for an afternoon of activism.
On the second anniversary of 45’s inauguration, we encourage you to practice feminism in a way that bypasses police partnerships. Maybe this means organizing a stand-alone demonstration, donating to organizations that help marginalized communities, showing yourself extra self-care or finding ways to empower the women around you.
All of those options will make more progress than working with the police force to dismantle the very systems it upholds.
In a time when talk of civility dominates the news and even the president is intent on defending both sides, we must remember the words of Audre Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”