All Cincinnati community organizers and community members concerned with social equity need to read this message. Black Lives Matter Cincinnati (BLMC) resigned itself to suffer the negative opinions some might harbor towards us for refusing to participate in the United We Stand (UWS) march and rally. We chose not to release damning information that supported our political position about the march and its organizers.
We did this because, even though the action was held and organized under false pretenses, we did not want to kill the momentum and excitement of people whose genuine intention was to attend a rally for women’s rights. The personal and organizational attacks waged upon us, we judged, weighed less than the transformative experience some might have at that deceptively branded event. We also hoped that, in time, UWS would be accountable and make amends for the harm that they have enacted upon several community members.
The recent UWS statement sanitizes the actions taken by their leadership. They chalk up culturally insensitive, vindictive and rude functioning to people having bad days. They explain away direct lies told to organizations and to the public as misunderstandings. UWS has failed to tell the truth each time they were given an opportunity. Even with the 2018 Women’s March completed, they continue to mislead their members, other organizations, and the public for their own gain. As this organization’s leadership continues to show no integrity or growth, BLMC along with representatives from the American Indian Movement (AIM) and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are now releasing detailed facts about the conduct of UWS.
Lie: UWS had over 50 event partners for the 2018 Women’s March
Fact: The organizers of UWS have admitted in private meetings that the organization (and its national leadership) was the sole planner of the Cincinnati Women’s March. Locally, no other organizations or people outside of the 3-person leadership were allowed to affect event planning decisions.
UWS indicated to the National Underground Freedom Center (NURFC) that they had 50 event partners who were deeply involved in planning their Women’s March including BLMC. As a result, NURFC — who initially granted UWS access — called a meeting with the leadership of BLMC upon seeing our January 7th statement regarding our decision not to participate in the event. The NURFC staff indicated the need for clarification due to the conflicting information received from UWS.
The conclusion of this initial meeting between BLMC and NURFC led both groups to believe that UWS used the leverage of these non-existent event partners (BLMC) in order to secure NURFC as a venue. NURFC is an institution that often makes itself available to community organizations representing broad collaborations.. The lack of a genuine partnership with other organizations combined with the racist comments and irrational behavior of UWS leadership towards women of color prompted NURFC to withdraw from their decision to affiliate with the event.
Lie: The women’s march is not about voting, it’s about women’s rights
Fact: In media, UWS organizers have represented the Cincinnati Women’s March as being about women’s rights and feminism. However, in face-to-face meetings, they have revealed women’s rights is a secondary concern.
- UWS organizer Kate Gallion stated “the Women’s March is not about feminism. The 2nd annual Women’s March is about voting.”
- Rhiannon, the state lead for the Women’s March, similarly stated “the Women’s March is about voting and electing people the National Women’s March supports, not women’s rights.” She also insisted that the march itself was not important and really should not have been organized.
Lie: UWS could not change their march theme because they were following the national direction.
Fact: Multiple actions in other cities who used the Women’s March logo, organized under various themes. Some marches had themes with no hint of voting in them. In conversations with our leadership in mid November, UWS organizer Billie Mays claimed to understand our organization’s hesitation to participate with the “vote” theme and agreed that “Hear our Voice” was a more appropriate theme. Billie indicated that she would meet with the other organizers of UWS to discuss changing the theme since other organizations had also made this suggestion and the “Hear Our Voice” theme would be more inclusive for people who are marginalized through the voting process and regulations.
Billie later claimed UWS couldn’t change the theme because of national leadership. In public posts, Billie has never even admitted that she led our organization to believe that they were open to changing the theme. She also did not admit that our discussions had taken place over the course of several weeks, well in advance of the publication or printing of flyers, banners, and other related event materials. As a result, the public was led to believe that our request to change the theme was last minute, unreasonable, and not possible.
Lie: BLMC’s statement was an attack
Fact: BLMC’s original statement challenged people to consider the true nature and history of the Women’s March and to try to understand why this year’s march was not an appropriate place for our organization.
Fact: When BLMC saw that several UWS leaders were under attack as individuals, BLMC issued a clarification statement to sharpen the political nature of our decision and distance itself from any personal attacks levied by justifiably angry, community members.
Lie: Black Lives Matter Cincinnati’s leadership is predominantly male
Fact: In our formal leadership, 5 out of 9 people are women. The decision not to participate in the women’s march and to take a stand on the “Hear Our Vote” theme was driven by the women in the leadership. 2 out of our 3 committees are led by women. Countless events have had women chairpersons and speakers.
Lie: In a public Facebook post on the day after our first statement was released, UWS leader Kate Gallion said Mona Jenkins, a BLMC leader “lied to her [Billie Mays], toyed with and deceived her while plotting a vengeful comeuppance”
Fact: The statement was crafted after Mona, who was asked to speak at the Women’s March, had multiple civil conversations with UWS leader Billie Mays. During those conversations, several facts became evident. BLMC was not the only organization who had suggested the change to “Hear Our Voice”, men were not allowed to speak (even though this would be critical for a women’s rights event), UWS had no clear goals for the event, and UWS had no plan of action for participants to take following the event. Mona, in recognizing the lack of experience of UWS with regards to organizing, offered to help and made several recommendations despite already notifying UWS that BLMC could not and would not participate in the event.
Rather than considering the recommendations as a way to build the event as well as their own organization, they were regarded by one UWS leader (who was eventually asked to step down by regional leadership) as BLMC trying to take over the event. This was not the case. BLMC knows it is more beneficial in the movement for liberation if we assist other organizations who are also fighting against systemic oppression in building their leadership whenever possible.
Lie: UWS is willing to work things out with BLMC
Fact: Although, we have recently received offers from organizations to mediate things between UWS, there is nothing to mediate. After the Women’s March statement was released, BLMC leadership met with UWS leadership on two separate occasions under mediation by objective bodies not connected to BLMC in any way. They were both unproductive discussions where UWS repeatedly discounted and ignored the experiences of women of color. UWS refused to take responsibility for any of their actions and toxic behavior in their leadership. They actually wanted to FB live one such meeting, which actually revealed much of what this statement discusses. BLMC argued not to do so due to the damage it would have caused to UWS.
Lie: UWS respects BLMC and AIM of Ohio
Fact: In the time since our first statement has been released both organizations have been the targets of belittling and derogatory speech from UWS and their closest Facebook supporters. These slights have been delivered publicly on social media, in private meetings, and in private messages.
- When Corine Fairbanks pulled out of the local Women’s March, she received extremely nasty and disrespectful response notes that insulted her and BLMC. In these notes from UWS leader Kate Gallion, she was told:
- BLMC and AIM were making UWS organizers “look like a bunch of white bitches with no woc on the platform”
- BLMC leadership is comprised of “mostly masculine ego-trippers”
- Kate Gallion continued to contact Corine in unnecessary private messages, (Corine remained polite in every exchange) at one point sending her a biographical statement about her Women’s March speaker replacement (another women of color) completely unsolicited. This message was a clear example of tokenism.
- All of the UWS leadership is aware of this hostile behavior from Kate Gallion toward Corine and they have never apologized to her for it.
- In a public Facebook post, Kate Gallion referred to our organization’s leaders as “divisive, backstabbers and bedwetters”.
Lie: UWS leaders have been respectful of other women during the Women’s March disagreement
Fact: Well before BLMC released our Women’s March statement, community members have known that UWS’s leadership has mean-spirited members and leaders among them. In the comments, under the recent Women’s March on Ohio statement about UWS, several women have shared stories of being disrespected by their leadership.
Several women of color personally explained their concerns about inclusivity to UWS leaders at the Freedom Center. These women stressed the importance of a “women’s march” in Cincinnati taking care to use themes and imagery that include as many marginalized women as possible. These women explained that making the main focus of the Women’s March about voting was exclusive toward certain groups. These women cited experiences with institutional racism in Cincinnati, civil unrests, and the tension that continues to remain. UWS leaders responded by claiming they didn’t understand why these women of color felt the event was exclusive.
UWS scheduled Megan Anderson as a Women’s March speaker. She has used a power wheelchair since the age of five. After the NURFC rescinded their offer to host the Women’s March, UWS failed to secure a wheelchair accessible venue. Megan was not immediately informed about this change. With less than 48 hours before the March, Megan was told of the new location that she would report to.
At that point, Megan inquired if the new venue was wheelchair accessible. She was told they didn’t know, possibly not. UWS organizers suggested that she deliver her speech, not from a stage alongside other speakers, but from the ground. Later that day, it was confirmed to Megan that a permit for a ramp was too expensive and would cost $2,000.00. Megan removed herself from the speakers list later that evening. Megan made her withdrawal known to UWS organizers and volunteers, whom she had been in contact with regarding accessibility. Megan did not want to speak from the ground about her activism around healthcare, while cheers of unity and the importance of intersectionality were echoing over her. Megan made certain UWS received confirmed written statements that she would not be a speaker.
Despite removing from the speakers list, Megan continued to receive messages from UWS. Kate Gallion wrote to Megan Anderson, stating “A handicap accessible ramp is being built at The Cincinnati Women’s March stage at 11:00 am on Saturday Jan 20. The voice of handicapped persons has been heard, and all accommodations to stage access have been made” and “confirming: order placed for ADA compliant ramp at speaker stage. Billing has been processed.” Megan has said UWS organizers made her feel ostracized and like she was being used as a token.
Fact: After the statement from Rhiannon and the subsequent UWS response letter that answered few of the questions posed, women and men began to publicly ask UWS about the statements and their relations with BLMC. Many asking questions were blocked and a number of the people were banned from the UWS Facebook page in an attempt to shut down the discussion.
Lie: The 2018 Cincinnati Women’s March was scheduled to take place at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (as of Jan 20, 2018)
Fact: A week before the Women’s March, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) hosted an attempted mediation between UWS leaders, BLMC leaders, Corine Fairbanks from AIM of Ohio and other community members. After this meeting, NURFC rescinded their offer to host the Women’s March because UWS’s false claims described in this statement and several other incidents came to light.
- UWS organizers never informed the public this happened, so when participants were unable to access NURFC bathrooms, many didn’t understand why the facility closed its doors.
- UWS took it upon themselves to have the speaker portion of the event on a raised platform in front of the building, as if nothing has changed.
- This led to several FB posts of participants speculating as to why no access was given, slandering NURFC, threatening to sue them and villainizing their board leadership. These damaging posts, seen by organizers (who even commented in the posts) were left to fester for at least 24 hours and were only pulled at the behest of NURFC.
Lie: In a face-to-face meeting, UWS claimed they invited Steering Committee member, Mona Jenkins, to speak only on behalf of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH). They also claimed to have no idea that Corine Fairbanks was linked with AIM of Ohio.
- UWS leaders claimed in a meeting that “Mona was asked to speak on behalf of the Homeless Coalition, not BLMC.” This is in direct contradiction to UWS’s claims that they “begged them [BLMC] to be involved in the event.”
- Mona was asked on October 4th to speak on behalf of BLMC. It wasn’t until mid November when Mona confirmed with Billie that BLMC would not be participating in the event that Mona was asked to speak for GCCH. For similar reasons of exclusion, GCCH supported Mona’s decision not to speak for their organization as well. Mona chose to deny a third request to speak when she was asked to talk about her personal community advocacy work related to education and health. When Billie made the comment “But we need women of color to speak!”, this solidified for Mona that women of color were being used to fulfill the optical illusion of diversity and inclusion and that she did not want to be exploited as a token for this event.
- In this meeting, Kate Gallion also told Corine that she “had never even heard of you before I asked you to speak” and she claimed to have no idea that Corine was with the American Indian Movement. Yet, a quick Google search easily shows Corine’s connection to AIM. Also, in a message directly to Corine, Kate cites reaching out to “Cincinnati AIM [sic] at every event UWS has hosted,” which would be irrelevant if there was no knowledge of her link with AIM.
Lie: Some Black women wrote statements in support of the Cincinnati Women’s March which means there was no racial insensitivity problem within UWS
Fact: Some people initially critical of BLMC’s decision to pull out of the event, pulled out themselves upon finding out the facts about the functioning of some of UWS leadership. Two women, Rashida and Rhiannon, wrote statements in support of the “Hear Our Vote” theme and the Women’s March shortly after BLMC’s statement was released.
Both of these women later retracted their support for the local march. Rashida, who published a Medium article in defense of the Cincinnati Women’s March, alerted Facebook friends on the morning of the event that she would not be participating. Also, most recently, Rhiannon from the Women’s March Ohio, released a statement disavowing UWS and confirming that UWS has a serious race problem – among other things. Additionally, several women of color who were supposed to speak or attend revoked support for the event after personally experiencing hostility and racially insensitive remarks from UWS organizers.
Lie: UWS has misrepresented the titles of several of their event speakers. In their recent thank you photo they listed Leslie Moorhead as the Director of Development and Operations at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH).
Fact: A quick visit to the GCCH website shows that this job title currently belongs to Mona Jenkins, BLMC Steering Committee member, who was asked to speak at their event. The fact that Mona was asked to speak on behalf of GCCH after denying the request to speak for BLMC confirms that UWS leadership was aware of Mona’s position with GCCH which she has held for the last year. This intentional misrepresentation is dishonest and unacceptable.
To this day, organizers have not come clean on the lies they’ve told, nor the disrespectful and at best culturally insensitive acts they’ve committed. For those asking to step in to help “heal” relations between UWS, BLMC and other organizations of oppressed people… healing starts with admission of guilt and atonement.
Yours in Solidarity,
Steering Committee, Black Lives Matter Cincinnati
Corine Fairbanks, American Indian Movement
Megan Anderson, member with Democratic Socialist of America