Running Towards Feminism, Literally


>>By Lisa Grafstein, coordinator, Feminist 5k

Like many stories of activism post-January 20, this story starts (sort of) with the Women’s March on D.C. What was remarkable to me about the Women’s March – besides the sheer volume of humanity filling a city – was that it articulated a breathtakingly broad agenda. There wasn’t a nod to diversity; there was a full embrace of the truth that the struggle for human dignity and equality is one struggle. We were there for the Women’s March but it was clear from the start that the vision was for an activism that sees all oppression and marginalization as the product of disrespecting the equal dignity of every person.

At its best, feminism is about equal dignity and respect – the simple idea that women are people and no person is less than any other. Of course, feminism – or, more accurately, the women’s movement – has not always been at its best. But that day it was.

So, back on the bus to Raleigh, I decided it was time to launch a Feminist 5k. But that was not actually the beginning.

Wavy-screen flash-back to two years ago. The scene is one of the many races you can run in this beautiful city, and it was, at least in the flashback, a beautiful day to be outside, bright and cool. I like races because they’re festive and everyone is just . . . happy. There’s unity in a shared intent to do something that, like love, has no rational purpose. There are no cynics – not even those of us who know we will not be winning a medal, or maybe even getting a free banana if the supply should run out by the time we get there. (True story.) Random strangers cheer for each other. (Actual sign held by a 10 year old girl at one race: “Go, random stranger!”) My favorite: on an out-and-back route, the lead runners on their way back get cheered on by those of us still a good distance from the turn-around point. And we get cheered on in return, sincerely. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the elite runners are just nice people who happen to be really fast.

So, at one of those races, which all have themes and worthy causes, it occurred to me that there should be a 5k that celebrates and promotes feminism, at its inclusive best. I reserved the domain and figured sometime down the road it might become a real thing. Admittedly, I was complacent before the election, believing that progress is inevitable. Another stunning fact from the Women’s March was that the women who conceived it had no idea how to go about pulling it off when they started. But, to quote Lillian Exum Clement, the first woman legislator in North Carolina (and the South), “you have to start a thing.”

I have to acknowledge that some people don’t embrace the word feminism because of the way feminism has been demonized by the Right – which, IMO,  makes it all the more important to start using the word more vociferously. Visibility matters.  Ask the women who followed Bobbi Gibb.

Wavy black-and-white screen flash-back: Bobbi Gibb was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. She qualified and applied for the race in 1966, but received a letter informing her that women were not permitted and “not physiologically able.” She went anyway, snuck into the race, and finished in the top third of runners. And so it began, and other women followed. Now, women are the majority of entrants in many races.

My hope is that the Feminist 5k is an event where we can celebrate feminism, and bring people together around support for the far-reaching project of equal dignity and respect. Proceeds benefit the Women’s Center of Wake County in their work supporting women facing homelessness.

So, I invite you to join us on June 17, 2017, to revel in a shared purpose and the unique energy of a Raleigh road race. There is a $5 discount for Women AdvaNCe subscribers (use promotion code WOM), and kids 12 and under are free. Here is my pledge to you: we will NOT run out of bananas.

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