PEN America to Present Women’s March with Award for Free Expression Courage

Bob Bland has been asked to accept the award for the March

Women’s March via Flickr

This year’s PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award will honor the Women’s March, according to a statement released today by PEN America. The award, which honors “exceptional acts of courage” in demonstrating freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN’s annual gala on April 25th. Bob Bland has been asked to accept the award on behalf of the Women’s March.

On January 21st, 2017, women of all ages and their allies, donning pink pussy hats and carrying homemade signs, turned out on an unprecedented scale. 673 marches were organized, bringing together an estimated five million people on all seven continents. The rallies were entirely peaceful, with not a single arrest made. Speakers at the Washington protest, including Gloria Steinem and Senator Kamala Harris, underscored the March’s mission statement, which reads:

“The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”

The PEN award recognizes that the March embodied more than a protest against President Trump, becoming a show of support for diversity, women’s healthcare reform, LGBTQ, religious, reproductive rights and other issues.

PEN America’s press release quotes its executive director, Suzanne Nossel:

“The Women’s March began as a quixotic idea shared with friends on Facebook. In the hands of 99.9% of people, it would have ended there, as a pipe dream. But Bob Bland and the group of women who joined her forged a powerful, diverse coalition that worked with immense drive to win over skeptics and build the support of an extraordinarily broad coalition of which PEN America became part.”

PEN America has told Electric Lit that Bland alone has been invited to accept the award on behalf of the March, but that it hopes other organizers will be able to attend the ceremony. Bland is the Brooklyn-based fashion designer who, the night after the election, went on Facebook to suggest a women’s protest. Her efforts were combined with Teresa Shook, a woman based in Hawaii who created a Facebook page for a rally that quickly garnered over ten thousand RSVPs. Shook’s event was originally called “The Million Woman March,” which prompted criticism of her and Bland’s efforts and the absence of women-of-color in the planning process. Three nonwhite women with substantial organizing experience — Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez — were asked to join the protest as co-national chairs, alongside Bland.

2017 marks the third year the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award will be handed out. The award incited controversy in its inaugural year by honoring the satirical French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, after the deadly attack on the magazine’s Paris office. Some PEN authors, including Michael Ondaatje and Francine Prose, pulled out of the gala because of the paper’s history of offending various religious groups in France, particularly the Muslim community. The 2016 award went to Lee-Anne Walters and Dr. Hanna-Attisha, the pair who exposed the lead poisoning water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

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