Smart Cookies and the Legacy of the Women’s March

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By Breanne Butler

It was April of 2016, around 11:30 pm. I was in my kitchen at home, testing out a new cookie recipe for my company, by Breanne, when I got an email from Instagram executive Eva Chen.

“Hey, I’m throwing a fundraising for Hillary Clinton with Diane von Furstenberg. Can you make cookies for the event?”

After jumping up and down in my apartment for five minutes, I called my mom excitedly. “Mom! I’m going to be making cookies for our future first female President!!!!!!”

Well, the cookies turned out amazing! The election results? Ehhh, not so much.

Something happened at that fundraising event that hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized I had been consumed with rolling out cookie dough at odd hours of the night, making janky deliveries from the backs of taxis, and dealing with the other growing pains associated with food entrepreneurship, and that I was not paying attention to what was happening in our political climate. I was in my own bubble. I mean, I’m just a chef. I’m not a politician and never cared or engaged in elections before. But this election was different... if a woman was our Commander in Chief, then would women in kitchens finally be viewed as equal to their male counterparts? Would we finally get paid the same? Would people be excited to work with us based on our skill set, not because they need some eye candy to flirt with during a 14-hour shift?

These hopes and dreams seemed to float away on November 8th as I left the Javits Center, where Hillary Clinton’s election night party was held. As I was on the 5 train heading home, I could feel myself about to be sick. As I jumped off at 42nd Street to run to the nearest trash can, I was comforted to find three women doing the exact same thing. We hugged each other and cried. People were saying that 9/11 and 11/9 were the two worst days New York City has ever seen... but how could we turn these tears into action? I gave myself permission to cry the entire day and vowed to begin the fight tomorrow... but what did the fight look like?

As I mindlessly scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, I saw my answer: a march in Washington D.C., the day after the inauguration. I messaged the page immediately and said, “What can I do?”

Now, you know how on Facebook it states your employment under your name? Before branching off into my own business, I was the pastry chef at Facebook NY (Yes, Facebook has its own in-house pastry chef and yes, it was one of the coolest jobs ever), so my name read: “Breanne Butler, Facebook NY.”

I’m sure the initial reaction to my DM was that some chick who was an engineer or Facebook guru was volunteering, because I was tasked with creating the Facebook pages for all of the states that were interested in marching so they could mobilize to D.C. Shortly after I was made a host of the event, the march began to go viral. I watched as I began to get notifications by the hundreds... women from all over the U.S.A. Soon, women from all over the world were reaching out. I spent the next 27 hours glued to my laptop!

Now, the thought of planning a global march in 10 weeks is already pretty ambitious, but we also had three major holidays smack dab in the middle! I remember standing in my Grandma’s kitchen prepping for Thanksgiving dinner, hosting a conference call for 200 people I’ve never talked to in my life. I woke up at 5 a.m. every morning while in Tulum for New Year’s so I could squeeze in a solid four hours of Skype calls/emails before my friends woke up.

The week of the march finally came. When I arrived in Washington, D.C., it was as if a dark cloud had descended upon the whole city. We saw strangers just crying on the street watching the Obama administration say their goodbyes while the new administration was ushered in. But through the dark clouds came a ray of sunshine as the flyers for the Women’s March began to scatter around D.C. and women in their pink hats began to show up.

D.C. was obviously booked solid long before the election results even came in, so finding a hotel for 60 organizers proved to be a difficult task. Guess which hotel was the only place that could accommodate us all? The freakin’ Watergate Hotel! Talk about irony!!! But the night before the march, as we all linked arms in that basement, I looked around the room with tears streaming down my face. There we all were... everyday people who stepped up and made history. We had yoga teachers, anthropologists, lawyers, fashion designers, stay-at home moms... all making it happen. These women jumped in and didn’t let their lack of experience be an excuse; they took the things they were good at and applied them toward making this march happen. Even me, a chef with zero experience in any political organizing, found that there’s actually a lot of similarities between getting through a stressful dinner service or a ton of holiday cookie orders and organizing a march. Delegating, long hours, constant communication, and tight deadlines are nothing I’m a stranger to. Who would have thought I could play such a critical role?

The day of the march is something that still shakes me to my core, even a year later. Waking up in the middle of the night to watch Tokyo kick off the wave of marches sweeping around the world was exhilarating. Looking down at my phone and seeing the march route on Google Maps made it all so real. At around 8 a.m., I looked behind me and saw what looked like that scene in The Lion King with the stampede of animals, except it was women in their pink hats! I knew we had 1 million people right then.

Almost 700 marches around the world with close to 6 million people marching on every single continent—yep, even Antarctica. It showed the world that when women come together, we get things DONE. We are unstoppable. We are resilient. We do the impossible. We don’t let the obstacles or the “can’t” be an excuse... we find power in uniting and in each other.

A year later, I find myself on the front lines of the resistance. As a woman, I’m not only fighting for my rights, but also for the rights of most of the restaurant industry. The restaurant business is (and continues to be, for now) one of the most sexist industries. Women especially are subject to daily harassment, unwanted sexual advances, and a serious pay gap. I won't ever forget finding out that even though I was the pastry sous chef, a male cook in another department was making 10k more a year than me. That being said, kitchens remain some of the most diverse, unique places you can find.

The big focus in 2018 for the Women’s March is getting people registered to vote and making sure they turn up at the polls. With the initiative called “Power to the Polls,” we hope to see results like we did this past November and in special elections like Alabama’s. We will continue to make sure we intentionally push inclusivity and intersectionality as well as empower women to lead. While a global march is something that definitely signals change, change is actually something that starts small. Change starts at a local level, in your own community. At your family barbeque. In your own workplace. Don’t let the “can’t” be an excuse... remember that you can change the world and make a difference. Even if you’re just a chef who makes cookies.

 

Breanne Butler is a chef and activist in New York City. Originally from Detroit, she moved to New York to pursue her career as a chef, and worked at the Michelin-starred Rouge Tomate and then at Facebook. On Nov. 9th, Breanne and a few other women founded the Women's March, a historic event that over 5 million women attended. Today, Breanne is leading the Women's March as global director. 

 

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