The Women’s March on Washington had its beginnings the day after the Presidential election, as a reaction against what diverse women in different parts of the country experienced as divisive, misogynistic, anti-immigrant and racist campaign rhetoric. As the weeks passed, hundreds of “sister” marches sprang up, entirely generated on a volunteer, grassroots basis, until now, multiple marches are planned in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Planned for January 21, the day after the Trump Inauguration, more than 600 marches will be held in 40 countries. Marchers will take to the streets in 18 Oregon locations, including unexpected smaller cities like Joseph, Coos Bay and Florence.
Salem is participating in the international movement, with more than a thousand expected on Oregon’s Capitol Mall.
“The rhetoric of the past election cycle,” says the Women’s March site, “has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared.” Marches seek to include all those confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.
The Women’s March platform states, “defending the most marginalized among us, is defending all of us.”
Nyla McCarthy, organizer of the Salem event, hopes that “this international march will galvanize people. This is about so much more than he who I will not name. The rights of women, immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, the LGBTQIA community, unwaged people, folks who might lose health care – we are all at risk.”
Presenters will include Cara Kaser, newly elected to the Ward 1 position on Salem City Council, who will discuss the importance of citizen engagement, and BJ Andersen, Executive Director of Willamette Humane Society who will speak on behalf of several minorities including LGBTQIA, people of color, women and the disabled.
Salem’s keynote speaker is Shelaswau Bushnell Crier, former Willamette Law School professor and an advocate for women, minorities, and education, who will discuss the importance of uniting together to protect human rights both locally and nationally.
On January 12, national organizers released a decisively progressive platform that included reproductive rights, racial equality, immigration reform LGBTQIA rights, gender and racial equities, worker’s issues, a commitment to non-violence and similar issues. The event has been supported by explicitly progressive allies and supporters like Planned Parenthood, MoveOn.org, the NAACP and Amnesty International.
A focus on unity and action
“I agreed to speak,” says Shelaswau Crier, “because now more than ever it is important for each of us to take action and vigilantly protect one another.”
With an extensive background in education and law, including teaching Criminal Law, Education Law, Legislative Process, Professional Responsibility, and Juvenile Law at Willamette University, Crier has served as Vice President of the Salem-Keizer branch of the NAACP and presently serves on the state advisory group for the African American/Black Student Success Plan and Salem Foundation Distribution Committee.
“Civil rights legislation has been under attack for decades,” she says, “culminating with the Supreme Court striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. In addition, multiple states have been creating laws to bar local governments from extending civil rights protections to gay and transgendered persons.”
Crier cites the rise in hate crimes against people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ persons, and non-Christians, particularly Muslims, in the last year, but says the focus of her message “will be unity and action. We must work to protect one another and ensure continued progress toward civil rights for all. We can no longer sit complacent on our couches, lamenting wrongs on social media from our laptops and phones.”
Crier is an advocate for individual empowerment and personal responsibility. “Any actions, federal, state, or local, to curb civil rights, harm our environment, disenfranchise voters, attack or fail to protect the most vulnerable among us,” she says, “must be met with strong resistance. Together we can make a difference; we saw this with the quick and massive protest against recent efforts to bypass the ethics committee. Together we can effectively fight for an America that protects and respects people of all colors, religions, genders, sexualities, and backgrounds.”
Headgear with a serious message
“I was outraged,” says Karen Tofflemire, when she reflects on the President elect’s comments last year that his wealth and power meant he could grope women without consequences. (“I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”)
Tofflemire says the remarks should be blatantly offensive to anyone, “because no one would want someone to do that to their own mother, sister or child. Women have the right to their personal space, and to respect.” She cites an incident in Connecticut last month, apparently confirmed by surveillance footage, when a 71-year old Republican politician grabbed a woman’s genitals, reportedly saying, “I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct” and says this confirms that “women have to stand up for themselves, especially now.”
An out lesbian for 12 years, Tofflemier is one among thousands across the country reclaiming the word “pussy” as a declaration of empowerment by creating pink hats with cat ears for Women’s March attendees. Using a pattern from The Pussy Project website, which provides free patterns for those who knit, crochet and sew, she is “making hats for friends and family, and will absolutely wear one at the march.”
The Pussy Project site says, “Wearing pink together is a powerful statement that we are unapologetically feminine and we unapologetically stand for women’s rights… “women, whether transgender or cisgender, are mistreated in this society. In order to get fair treatment, the answer is not to take away our pussies, the answer is not to deny our femaleness; the answer is to demand fair treatment. A woman’s body is her own. We are honoring this truth and standing up for our rights.”
Like the march itself, the Pussyhat movement has grown exponentially. The project site’s registry says that the average crafter is creating more than 7 hats. The extras, in the spirit of liberalism, will be widely shared with other marchers. Hundreds are being mailed from across the U.S. to marchers in Washington, D.C.
Designer raises visibility
“I’d been reeling from the recent election when I was given the rare opportunity… to volunteer my professional skills to strengthen the visibility of this movement,” says Nicole LaRue, Portland-based designer and lesbian activist, “by contributing to the design campaign. And since I don’t always have the art of words, I gladly protest, pro bono, with my design.”
LaRue created the logo, products, apparel and posters for this cause. The proceeds for the sales of all designs will go to support the logistics and expenses to put on the Women’s March on Washington. “The Women’s March matters,” she says, “because defending ourselves against the prevailing political rhetoric matters. Defending inequality matters. And, above all, defending human rights matters.”
An explosively growing movement
When McCarthy decided to create a Facebook page for the Salem event on December 22 she was surprised to find “the response to it was immediate. Many, many women private messaged me saying they wanted to attend a rally or march in Salem.” With no press assistance, and with a Portland March (of more than 33,000 at last count) just an hour to the north, she initially thought, “maybe 50 to 100 people would attend.”
But the Facebook page exploded, and McCarthy was “over the moon with joy” to see that more than 600 had committed to attending six days before the event. The following day, there were over 1000. With numbers climbing daily, and the participation of members of local groups such as MoveOn and the Coffee Connection, projections are that Salem’s event will easily top one 1,500 marchers.
“Ours is a rally to unite and inspire, not a protest,” says co-coordinator Laurel Hines. “We want to ‘go high’ as Michelle Obama encouraged, even if anyone else around the rally tries to ‘go low’. We expect a peaceful rally and have helpers to help achieve that. It is not a Trump protest, but does hope to gain movement toward grassroots efforts on our issues of concern.”
*ASL service provided
Salem’s Women’s March
Sister event to the National Women’s March on Washington D.C.
Saturday January 21
11 a.m. – noon march, with speakers Cara Kaser, Salem City Council, BJ Anderson, Executive Director of Willamette Humane Society.
Keynote speaker Shelaswau Bushnell Crier, former Willamette Law School professor – and more!
@ Salem Capitol Mall
12pm – 2pm Informal walk to Salem’s waterfront with Rally Ambassador support