On Jan. 21, 2017, ten weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, 500,000 people gathered for the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. In St. Paul, 100,000 marched to the Minnesota Capitol. Millions more participated in events around the world.
Women, especially, have mobilized against a president who made sexist and chauvinistic statements throughout his campaign. The marches were part of the Resistance – a movement opposing Trump’s agenda and supporting equality and justice.
Compelled to act
Gloria Everson, of St. Paul, was among the early activists. Hearing of a proposed march in Washington, D.C., she started a Facebook page for Minnesotans who wanted to go and eventually helped coordinate 8 buses traveling to the March. “I would not have called myself an activist before this,” she says. “However, waking up on November 9, and realizing that so many people saw things differently, forced me and many others to really take a deeper look at our society and the many problematic aspects of it. These issues, finally and rightly, took on flesh and bone.”
Across the river in Minneapolis, Bethany Bradley faced a different wake-up call. Told of Trump’s win, Bradley’s preschooler replied, “But he doesn’t use kindness. How could someone be president that doesn’t use kindness?” “And that really, really hit me,” Bradley says. Soon after, she agreed to co-lead Minnesota’s Women’s March.
Organizers acknowledge the marches themselves didn’t immediately solve any issues, but by all accounts they were a success. Everson refers to the gatherings as “the silver lining of a dark cloud.” “It made people realize what they could do,” she explains. “They had a voice.”
Nancy Lyons served as the emcee of the St. Paul event, keeping speakers and the marchers excited and engaged. “We didn’t expect that large of a crowd,” she says. “But as they moved toward the stage and we started making connections and I could see their faces and feel their energy, it was clear we all came together for the same reasons.”
Doing the work
“Our hope with the March was that you’d show up on January 21 and then feel empowered to continue showing up and continue doing the work in the movement,” Bradley says.
To those who still want to get started she has some advice: “The important thing is to just show up in solidarity and be shoulder-to-shoulder with other people. It’s an opportunity to build relationships and ask questions and to really push yourself out of your comfort zone.”
She encourages people to read about issues, share information and get involved – and not only with “women’s issues.” Women’s March Minnesota’s website states, “We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights” and lists eight unity principles.
“You can’t be working on women’s rights without working on change for social and systemic justice. Truly,” Bradley explains. “It’s all so deeply intertwined.”
For example, the organization is partnering with the NAACP to facilitate a monthly dialogue and storytelling series called Messy Conversations. Bradley says it’s a chance to learn and talk about “what’s truly going on in our community and ways that we can actively get involved to change it.”
Likewise, Everson is organizing social events “so people who are very interested in being active and activist can meet each other and get to know each other as real people.” It’s her way of keeping the Resistance sustainable.
As for Lyons, her commitment to equality hasn’t wavered, and she continues to attend events and protests. “I have to do this work. I have to speak up. I have to show up.”
FFI: Activist groups that have started this year in Minnesota, responding to our current administration:
Hear Our Voice MN hearourvoicemn.com
Women’s March Minnesota womensmarchmn.com
Stand Up Minnesota standupminnesota.org
Action Together Twin Cities actiontogethertwincities.com
Women & Advocates MN (WANDA MN) facebook.com/MNwanda/
Minnesota Indivisible minnesotaindivisible.org or indivisibleguide.com/act-locally
Poetry press on wheels
Last January, Monica Larson packed up her 70-pound cast-iron printing press and the bike it is attached to and headed to Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March. Her goal: use her mobile press to distribute poetry at the March.
This wasn’t a new thing for Larson, although participating in such a big event so far away was. Larson has been pedaling her mobile press to community gatherings for two years, sharing verses on Poetry Spoke Cards, designed to fit between the spokes of a bike. Most of the events aren’t overtly political, and neither are the poems.
“The intention is to interact with people and offer ideas and get them to think about things and question,” she says. “I see it kind of as a quiet but subversive way of changing people’s thinking or changing their hearts.”
At the Women’s March, Larson handed out cards printed with “America, I Sing You Back” by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. She’d seen the poem on a website after the election and acquired permission to reproduce it. She set up her press near a bike lot and connected with people on their way to the march. Later, she printed cards outside a poetry slam.
“It felt like I was contributing,” she says. “It was really, really transformative for me.”