OSWEGO COUNTY, NY – Just one day after the official inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, a record setting number of people across the country and throughout the world stood together and walked in unison in what has been named, “Women’s March on Washington.”
The event was originally referred to as the “Million Women March.” However, with respect for the original Million Women March that historically took place in Philadelphia 20 years ago and also in honor of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the names merged together to inspire the “Women’s March on Washington.”
The goal of the event was to “not only stand together in sisterhood and solidarity for the protection of our rights, our safety, our families and our environment, but it is also to build relationships and mend the divides between our communities,” according to a WMW press release.
What started the day after the 2017 presidential election as an ambitious plan originated by Teresa Shook, a grandmother residing in Hawaii, calling forty of her friends to march in Washington, D.C., the idea quickly spread and gained momentum to include marches in various locations throughout the country and eventually around the world.
Many Oswego County natives and residents participated in Women’s Marches throughout the country, sharing with us the stories of their experiences.
While all had different personal reasons for attending and different personal experiences and emotions, the overall experience seemed to be wrapped up in a few key phrases including “empowering, inspiring, hopeful, proud, historic” to name a few.
24-year-old Fulton native, Kali Kearns attended the Women’s March on Washington, taking advantage of living in the nation’s capitol to witness and participate in what will become a piece of history.
“Throughout the election process, many derogatory comments were made and hatred was triggered throughout the nation. As a woman raised by a strong woman, I believe that each and every person in this world deserves to be treated equally and fairly. That is why I wanted to march; to be a voice for all women and other vulnerable populations,” she said.
While she knew the walk would be historic, she didn’t expect the immense turnout it got.
The Women’s March on Washington brought over 1 million people together at the nation’s capitol, and more than 5 million people came together in various places throughout the world, according to the event website.
She recalls being surround by people of different genders, races, backgrounds and stories, all wearing pink hats and standing together for one common cause.
“We met a woman who traveled all the way from Ireland to march. It was truly amazing,” she said.
The “never-ending” crowd filled with celebrities, music, rallies, and cheers crowded the streets of the capitol and marched their way toward the White House and beyond, she explained.
Another 24-year-old Fulton native, Adam Wolford was a face in the crowd among millions.
“I am not one for politics typically. However, I think this election forced everyone to become involved due to the rhetoric and actions of all candidates,” he explained. “Regardless of political beliefs, there is one thing we can all agree on as a developed nation and that is that all citizens deserve basic human rights. These very rights were called into question during this election which is why I attended. I could not stay quiet any longer.”
Initially, Wolford felt sadness watching the day’s events unfold.
“I saw older men and women being forced to march on Washington for the same things they did more than 50 years ago. I saw a little girl crying in her mother’s arms because she was scared of losing her fundamental rights as a woman. I would say for the first half, I spent time trying to understand to the best of my ability how it feels to be a woman in this country,” he said.
He tried to imagine his mother making less money than her male coworkers, his sisters being denied affordable or free health care from Planned Parenthood if they so chose, or any woman to not be able to make decisions about her own body, he said.
After hearing the calls of the people and listening to speeches from celebrities and influential women from across the country, particularly a heartfelt plea for equality from America Ferrera, he harnessed the electricity of the day to shift his emotions.
“I could feel the little girl and the old woman alike and their struggle, fear, sadness, anger, frustration, and sense of loss,” he said, until he hit that turning point. “For the rest of the rally and the march I felt empowered by the people I saw around me and spoke to at the event. A lesbian couple whose intersectionality leaves them to fight for their rights as members of the LGBTQ community as well as their rights as women. I guess I took a shift from being sad to wanting to make a change.”
And as he changed his thoughts and feelings on the matter, the event took a turn of its own, he said.
“You could feel that shift in the crowd and it was incredible. It felt hopeful, honest, raw and like the group was collectively ready to roll up their sleeves and fight for their fundamental basic rights,” he recalled.
Fulton native, 22-year-old Anna McKay told her story with a similar experience in Washington D.C.
“There was something really cool about experiencing such acceptance and solidarity from so many people in one place. I think there is a power in showing physical solidarity with others who experience personal discrimination and/or fear in light of the recent political events and climate,” she said.
Excited and satisfied with the amount of love and support everyone at the event received, she said she was proud to be apart of a day that will go down in history as a victory for women everywhere.
“In the midst of all the booming voices of hate, being surrounded by booming voices of peace and empowerment was something I wanted to be a part of,” she explained. “This march does not only represent one day in history when all minority groups and people are heard, but sets the stage for many more days and years of dialogue and conversation surrounding some of our country’s most pressing issues.”
As for the success of the event, all of these local natives were overwhelmingly pleased with the event’s ultimate outcome.
“Overall, I think it was an inspiring event that really brought out some hope in those that are apprehensive about the new presidency. I hope that the march made an impact and change will come from it,” Kearns said.
“I knew the event would be big but I think the sheer volume of the event in D.C. as well as globally was incredible. I stood with a million people who were saying ‘we will not stand for this.’ That’s powerful. I personally feel more empowered than ever to get involved and not be silent anymore. When you have such a polarizing man in the most powerful seat in the house, everyone wants their voice heard and their rights, beliefs, and values protected,” Wolford added.
Both Kearns and Wolford found one thing throughout the day that took them by surprise.
“The thing that surprised me the most was how peaceful the entire event was. Not once did I feel fearful of violence breaking out or police getting involved,” Kearns said.
After violent riots and outbreaks surfaced on the media following President Trump’s inauguration, some may have believed the Women’s March on Washington would take a violent or disruptive turn.
“I was really impressed by how peaceful the event was. I don’t think its fair to judge any protest by a couple of people who choose violence as an inappropriate outlet of their frustrations, but I did not see one person who became inappropriate at the event. That was powerful to me,” Wolford agreed.
The Women’s March on Washington spread much farther than the nation’s capitol, sparking marches in cities across the country including New York City, San Francisco, Portland, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Seattle, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Syracuse, and many more.
Fulton native, 26-year-old Devon Niccoli chose to march in Seneca Falls as opposed to any other location because of the rich history with women’s rights there.
Home of the first ever women’s rights convention in the United States and now home of the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, Seneca Falls has a plentiful history of advocating women’s rights.
“I wanted to feel that ‘extra special’ importance of being in such a historic area for women, but also because I knew that several speakers that day were Native women from some of the local clans, and that was important to me,” Niccoli explained.
“These women who spoke to rally us up prior to marching spoke about the Native woman’s place in the history of fighting for women’s equality in this country, that many of their values and ways of life were actually the inspiration for much of the movement and especially convening in Seneca Falls in 1848, but the granddaughters of those women are still marginalized and attacked in 2017. I marched in support of all those women, who don’t get the benefit of the doubt that they should be treated as equally as any white man because they have a different color of skin or a different way of life,” she said.
She didn’t believe the march would change the minds of those who don’t agree, instead she was hopeful it would trigger conversations to begin surrounding the issues at hand and what change is being sought.
“I’m sure for just as many millions that marched, there are millions of others who don’t agree with that message. So, now is the time to open a conversation with them! To ask them questions, and also ask them to check their privilege and take into consideration the sheer fact that there are too many people in this country who don’t feel safe on a daily basis for fear of prosecution or assault based on who they are and that they now feel even more afraid under an administration whose rhetoric does not, beyond the shadow of a doubt, support them,” she said.
The Women’s March on Washington is over, but those in attendance are just beginning and hope their message was heard and inspires change.
“If the overall purpose of the march was to promote the spread of messages embodying justice, peace, love and empowerment, then I think that mission was accomplished,” McKay said.
“The march has to extend beyond (one day.) It has to now take place in your daily life – we have to ‘march’ each day. If those who participated on Saturday to stand up and support continue to ‘participate’ each day, then the event was successful to me and the message will only get clearer,” Niccoli said.