Allison Busch-Vogel, a lawyer and mom of three in South Orange, New Jersey, was so devastated by Donald Trump’s victory and Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the presidential race, she couldn’t get herself to work for three days after the election.
Then, the weekend after the election, she learned that planning was underway for a women’s march in Washington.
“I said, ‘Oh, my God. I need to do this.’ This will be where I put my energies so that I can start to heal from this awful sense of dread,” said Busch-Vogel, who helped organize two national marches more than 20 years ago while working for the National Organization for Women.
At first, she thought she would just book a room for herself, but then, while on a walk, she decided to think bigger. She called and ordered a bus.
“I bet I’ll be able to fill it,” she remembers thinking. “And then by the end of that afternoon, I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to pay for and order four buses, and I bet I can fill them.’ ”
After forking over $800 to reserve the buses, she emailed two friends, telling them about the idea and asking for their help. One of those friends is Patricia Canning, a former management consultant and mother of two, also in South Orange.
“Without having much information, without knowing any details, Allison … said, ‘let’s organize,’ ” Canning said. “And honestly, we sent out email messages, and … seven hours later, we had four buses full.”
They have since gotten “march swag” in the form of special purple and white scarves featuring the name of the march and $2,100 worth of transit cards, which will be needed for travel across the city.
“It’s been a huge undertaking when I work full-time and it’s actually my daughter’s bat mitzvah in a couple of weeks,” Busch-Vogel said with a laugh. “But it’s been a good channeling of the feeling.”
The experiences of Busch-Vogel and Canning, and their fellow organizer Marietta Zacker, mirror the stories of numerous other women across the country. Angry, frustrated and distraught about the election results and the future of the country, they immediately committed to attending an event that started as a single idea on Facebook from a woman in Hawaii.
It got a formal title — the Women’s March on Washington — and could bring 200,000 women to the nation’s capital on Saturday, the day after Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Solidarity marches are also expected in cities across the country and around the world.
In conversations with nearly a dozen women who are attending, including a women’s studies’ historian and a 14-year-old high school freshman, I heard a number of familiar themes about why women are going and what they hope to accomplish: They want to mobilize women, end complacency surrounding women’s rights and encourage a level of activism not seen since the women’s movement of the 1970s.
‘A real wake-up call’
“This march is incredibly important,” said Hayne Beattie-Gray, a South Carolina organizer. “It is the first page of the next chapter, but it is what we bring back to our communities and that we capitalize on an awakening of sorts for people who had gotten complacent about what was important to them.”
Beattie-Gray, a stay-at-home mother of three in Charleston, said the election was a “real wake-up call” for her, especially when it comes to the number of women who supported Trump and helped him win the presidency.
“I think I was woken up from an arrogance about my belief system with this election,” she said. “I think I lived in a bubble,” assuming everyone felt the way she did about issues such as equity for all.
As she moved through the shock of the results, she thought that instead of just dismissing the women who supported Trump, more dialogue — and more opportunities to bring people together — was needed.
So when she saw a mention about the march on Facebook on the Thursday after Election Day, she immediately bought tickets for herself and her 12-year-old daughter to attend. Despite never having organized a march before, she reached out to one of the national organizers and offered her services.
“South Carolina is yours,” one of the national co-chairs told her, said Beattie-Gray. Since then, she’s worked around the clock, helping organize the more than 2,000 women expected to travel to the nation’s capital from the Palmetto State.
“I keep telling everyone it is like trying to sip water from a wide-open fire hydrant,” she said of the planning required to put the event together. “Everyone involved in this organization is getting soaked and trying to take in as much as we can and do as much as we can.”
The march, with its wide-ranging progressive platform (PDF) covering issues such as reproductive rights, criminal justice and equal pay, will mark the biggest gathering of women in more than 40 years around a scope of issues, said Jean Harris, professor of political science and women’s studies at the University of Scranton.
“There have been many marches that really focus on abortion rights, and so those focus much more on one-policy issues, but in terms of the broader lens that women are concerned with, probably the last time we had something covering so many issues was the Women’s Strike for Equality back in 1970,” she said.
That movement helped spark a great deal of progress for women through cases that reached the Supreme Court, the American Civil Liberties Union women’s rights project and new state and federal laws, said Harris. Those include removing the barrier for women to obtain credit on their own and making it illegal to fire women just because they are pregnant, she said. Title IX also came about in 1972, providing women with equal opportunity in education.
“Whether they’re directly connected to the Strike for Equality, no, I can’t draw the lines directly, but I do think it really gave energy,” said Harris, who plans to attend the march. “The strike got women thinking we’re in this together.”
This month’s march can also mobilize women to realize they are not alone and to get more involved in politics in a way that they haven’t been at the grass-roots level to bring about change, she said.
“Women have seen progress, and I think they’re really afraid that they’re going to lose it,” she said. Women have been making “small incremental progress” since winning the right to vote in 1920 and “a lot more progress in the 1970s,” she said. “I think now, women are really worried.”
Turning younger women into activists
Jamie Berndt, a mother of four in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, said her kids saw an “awful lot of progress” as they grew up under President Obama. They — and she — assumed that progress would continue, but that changed when Trump won the presidency. She is now bringing her two youngest daughters, 16 and 20, to Washington for the march.
“What I want them to feel is any of this stuff has to be fought for,” she said. “You can’t just assume that everything’s going to go the way you think it should go. You have to be willing to speak up and to step out and to use your gifts and your skills and your presence to bring those things into reality and to keep them there.”
Susan Kaplow, a mom of two in Brooklyn, New York, said she and her husband felt it was very important that they bring their daughters, 11 and 14, to Washington.
“They know what’s at stake,” said Kaplow, chief content officer with SheKnows Media, a leading digital women’s lifestyle company. “Even as inconvenient and cold and potentially scary as it might be, we feel like they really need to see it and fight for it and to really know that they have to, that it’s their job.”
What’s promising, said Kaplow, is that the Trump presidency might usher in a level of activism on the part of young people that hasn’t been seen in recent generations.
“I’m a Gen Xer. … We sat back and watched,” she said. “This really does give us an enormous opportunity to be smarter and grittier and tougher and more vocal, and that is a good thing. There’s always a blessing in misfortune and I think this is a moment.”
Added her 14-year-old daughter, Evan, a high school freshman, “I still feel like in order to feel like a part of the change, you need to be there and be present and be active in what’s going on.”
Michele Sinisgalli-Yulo of Atlanta is bringing her only child, 11-year-old daughter Gabi, to the march. She hopes it may be a stepping stone to her own activism and the activism of all the other younger girls who attend.
“How many of those girls will go on to do things that will help women down the road?” asked Sinisgalli-Yulo, founder and creator of Princess Free Zone, which offers empowering clothing for girls. “And I told Gabi, ‘You could run for office someday. You should run for office someday. You have a unique voice.’ ”
Busch-Vogel, who organized the four buses of women from South Orange, New Jersey, is bringing her 12-year-old daughter. On Election Day, she told her daughter it was the day she would become a feminist.
“I do think that the most beautiful thing coming out of this is that we’ve just triggered the next wave of feminism, a word that I felt very comfortable saying I was, a feminist, in 1990 and that felt so natural and exhilarating for me, but then that word really became sort of an embarrassing word, I think, for the next group of women.”
Learning how to make ‘movement happen’
Summer Johnston, a mom of three in Eugene, Oregon, wishes she could bring her two oldest daughters with her but can’t afford it. She is barely able to get enough money together to send herself and will be able to go only after her husband used insurance money they received after a recent motorcycle accident to finance her trip.
She has two goals: connecting with women and learning how to bring activism back to her community.
“I think there’s a lot of power in solidarity, so being able to be present with that many people that you know are making just as many sacrifices as you are making is … really powerful,” said Johnston, a stay-at-home mother and artist.
On a more practical level, she hopes to learn what people are doing on the ground level in their communities to organize and bring about change.
“I’m coming into this pretty blind as an activist,” she said. “I have lots of conviction, but that doesn’t mean anything for actual organization and making movement happen.”
Lindsey Shook, a media strategist in Miami, is also leaving her daughter at home, mainly because she’s only 20 months old and because of Shook’s concerns about safety. She happened to be at the baggage terminal at the Fort Lauderdale Airport just a week before the recent deadly shooting.
“I do not like big groups of people,” Shook said, adding that she has never participated in a march. She was motivated to sign up to attend to connect with like-minded women and to show the world how women can and really do support each other.
“What we need to be focusing on is how women need to be lifting each other up and that inspires me, that feeling of, ‘OK, let me go meet some great women and show women throughout the world that we want to support each other and make a statement that we’re just as important as anyone else,’ ” she said.
Sahba Shere, a divorced, single mom of two and artist and entrepreneur in Palo Alto, California, is also attending her first march. Her college- and high school-age sons won’t be joining her but fully support her participation.
She was born and raised in Canada to parents who are Indian and has lived in the United States for a long time but was thrown by many issues that came up in the election.
“I’m a shade of brown, and I’m a woman,” Shere said. Concerns about tolerance, misogyny, reproductive rights, climate change and more galvanized her to feel that it was important to be in Washington.
“I think that all I can do right now is participate physically, emotionally, use whatever resource I have and be together with people who want progress,” she said. “I’m hoping that this march just keeps getting more and more attention … that maybe we will become bigger and stronger in our voice.”
Canning, of South Orange, said that what comes next is almost as important as what happens Saturday.
“I hope that we do take the deep dive into some of the other issues and we do look at them and we do say, ‘OK, so here are the five things that threaten women and women’s rights, all women, and so what are we going to do about them?’ ” she said. “We were quick to get on the bus. Now what?”
Plans are already in the works for follow-up meetings in cities across the country to keep up the level of activism and energy, said Beattie-Gray, the South Carolina organizer.
“That is something that I’m hearing over and over again in the meeting rooms, on the conference calls, on the state level,” she said. “People want to be engaged, and it’s up to us to continue that engagement, or we’ll lose them.”
Beattie-Gray said she now plans to work full-time on the cause, which began for her when she decided to reach out to a national march organizer. “For me, it was a real renaissance. I cannot be complacent anymore,” she said.
Busch-Vogel agrees and is contemplating getting back to activist work as opposed to continuing as a lawyer.
“I feel really like this is ‘Game on.’ This is no joke, and we are going to be loud, and we are going to be strong, and we’re going to fight for what we believe that we already had and now we’re afraid we may lose.”