Locals ready for Women's March on Washington

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

Hundreds, likely thousands, of purple-clad Virginians will board buses early Saturday headed to the Women's March on Washington, and a significant number of Historic Triangle residents plan to join the cause.

The Women's March on Washington begins at 10 a.m. on Jan. 21, the day after President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, but it's the culmination of a grassroots effort that began Nov. 9.

That day, Hawaii resident Teresa Shook proposed the march to some of her friends, a "call to action," according to an official statement from march organizers. Word spread. As the march took shape, a national committee formed.

The Facebook event created for the march has generated interest among hundreds of thousands of people, and 1,800 buses have registered to park in D.C. on Jan. 21, according a Jan. 16 Associated Press article.

As of Friday, the transportation chair for the march's Virginia chapter, Reagan Flaherty, knew of eight buses headed to the march from Williamsburg. This doesn't include the number of local people carpooling or taking other forms of transportation.

Two sold-out buses organized through Rally Bus, a "crowd-powered travel" site, will leave from the College of William and Mary's campus, according to the Rally Bus website.

Two 55-person buses are set to leave from the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists, said Austen Petersen, 33, director of religious education. Both buses have sold out, and Petersen said she's already turned away upward of 40 people.

"We've been blown away by the demand and so delighted that people want to make their voices heard and to say loudly and clearly that no one should be demeaned," she said.

The mission of the march, according to the official website, states: "The Women's March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us."

"A lot of people I think in the beginning were concerned that this was an anti-Trump rally," said Petersen, who doesn't believe that to be the case. "We stand for justice. We stand for love. We stand for kindness, and we stand for fair treatment of any marginalized person."

Mari Nemec, 20, a junior at William and Mary, echoed the sentiment.

"It's just Americans standing with Americans saying, 'I've got your back, and I'm going to make sure that you're okay,'" she said.

Nemec is one of a handful of volunteers responsible for statewide outreach on behalf of the march to colleges and universities. She plans to drive herself and four others to the march.

"There's a fair number from William and Mary who are going, and I keep seeing more and more people every day asking for rides and saying that they can give rides," Nemec said. "I think that there will be a fairly nice turnout from the college."

She also knew of a bus carrying some faculty from the college and a few student-organized vans transporting around 30 students to the march.

"There's nothing more powerful than people using our voices incite change," Nemec said. "For me, it's really just about making sure that my voice is heard, and that I stand up for other people who are afraid that their voices won't be heard."

Shea Frazier, 26, a Williamsburg resident, reserved a spot on one of the buses leaving town Saturday, and she also sees the march as a positive, proactive space.

"This, to me, is not a negative thing," Frazier said. "I think it comes out of a place of concern and unhappiness at what values our country has decided to put forth at this time, but I think the march itself is meant to be a place of unity and safety and protection."

After the election, Frazier started to feel almost as if she didn't recognize her country anymore. She said she began to feel afraid.

Frazier's roommate, Sonia Hassan, who's also headed to the march, is of Muslim background.

"I worry about her, and I worry about her family," Frazier said. "I worry about me as a person of color, and I just worry about the timbre of our country."

In the Women's March, Frazier saw a way to channel some of those feelings.

"More than anything, it's about coming together and reminding each other that we're here to protect each other, and there is unity in a country that feels so divided right now," she said.

Hassan, 26, plans to march for herself and her family, some of whom immigrated from Pakistan.

"To be able to march and to show, for myself and for them, that we're still here, we still matter, and to hold the administration accountable," she said. "You still have to represent us, and we're not going to let you get away with not representing us and taking our interests to heart."

Hassan, Frazier and Nemec hope Saturday's march marks the beginning of continued action.

"I hope that we can continue the grassroots organization and activism that's already been started," Hassan said. "I don't want it to end with the march. I want the march to be the beginning of people becoming energized to become activists in the community."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Want to go?

To register for the march, visit womensmarch.com.

For more information on Virginians headed to the march and to locate transportation, visit wmwvirginia.org or search "Women's March on Washington-Virginia" on Facebook.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
59°