THE BUZZ: Daughters of Equality
From Jackson Hole and Lander to Cody and Cheyenne, Wyoming’s women’s marches will be counted among the efforts that helped make history on Saturday.
Jackson Hole, WY — The ongoing headcount for the Women’s March on Washington and its “sister marches” has spiked to at least 3.2 million, making the march—a grassroots effort to oppose President Donald Trump’s agenda and to support women’s rights and human rights—the largest single day protest in American history.
Erica Chenoweth, an expert on civil resistance at the University of Denver, is tallying attendance numbers along with political scientist Jeremy Pressman of University of Connecticut and Rivera Sun out of New Mexico. They are parsing news stories, studying aerial images and considering the more than 3,300 attendance reports people have submitted to them from all over the world, as the march happened in locales on all seven continents.
About half a million people showed up in Washington, D.C. on the Saturday following Trump’s inauguration, but equally noteworthy, Chenoweth says, is the number of people who marched in towns and cities throughout the conservative and least populated state in the union: Wyoming.
“While at least 1,000 people demonstrated in Cheyenne and I know at least 1,000 in Jackson Hole, I wouldn’t have guessed that hundreds of people would have turned out in Casper and Cody,” she said. “I think it’s really impressive and it speaks to the value that people have in their power of agency and expression. This is a country of people who have a variety of rights and one of those rights is to peacefully demonstrate and say what you want.”
“When that message happens to be unity and dignity,” Chenoweth continued, “and the common experience of womanhood, and that [the marches] were billed as a nonviolent action brought out more people.”
This notion aligns with Chenoweth’s previous research about the efficacy of nonviolent protesting and its ability to garner robust public participation. “People’s impulse to participate in nonviolent movements is validated throughout world history,” she said.
Demonstrators: 1,000 +
A PJH video of the Women’s March on Jackson posted on The Planet’s Facebook page depicts a crowd stretching several downtown blocks. As people continued to populate the streets of Jackson Hole on Saturday for the 10-block march, the event’s organizers, three self-described “ordinary women” were astounded.
“I think the most powerful moment for me was showing up 15 minutes early,” said co-organizer Elisa Stephens. “I was shocked to see how many people were there already and by 10 a.m. the crowd was enormous. More and more people just kept joining us.” Stephens, along with Sue Wolff and Shannon Burns, planned the event three days before using a private Facebook event page to spread the word. The trio did not make a public Facebook event until Friday, one day before the march.
Women, men and children marched in Jackson Hole for various reasons. Many brandished signs about women’s rights, some were there to protest Trump’s promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act and his rejection of climate change, while others showed up to support social justice.
“Now is not the time to remain silent,” said Dr. Travis Ridell, a local pediatrician. “I went to the march today to support my wife Annie, and to support our community in general. In this time of extreme divisiveness, I think supporting each other is one of the most important things we can do.”
Days after the 2016 presidential election, Riddell expounded on his stance via the Jackson Pediatrics Facebook page: “We recognize that we are in a time when many children (and adults) may be feeling anxious, marginalized or threatened based on ethnic, racial, economic, cultural and gender divisions. [We] will continue to welcome and support all children, regardless of any of these differences.”
Amanda Taylor carted her seven-week-old son to the march. She rattled off a litany of reasons for attending: “equality—rights for everyone, the environment, Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court, abortion; it’s a lengthy list of terror.”
“I came to stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters around the world,” said Daniel Hady. “[Under a Trump administration] I’m concerned about a nuclear holocaust, a police state, a total lack of respect for other people’s opinions, an economic meltdown, and violence and war indefinitely.”
His message to Jacksonites: “Pay attention. And if you aren’t appalled, you haven’t been paying attention.”
As protesters cheered and chanted and motorists honked in support, people like Christie Koriakin left the march that day with a to-do list. On Sunday she launched the group JH Activate. “My friends and I started thinking about it after Trump was elected,” Koriakin said. “Then we began second guessing ourselves, like we don’t know anything about politics. But during the march we saw all this energy and how easy it was to get people out there, and I realized we don’t have to be experts; I don’t have to be a political analyst to get involved.”
Right now people can join the group via Facebook and Koriakin said the first order of business is to offer a crash course on civics. “Some people are not even sure who is who in state politics, but it only takes half an hour of researching,” Koriakin explained. The group is now registered under the nationwide activist efforts Indivisible and Moveon.org, which provide outfits like JH Activate with guidelines, such as how to effectively communicate with your senators. “We realized it’s not that hard … but first we need to know what we’re talking about.”
Koriakin says learning about the Women’s March on Jackson organizers—that they had no prior activism experience—also convinced her to pull the trigger.
“My hope is to empower people like myself who are intellectually interested but have been too shy to speak up … I always left it to the government, but now I don’t trust them, and if you’re not paying attention it moves pretty quickly.”
Demonstrators: 1,000 +
In the Cowgirl State’s capital more than 1,000 people demonstrated, including Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon. “I went to Cheyenne to support those people whose value as human beings is being questioned and threatened by the Trump administration,” he said. “People from all across the spectrum are disgusted by the rhetoric and actions of this administration, and reject not only its policies but also its embrace of fear and hate.”
The new mayor says he was surprised and encouraged by the robust turnouts in Jackson Hole and Cheyenne.
Organized by Hawaii transplant Shayna Alexander, the march in Cheyenne featured keynote speaker Rep. Cathy Connolly. She is among the state’s 10 female legislators and also happens to be a tenured professor teaching women’s studies at the University of Wyoming. In a state where the legislature just introduced one of the country’s most discriminatory bills towards LGBTQ people—the Government Nondiscrimination bill—Connolly, an openly gay woman, delivered a dispatch of hope to demonstrators. “She is driven and unapologetic,” Alexander said, “her message really resonated with people.”
A caravan of 20 Jacksonites joined a Casper crowd that swelled to 750 people on Saturday. Jackson residents made the trip because they felt their presence marching in a conservative place like Casper would be more impactful than if they demonstrated in Jackson Hole.
“I march for equality,” said Jackson resident Angela Cook. “Because I believe everyone deserves basic human rights, instead of fear and hateful rhetoric that is built on oppressing those that are already marginalized.”
Janine Earl traveled from Rawlins for the Casper march. “My mom marched for the same issues in the 70s,” she said. “I have daughters who will have daughters and I want them to know that it is not OK to ‘grab a woman by the pussy.’”
Seasoned organizer and activist Jane Ifland, 67, organized the Casper march. “I went to my first march with my mother when I was 12 years old,” she said. “Since then [social justice activism] is not a decision, it is a way of life.”
A 37-year Casper resident, Ifland has worked with the local chapters of the NAACP, Planned Parenthood and PFLAGG, among other organizations. She has played a key role not only mobilizing people in Casper but since the march, she has also become a statewide consultant of sorts, working with local organizers from each march to craft a long-term plan.
“If we don’t keep momentum going this will have just been a nice party, but I am not going to be satisfied with that. Instead we must have frequent, persistent communication with our local reps.”
In light of the marches, she says Wyoming lawmakers need to adjust their language. “I think we need to help our reps in Congress to see the reality that was clearly demonstrated on Saturday … instead of saying, ‘All Wyomingites think this way,’ they should say, ‘Most think X, but some think Y.’”
Ifland said if she had found the time to make a sign for the march it would have read, “Liberty and justice for all.”
“Those are not weird, extremist values,” she said. “They are the mainstream underpinnings of America, we don’t always get there but that’s what we are supposed to be going for.”
“This was the first thing I ever organized on such a large scale and there was definitely a moment of, ‘What if no one shows up?’” admitted 24-year-old Kirsten Britain.
While Britain expected 10 or 20 people, the Lander march amassed a crowd of about 350 demonstrators.
A receptionist for the school district, Britain had never participated in a protest before. “Being in a red state and a red town, there are a lot of people saying, ‘This is how it’s going to be and we have to live with it,’” she said. “I decided that I can’t be the only one against Donald Trump—someone who brags about grabbing women by the pussy and says how minority groups are not important.”
Actions like the march, she says, aimed at supporting minorities, hold immeasurable weight in her small town, and in the Cowboy State. “Here in Wyoming, we have people coming from all over to work and Native American groups that bring so much diversity to our country … the message to them is: We support you.”
Britain says the luxuries she enjoys have also given her pause, especially since the election. “I don’t fear being pulled over or being turned down to rent an apartment, for example. Recently a Native American woman was verbally accosted at a restaurant near me. It amazes me that racism like that still exists. So for me, as a white woman, it is my responsibility to make sure that people feel welcome and safe. My parents always taught me, if there is something you can do for other people you should do it.”
A native Wyomingite and Jackson resident for 30 years now living in Pinedale, Joni Mack thought only a few people there might be interested in a women’s march. Instead, 110 people (and eight dogs) proved her wrong.
Mack said many of the marchers were impromptu participants. “People just stopped their cars and got out and started marching with us; there were some junior high boys who stopped what they were doing, a guy on his bicycle who stopped riding to march with us.”
As people waived signs that read, “Honk if you love equality,” Mack says semi truck drivers cruising by obliged with honks of support.
For Mack, the goal was to raise awareness among her community members that they do have a voice. “During the march I passed out cards with contact info for our national and state reps … and I passed out info on tracking the actions of local officials,” she said.
Harriet Bloom-Wilson comes from a family of activists. A New York native, Wilson’s aunt was a renegade organizer. She was president of the United Retail Workers, one of the first retail unions organized in the U.S.
The Cody march had Wilson’s deft organizing legacy all over it. “We had 17 speakers representing the arts, public education, religious freedom, services for differently abled, women’s rights, healthcare, climate change,” Wilson said.
A retired French professor at Northwest College, Wilson also implemented a way to track the number of people who attended the march. “We handed out safety pins with numbers that identified people as being present at the march.” They ran out of safety pins around No. 480 but people kept coming. Crowd estimates for the march hover around 500.
They also had several sign-in tables to collect people’s information. Initially Wilson and her team thought people would be hesitant to sign up. “But everyone wanted to be recorded,” she said.
Wilson came to Cody 35 years ago with her husband “thinking it would be two years max.” They met as grad students in New Mexico and both got jobs at Northwest College. “We recognized this was a place where you could make a real contribution, much more so than if we stayed in a big city,” she said.
Indeed, for minority populations, small town Wyoming can feel like a scary place sometimes. That’s one reason Wilson remains in the area. “I am Jewish, as one of a handful of Jews in Powell, my destiny became to introduce people to my background and culture,” she said.
But if advocates like Wilson become discouraged by Cowboy State politics and leave Wyoming, she says underrepresented populations would lose more of their voice. Instead, the answer, Wilson believes, is to stay and fight.
“Saturday was one more piece of evidence that people can make their contributions more visible when they are in small communities like ours.” PJH
Jessica Sell Chambers and Augusta Friendsmith contributed reporting to this story.
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