THE BUZZ 2: Female Fervor

By on December 28, 2016

Local women gear up for Women’s March on Washington and marches in Wyoming.

The 1963 civil rights march, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is said to have played a key role in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The 1963 civil rights march, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is said to have played a key role in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (Photo: Wikipedia)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When Jackson Hole ski instructor Augusta Friendsmith learned the results of the presidential election she was in Playa del Carmen obtaining her divemaster certification. She says she quickly found herself trading carefree vacation mode for panic. “Being in Mexico, I felt paralyzed,” she said.

Friendsmith says she worries what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for not just women but also Latinos, African Americans, Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community.

Her fears are not unfounded. Reports of hate crimes have spiked across the country since Trump’s election. In New York City, as of December 14, the NYC Police Department has reported a 63 percent increase in hate crimes compared to the same period last year.

Two recent incidents, both involving Muslim women, received substantial press and attention from NY politicos like Mayor Bill de Blasio, who publicly condemned the crimes. One incident involved a man who shoved a New York City Transit worker down a staircase at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, screaming that she was a terrorist, The New York Times reported. Two days earlier, in Brooklyn, another man threatened an off-duty police officer with his pit bull, telling her and her son to “go back to your country.” Both women, NYT noted, were wearing hijabs.

Now people like Friendsmith and other locals say they’ve had enough and are ready to act. One way folks are getting involved is by attending the January 21 Women’s March on Washington in Washington DC and the Wyoming marches slated for the same day in Casper and Cheyenne.

In the wake of the election, word spread of the Women’s March on Washington. The name is reminiscent of other powerful marches on the Capitol. Marches like the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where more than 200,000 people gathered to decry the political and social injustices faced by African Americans. The march, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, was an important factor in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The non-violent pro-women event, the WMW website explains, seeks to affirm human rights and to condemn misogyny and discrimination. The march is not necessarily to protest the president.

Following the lead of the WMW, similar events in cities across America have sprouted up. Women in Wyoming started planning marches in Casper and Cheyenne in solidarity with events across the country. Organizers estimate there are more than 100 events planned throughout the US.

Hole organizing

While still abroad, Friendsmith started pushing for a women’s march in Wyoming and contacted others through a Wyoming pro-women Facebook group launched after the election. “It lit a fire under me and I felt like I could have a purpose,” she said.

Back in Jackson, she contacted Wyoming event organizer Jane Ifland in Casper to help. Ifland, who has made organizing the Wyoming events her full-time job, expects the January 21 events to be the first of many powerful demonstrations. “My hope is others who have been silent or felt thoroughly marginalized will be emboldened and feel supported and participate,” she said. “No matter how many we may be, we have rights that this country has supported for more than 240 years.”

Ifland says people have come to event planning meetings and said, “I thought I was the only one who thought this way.” She hopes more balanced media coverage of events like this will “force the relevancy of the cause, so that opposition becomes the norm.”

Over their weekly women’s brunch, Friendsmith and her friends Anne Marie Wells and Sara Wemple decided to go to Casper and to organize efforts to bring other residents along. Feeling the need to support each other and women in general, the three women had started their informal meetings to discuss long-term activism. But in light of the election results, they felt compelled to do something more immediate.

Initially, Wells said they had wanted to have a march in Jackson but decided against it. “We felt having it in such a ‘blue’ county was more like preaching to the choir.” Holding these events in small towns, and in red states, stands to make an impact, she said. “Especially, so people don’t just say, ‘it’s just all those urban women in DC’ [who feel this way].”

Wells says the group is trying to gather women, and feminists of all genders to caravan to Casper. On the closed Facebook group the Jackson femmes are using to organize attendees, various tools to facilitate carpooling and lodging are provided. Given the swift attacks on Trump dissenters recently, Wells said the group is closed as a precaution to prevent harassment or trolling of its members.

Justina Lindeman teaches self-defense in the valley. She launched the Jackson Facebook group Friday morning in an attempt to quell her own rising anxiety. “Talk is cheap and actions need to happen,” she said. The blue-belt in Brazilian Jujitsu wants to remind women they possess the power to change things. “We need to end this epidemic of bullying and violence and hate.”

Citing women around the world in far more perilous circumstances who stand up for themselves, others and their rights, Lindeman added, “If these women can find it in themselves to stand up, risking so much more—their actual safety and their lives—for these rights, I’ll be damned if I’m just going to sit around and think about how thankful I am.”  By attending a Wyoming women’s march, Lindeman hopes to build a sense of community and meet like-minded people, and to connect with and learn from others.

History shows that Lindeman’s goals are achievable when people come together. Women’s marches have been occurring since the beginning of the 20th century, when suffragists began rallying to get women the right to vote.

According to the National Organization for Women, “Marches build and rejuvenate the various movements for women’s rights by sending a message to those in power, and by forever changing the lives of participants.”

However, not everyone agrees on the efficacy of present day organizing for marches and rallies via social media. Social media can both facilitate and undermine political movements. Fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, Zeynep Tufekci was quoted in a 2014 Atlantic article, “Before the internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum.” With social media being a large organizing force for WMW, it is unclear whether people will cohesively move the cause forward.

Regardless, some have their sights set on the future of the movement. One local mom is motivated to go for her children. Sixteen-year valley resident and preschool teacher Angel Dillon said she’s going to the event in Casper to set an example that political engagement effects change. Dillon wants her daughters to know they have a voice and that, “their actions can give strength to those who may be afraid.” She says it’s equally important for her son to see women are powerful and deserve respect and equality.

Dillon believes women’s movements need men to show up in solidarity and she hopes many will attend the events across the country.

Even though the marches are women oriented, organizers have encouraged men to attend the events as allies. Mike Yin is among local men with plans to attend the Casper march. He was initially hesitant to weigh in on his participation because he wants women to be the key focus. “This election has marginalized many voices and empowered voices that are distinctly anti-women and anti-minority,” he said. “I want to lend my voice to fight the discrimination and marginalization of these groups and show that these kinds of policies are destructive to the progress we’ve made in the past 60-plus years.”

Pinedale resident Kendra Cross, who recently made a gallant but unsuccessful bid for the Sublette County Commission, said she is making the trip to Cheyenne because Wyoming has a lot of work ahead regarding women’s issues. “Wyoming ranks 51st in the gender wage gap, has no women leading legislative committees and has one of the lowest numbers of women’s representation in state legislature,” she said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, in 2015, women comprised only 13.3 percent of Wyoming’s lawmakers. The only state with less female representation is Mississippi, at 13.2 percent. Nationwide, women make up just 24.4 percent of all state legislators.

Equality State soldiers

Native Jacksonite Amy Kathleen Ryan lived on the East Coast at one time. In order to return for the WMW, she will fly into New York City and take a 3 a.m. train to DC, the last available ticket option. By going to WMW, she said she wants to resist “a new way of doing business in the political class that seems to be taking the power away from the people and from the press.”

Ryan says she is afraid for women and minority rights, the environment, and democracy. “No one who has any sense of history should stand by and let this happen to our country.”

While Ryan is not hopeful the march will change Trump’s mind, she thinks it’s important to show the world there are many Americans who do not subscribe to his methods or policies.

The WMW is expected to draw the largest turnout of any non-inauguration event. Its official Facebook page has more than 273,000 people listed as “interested” and 153,000 who say they are attending the event.

Wyoming Democratic Party Chair Ana Cuprill, who recently announced her intent to run for Democratic National Committee Secretary, is attending the march in DC. “I want to represent Wyoming at the national march and help build networks with folks who advocate for issues that will make a difference here in Wyoming,” she said.

Idaho State University doctorate candidate in audiology Bailey Neuhaus will fly to DC with her mother, Anne O’Malley Neuhaus. She wants to be, “a voice that speaks up for the right to choose, equal pay, inclusion of all people regardless of background, race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and so on.”

“We can’t go back on progress and hopefully by showing up on January 21, [Trump] will see that we aren’t going to back down,” she said.

However, Neuhaus fears the march will be stopped for some reason yet unknown. If Trump’s unpredictable actions, campaign, or transition are any indication that the unexpected could happen, Neuhaus’ fears may not be unfounded. While organizers of the Women’s March on Washington have secured permitting for the event, the inauguration committee could potentially throw a wrench in plans. Regardless, if this number of people converges in DC for inauguration weekend the event stands to make history. PJH

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