Marchers seek justice - and more
From Kachemak Bay to the Potomac River, Kenai Peninsula residents last Saturday marched in Seldovia, Homer, Kenai, Seward and Washington, D.C., as part of international Women’s Marches. Demonstrating under the theme “women’s rights are human rights,” an ad-hoc movement in reaction to President Donald Trump’s election swelled from a Hawaiian woman’s social media post to marches that drew millions around the world, with estimates of 500,000 in Washington, 175,000 in Boston and 750,000 in Los Angeles.
In Homer, a march that organizers expected might draw 100 swelled to one of the biggest protest marches in the city’s history. Counting heads as a crowd of women, children and men surged past the start at the Homer Council on the Arts, organizers estimated 905 marched. By the time the front of the group walked up Pioneer Avenue to the rally point at WKFL Park at Heath Street, the tail end still hadn’t passed Main Street.
“It was the most I’ve seen,” said longtime Homer resident Anne Wieland. “The sight of them coming toward us was the most inspiring thing. It was overwhelming. Wonderful.”
Women of all ages dominated the march, many wearing pink fleece or knit hats with kitty ears, a pointed protest to Trump’s recorded conversation where he made an offensive comment about groping women. Men joined the march, too, about a fifth of the group. Families came with children in strollers. Some made their way slowly using canes and walkers or wheelchairs.
Many carried signs. Artist Brianna Allen designed and handprinted a poster of Trump wearing a pink hat with the word “Re-vulva-lution.” Signs said “Love your neighbors — all of them,” “My eyes are wide open,” “Power to all people,” “Make America think again,” “Let’s take care of each other,” “Forward not backward,” “Ignore your rights and they will go away,” Three girls held a sign that said “Don’t give up!” Some signs had one word like “Respect,” “Peace” and “Justice.”
“We are so amazed at the tremendous number of people who turned out to voice their concerns,” said Marjorie Ringer, who organized the march with Karen Murdock. “We were prepared for 200-300 people, but never did we imagine that there would be triple that. Homer really lived up to its reputation as a caring, progressive community.”
Ringer had been holding Sunday vigils at WKFL Park with a few others. Hearing about the Women’s March on Washington inspired by Teresa Shook of Maui, Hawaii’s Facebook post, Ringer and Murdock met weekly to organize a march. They set up a Facebook page linking to the international Women’s Marches. They got a permit to march on the sidewalk, and Homer Police provided traffic control as the march crossed intersections.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said that the march went off smoothly and peacefully. Marchers also praised officers for their courtesy and assistance. Police did get complaints of men and boys driving trucks flying Trump-Pence signs who drove recklessly and “rolled coal” — spewed diesel exhaust — on marchers after the end of the event as they walked back to their cars. Police contacted the drivers, and charged one young man with failure to provide proof of insurance. Robl said none of the trucks had modified exhaust systems.
One driver, Corbin Arno, a former Homer City Council candidate, said the flag-waving wasn’t intended as a reaction against the Women’s March but was spontaneous.
“The liberals don’t like us exercising our rights to be political, but by golly they get edgy if we do,” he said.
Women’s March in Homer participants praised the demonstration.
“It was pretty energizing,” said Charles Aguilar, who operated a large puppet with a sign with a drawing of the earth that said “Listen to your mother.” Aguilar’s daughter, Lillian Johnson, participated in the Women’s March in London, as did another Homer woman, Ithaca Sorensen.
At the Kachemak Bay Campus, marchers watched a live feed from the Washington march. People staffed tables in the Pioneer Hall Commons for organizations like Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, Amnesty International, South Peninsula Haven House, the American Civil Liberties Union and new Homer political group, Citizens Alaska Network.
“We think it’s important, especially now more than ever, to make sure people get organized and stand up together,” said Tara Rich, the ACLU Alaska legal and policy director.
In Seldovia, about 45 people showed up for a Women’s March, including 15 men and people of all ages. They walked down to the bridge at the slough and gathered in a circle, said Sue Christiansen, one of the organizers.
“Everybody talked about what was important to them,” she said. “I think there was consensus we want to start in our own little town just communicating in an open hearted, open minded way and listening. We got a chance to do that.”
About 15 people from Homer went to the Washington march. Homer students attending college on the East Coast also participated. A group also attended Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, some wearing the pink hats.
“It was awesome. I don’t think anybody expected it to be that big,” said Poppy Benson, a retired federal worker and former legislative aide.
Benson said she flew from Kentucky to Washington, D.C., and at the airport realized the plane was all women going to the march.
“It was quite diverse. You had the old lady radicals, and then you had these families with their young kids,” she said.
Diane McBride and her daughter, Shannon McBride Moran, also attended, as did Susan Cushing and her husband, former Homer Mayor Jack Cushing. The mother and daughter took a large “Alaskans Know Climate Change” banner and the Alaska flag. Lots of people stopped them and took photos, they said. They also saw Alaskans from Seldovia and Bethel, including a group of Native women in traditional clothing.
“It was incredibly fun and positive — absolutely no negativity or incidents of any kind,” McBride said. “I would do it all over again. This is just the beginning. This was the first step.”
“I knew it would be big and I was hopeful it would be big, but it was so much bigger than we imagined,” McBride Moran said.
McBride and McBride Moran also went to Trump’s inauguration, wearing their pink hats in protest. Security was tight on Friday, and they were searched several times. In comparison to the Women’s March, the inauguration didn’t seem as crowded, McBride Moran said. Protesters had meaner signs with swear words and some were violent. People at the Women’s March were much nicer, McBride Moran said. Even with the crowds, if someone bumped you they would apologize.
“They had this super friendly, congenial vibe,” she said.
McBride Moran said she was prepared for hecklers, violence and overly zealous cops, but saw none of that.
Benson said the crowds got so thick she couldn’t make it closer than nine blocks to the main stage. Coming in by the D.C. Metro train from Fairfax, Va., Benson said she had to wait an hour to get a train, and even then it was packed. McBride Moran said they took an early train hoping to beat the crowd.
“It was just like a wave of people with signs and hats,” she said. “It was totally overcrowded with people for the march.”
The march got delayed when organizers realized there were too many for the planned route on Constitutional Avenue. Police opened up a side street, Independence Avenue, for marchers. Eventually the word came down to start marching.
“It was this huge surge in all directions. You had no way of going any other way,” McBride Moran said.
Benson said she didn’t think anyone expected the march to have an impact on Trump.
“I think the expectation in my mind was to have an impact on Congress and also on the marchers themselves,” she said. “It would strengthen resolve and clarify direction.”
She, McBride and McBride Moran also met on Monday with Alaska’s senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Both gave the group a half hour each. The Homer group spoke about public education, climate change and women’s health. Both senators were respectful and cordial, McBride Moran said, especially Murkowski.
“She was awesome,” she said. “She said how tough it was being a moderate Republican right now. She was great and right there with us on the topics we discussed.”
After the march in Homer and at the meeting at the college, a table had a sign that said, “What next?”
“To make it a year of freedom,” said Sandy Garity at the table. “We have the momentum and energy to continue.”
McBride said she saw the Women’s Marches as the start of a new movement.
“I hope this is just the beginning of the resistance. It wasn’t just a passing day. It was the start of what I would call a women’s revolution for recognition that we have equal rights,” she said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.