Bethlehem women inspired by march
Among the thousands of people who flocked to the Mall in Washington, D.C. the day after President Trump’s inauguration to take part in the Women’s March were several busloads from the Lehigh Valley.
The people the Press talked to echoed the general consensus among marchers that the event was inspiring and emphasized the peacefulness of the event and the respect among marchers and with law enforcement officers patrolling the throngs.
Among them were three women from the YWCA Bethlehem. Empowerment Center Director Jen Wanisko, Executive Director Stephanie Hnatiw and board member Jane Wells Schooley were on one of the buses which left the Lehigh Valley at 4 a.m
Wanisko said they actually decided to make the trip as individuals even before the YWCA USA officially joined as a partner in the Women’s March. The YWCA USA later announced that more than 200 representatives from local YWCAs across the country would be among those joining the march.
In a statement, the national YWCA said, “The Women’s March on Washington is an opportunity for us to unite as a community and express our solidarity and commitment to the protection of the rights of all women. YWCAs from across the nation are traveling to Washington, D.C., to join our voices with others in our commitment to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.”
Even at 4 a.m., Wanisko said, “As soon as I got on the bus I could tell there was a lot of energy.”
The buses parked in RFK Stadium, and from there, it was about a 50-minute walk to where the march began, Wanisko said. By the time they got close to the Capitol, they could see people streaming in from all directions.
Wanisko said the issue which most concerns her is the threatened reduction in funding for the Violence Against Women Act, but she said people there had a variety of issues on their mind. While there have been reports that women representing the anti-abortion movement had been discouraged from coming, Wanisko said she heard there were pro-life women present in the crowd.
What excited her most was the variety of ages represented in the crowd, from children to women in their 70s and 80s, many of whom were veterans of the 1960s wave of feminism.
Also taking part in the March were Linda Robertson of Bethlehem, her husband Don and another friend.
Robertson said she bought tickets to go on one of the buses five days after the election, but later the three of them decided to drive. They parked on the outskirts of Washington and took the Metro to the March, “packed like pickles” on the train.
Robertson, retired from a career as a professional fundraiser who now works as a volunteer in a similar capacity for various nonprofits, said she was concerned that “the democratic process had been hijacked” during the election.
Like Wanisko, she was impressed by the variety of ages among the marchers. She said she was delighted to see large numbers of young women in the crowd because in recent years she has felt there was less activism among that age group. “I finally saw college age women start to engage,” she said.
When she was in college in the 1960s, she said, she had more than one acquaintance who had undergone a “back alley abortion,” and she was concerned there was a danger that women once again would lose their right to make their own reproductive choices.
Robertson and Wanisko both commented on the peaceful nature of the crowd, and the respect demonstrated between marchers and law enforcement personnel.
“I’ve never been to a demonstration so polite and civilized,” Robertson said.
As energized as they were by the event, both women agreed what’s more important is what happens next.
“We have to keep that energy going,” Wanisko said.
Robertson said she was encouraged to hear that representatives of both the AAUW and the League of Women Voters were handing out membership forms to people on the buses.
But she said all people need to educate themselves about what’s going on in politics, starting at the local level.
“I’ll never again not go to a coffee [for a local candidate],” she said.
She also planned to attend a forum on redistricting scheduled last week, calling redistricting reform a very tangible way to improve the system. Fairer redistricting would encourage politicians to compromise, she believes. She said if both parties had started discussions after the Affordable Care Act was passed seven years ago, rather than Republicans just voting to repeal it, they might have been able to address some of the flaws in it and improve it.
The hope of those two women, as no doubt of many others, was that the people who took part in the march would come home and become truly engaged in their community.