Editor’s Note: Several Americans United staff members attended the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. AU was an official partner of the D.C. event, and AU chapters also took part in the sister marches that took place all over the country. Today we’re pleased to present some reflections on this important event.
Rokia Hassanein, communications associate: I attended the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. not just as a woman who has long sought to liberate myself from conservative religious restrictions on women’s rights but also as a minority woman in multiple aspects. Working with Americans United, I see a lot of the issues we work on intersect with the social justice goals of the Women’s March.
The march was interfaith, with many proud Jews, Muslims, atheists and others marching and fighting for their rights. There was a great moment when we marched past a Syrian refugee who was cheering us on from the stands built for the inauguration near Federal Triangle. Women and men marching gave him loud cheers and chanted, “Welcome!” To see people at the march treat every religion (and ethnicity) equally was beautiful and reminiscent of the work we do every day at AU.
People were also marching for LGBTQ rights and women's reproductive rights. To see hundreds of thousands of people show up to defend values that align with AU’s values was beautiful and encouraging; it provided the exact hope we needed after this election. I am so happy AU became a partner in this march!
Eric Rothschild, senior litigation counsel: This was the Women’s March for no more complacency. I marched with my wife, her college roommate, my sister and millions of wide awake women and men. The speeches drove home that all the policies and rights that allow people to live free, safe, and secure are at stake: strong public schools, reproductive freedom, criminal justice, fair law enforcement, immigrant rights, religious and racial minority rights. And maybe the biggest message was to show up and speak up every day. Relentless activism. Every day.
Americans United was proud to partner with the Women's March on Washington!
Rebecca Davis-Nord, assistant director of development: My husband, our friends and I got nowhere near the rally or speakers because of the size of the crowd in D.C., but that made me really happy! Just seeing all of the signs and the diversity of people there made it totally worthwhile. There are clearly so many people in this country dedicated to justice and equal rights, and I hope every one of them continues to speak out and take action to hold the government accountable in the days ahead.
Christine Colburn, managing director: I was proud to be a part of “We the People” marching to defend the wall of separation between church and state!
Rob Boston, director of communications: Like a lot of Americans, my wife and I have been experiencing a certain amount of anxiety since the election. We attended the march in the hopes that being around so many like-minded activists would provide us with comfort and a shot of energy – and it certainly gave us both. I was pleased to see so many signs focused on AU’s issues of real religious freedom, reproductive rights (especially since the march took place just days before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade), support for public education and anti-Islamophobia. Several speakers brought up these issues as well. It was a great day and an amazing event, something I’m proud to have been a small part of. But the march is just a start. To overcome Trumpism and Religious Right zealotry, we’ll need an ongoing strategy of activism and action. The march was a kickoff. Let’s keep moving forward!
Samantha Sokol, legislative assistant: It was encouraging for me to see so many marchers around the country throw their support behind ideals we fight for at Americans United every single day. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value that gives us the right to believe or not as we see fit, but it doesn’t give us the right to use religion to harm or discriminate against others. I saw homemade signs that said, “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries,” advocating that religion never be used as a justification to deny women access to healthcare. And others that said, “Muslim Refugees Are Welcome Here,” affirming our commitment as a country that welcomes people of all religious backgrounds and none. After the Women’s March, no one can deny that there are millions of Americans who support real religious freedom, and will hold President Trump’s new administration to that promise. If he seeks to deny our rights to religious freedom, we – and millions of others – will be ready to fight back.
Sarah Stevenson, associate development director for major gifts: I attended the March with my 10-year-old son. It was an amazing experience for us both. My son said, “Making history is tiring.” I told him that it is, but we have to keep pushing forward because this is just the beginning of a long fight for our constitutional rights.
Bill Mefford, faith outreach specialist: Having attended the Women’s March in on Saturday with 750,000 of my closest friends, I am still feeling the joy and encouragement that was so evident at that march as well as the over 600 other marches. I marched with my wife and my mom, and it was transformative for all of us. But we are ready to build. Saturday was a good start, but it is Monday and we want to keep it going. The AU Field Department wants to help build a movement that truly brings about justice and inclusion; that ensures religious freedom for all while not allowing religion to be used as a weapon to harm and hurt others.
Saturday picked us up, ignited and encouraged us and will continue to spur us on. But we have work to do. One thing my wife Marti and I have started and will continue to do is to regularly invite friends over for “Engagement Parties” – times of talking about relevant issues and writing letters to our elected leaders urging them to take action (or stop taking action!). We don’t want to wait every 10 years or so for some big event. All change happens locally, so won’t you join us to work with your local chapter or other networks to see that justice is secured for all people. Let’s get to work!
Several Americans United chapters participated in sister marches that took place all over the country.
Allison Mahaley, president of AU’s Durham and Orange County Chapter, took part in a march in Raleigh, N.C. She was quoted by the Raleigh News & Observer criticizing Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary.
“This country was founded on the principle of freedom of religion,” Mahaley told the newspaper. “Government money, taxpayer dollars, should not be spent on private, religious schools. She wants to privatize everything and give taxpayer dollars to religious schools that indoctrinate children.”
In Indianapolis, AU members marched with a crowd of more than 10,000. William Sanders reported that event was “peaceful, joyful and diverse as could be.” He added, “I was overwhelmed a couple of times by the sheer power of love expressed there. Amazing it was.”
In Albuquerque, Babs Mondschein, president of AU’s New Mexico Chapter, reported that Americans United activists were among 10,000+ marchers who turned out despite cold temperatures, rain and hail.
El Paso was also the site of a successful march. David Marcus, president of Join Us for Justice, the El Paso AU Chapter, reported, “We marched from South El Paso to the historic San Jacinto Plaza in the center of downtown El Paso. Thousands of people participated and the march only grew in size as we got closer to the plaza – we have no idea what the count was at the plaza. We ended up passing out over 200 stickers. People were wearing Join Us For Justice/AU stickers all over the March and signed up dozens of new people interested in becoming involved in JUFJ/AU.”
Renee L. Reif with AU’s Colorado Chapter, based in Colorado Springs, reported a strong turnout, saying “[We] had more than triple the crowd that was anticipated! Unbelievable! It was very uplifting also after things have been so despairing for so long! We have to keep that momentum going!”
In Nashville, activist Charles Sumner positioned himself along the march route and soon had a crush of visitors, many of whom were eager to take AU material. He noted that stickers were especially popular. “People were very eager to get the stickers,” Sumner reported. “I often had a crowd waiting for me to peel them off or get some more off the roll.”
In Philadelphia, Erin Taylor, AU’s field director who was in town for the Creating Change conference, marched with activists there. AU activists were also out in force in Seattle, Anchorage, Houston, Austin and in other cities.