Atlanta march one of hundreds planned over concerns about Trump

January 12, 2017 Decatur - Brenda Constan (foreground) uses scissors to cut out a hand shape to create an unique sign during a sign-making session for people marching in the Atlanta Social Justice and Women’s March on January 21, at Georgia Sierra Club on Thursday, January 12, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

January 12, 2017 Decatur - Brenda Constan (foreground) uses scissors to cut out a hand shape to create an unique sign during a sign-making session for people marching in the Atlanta Social Justice and Women’s March on January 21, at Georgia Sierra Club on Thursday, January 12, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Leslie Sperry has never joined a political march. The Paulding County mother of two grown daughters plans to change that Saturday when she participates in the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women.

“It’s my first march in my 50-plus years, but it’s never too late to get involved,” Sperry said.

Confident Hillary Clinton would win the presidency on Nov. 8, Sperry was stunned to wake to the news that Donald Trump defied pundits and polls to become the 45th president of the United States.

“The day after the election, I had all the wind knocked out of me. Now, I’m feeling my little tiny voice does have a place in this,” Sperry said. “I didn’t use it before, but, by God, I’m going to use it now. I am very much hoping I can learn more about what is going on and ways that maybe I can help move us all. I am due to do something. I am past due.”

Scheduled for the day after Trump's inauguration, the Atlanta event is among more than 600 regional and international events planned in conjunction with the massive Women's March on Washington, occurring on the same day. In Atlanta, 10,000 people have committed to march via the march's Facebook page, while 14,000 more have expressed interest. Among the speakers are former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson; Luma Mufleh, the CEO and coach at Fugees Family; and Staci Fox, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Inc.

"At the end of the day, we are hoping for 10,000 to 20,000," said Janel Green, one of the six organizers brought together through the pro-Clinton Pantsuit Nation Facebook hub.

Commiserating online, the group bonded over a desire to counter what it saw as threats to civil liberties and human rights from Trump's election. "It wasn't until our first press conference on Dec. 27  that we actually met each other face-to-face," said Green, who works in the nonprofit area. As with the other volunteer co-organizers, Green has a history of social justice activism.

The 1.7-mile march will begin at the Center for Civil and Human Rights on Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and conclude at the Capitol, where Green says there will be calls to action across a spectrum of social justice issues, including immigration, reproductive freedom, health care, the environment, criminal justice, equity, education, and gay, lesbian and transgender rights.

That broad agenda reflects lessons Atlanta organizers learned from the Washington march, which also sprang from social media frustration with Trump’s triumph and a desire to take a stand with like-minded women and men. As the Washington march grew in size and profile, critics complained that it lacked inclusiveness and purpose and risked being dismissed as a fit of pique by white women in yoga pants rather than the beginnings of an authentic movement.

The march dropped its original name, the Million Women March, after charges of "cultural appropriation" since the name echoed the 1997 Million Woman March for black women.

The rebranded Women's March on Washington — with 200,000 people expected — realized it had outgrown its Facebook origins and turned to a culturally diverse and professional organizing team, defusing some of the criticisms. Debate continues over whether marching en masse for multiple causes strengthens or dilutes the impact. (More about Georgians going to Washington here.)

“Since our inception, we felt it was important in Atlanta to be very inclusive and create something that resonates with all people, not just women,” said Green, 48. “Our call to action is to really encourage you to find what is most important to you, what motivates you to action and tap into that. We really don’t feel we can narrow it down. This is really a time for all hands on deck. We want to encourage this to be a bipartisan event and encourage all people to participate.”

Volunteers and donations are powering the Atlanta march, which reached in its funding goal of $40,000 to cover costs, including permit fees, sanitation and security. Michele Bolgla, 50, is the volunteer coordinator for DeKalb County and will attend the march with her husband and 14-year-old son. "I'm not sure if I will be marching or emptying garbage cans," she said.

Bolgla said the march’s commitment to make the event safe and orderly is drawing families. She expects dads with baby carriages and students from local campuses; a push has been made to reach college kids who tend to see Facebook as their mother’s social media. A sign-making workshop over the weekend, one of dozens in the final days before the event, brought 75 marchers from ages 10 to 80 the basement of the Atlanta Vintage Books shop to create signs, including “Equality Now. Make America Think Again” and “My Uterus. My Rules.”

With 30 to 50 members expected to march on behalf of environmental concerns, the Georgia Sierra Club held a sign-making event Thursday night where members created posters proclaiming “Jobs, Justice, Clean Energy” and “Gender-just climate solutions.” Volunteer Cecilia Harris, 39, plans to bring her toddler to the march and feels comfortable doing so, explaining: “This is a march, not a protest. The organizers have paid police to lead us. It is not demonstrators taking over the street.”

While Georgians planning to march cite a variety of reasons for participating, most say they felt compelled to channel their disappointment over the election into action. "This kind of a movement — and it it is a movement — is more or less a wake-up call," said the Rev. Diane Dougherty, 71, a member 0f One Billion Rising, a group working to end rape and sexual violence against women, and Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta.

“A sleeping giant is standing up. The disrespect women have seen so much in the election is a part of the fabric of America we didn’t know was there. Sexism has really raised its ugly head, along with homophobia and xenophobia. This is the Wild West now — it is now open and free,” she said.

DeKalb education consultant Angelika Pohl, 75, plans to march with her sister. “I want to send a message of protest against the dangers to all people, not just women, of having setbacks in their human rights,” she said. “I just want a kinder, gentler nation, and it looks like it is going in a different direction.”