Georgians plan sizable contingent in Women’s March on Washington

In the wake of Donald Trump's election, Grant Park actress and visual artist Cassidy Russell 29, wanted a way to show that many women "weren't OK with it." Across Georgia, a disheartened Courtnay Coco Papy, 31, of Savannah asked herself, "Now, what do I do?" Also yearning for a constructive way to respond, Lyndsay Arrendale, 25, learned a women's march was planned for Washington and started a Facebook page to see who in Georgia might be interested in participating.

Turns out thousands of people were.

While far from the Washington trip they had intended for Hillary Clinton’s inauguration, real estate agent Jeanne Dufort of Morgan County and her wife will be at the march in Washington.

“Why am I going? For me, positive energy. By coming together, we can lift one another and remember this is not the first setback, nor will it be the last. I hope history will see this march as part of a chain of events that affirms America’s consistent movement toward a more just society for all,” Dufort said. “And sometimes you just need to show up.”

Traveling by planes, trains, car pools and buses from all over the state, an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 Georgians will show up in the nation's capital Saturday for the Women's March on Washington.

They will join an expected 200,000 other marchers from across the country united in a belief that a Trump administration threatens the rights of women, the poor, immigrants, the mentally ill, people of color, and lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender Americans. Buses carrying marchers from as far as Fairbanks, Alaska, have claimed all 1,200 charter parking spots available at RFK Stadium.

So far, more than 600 sister marches are planned across the world, including one Saturday in downtown Atlanta that expects between 10,000 and 20,000 attendees.

What began as a Facebook lament over an election lost and a dream shattered exploded into an ambitious network of grass-roots volunteers who chartered buses, designed fundraising merchandise and events, used crowdsourcing to pay costs for 100 low-income women and held dozens of awareness events in their corners of the state. These Georgia foot soldiers relied on social media, only meeting each other well after the march was up and running.

“We feel like we’re sisters already. There is such a connection,” said Gaetana Marshall of Cobb County, who oversaw outreach to Latino and African-American women, groups who initially felt excluded by the white organizers of the national march. Initially wary of the Women’s March because of racial missteps by the national team, Marshall came aboard when she saw the candor and compassion of the Georgia organizers and their willingness to listen to the concerns of minority women.

“So I decided I had to stop hiding behind Facebook,” she said. “This was something I was passionate about, and I needed to be active. I wanted to clear up the misunderstandings about who women of color are. We are as diverse as diversity is.”

That diversity extends to the motivations of marchers, who are being encouraged to rally for their own causes, whether they be environmental safety, affordable health care or criminal justice. “For me, the march is giving voices back to people who don’t feel they have them right now,” said Arrendale, who has emerged as the point person in the loosely-structured-by-highly-effective-leadership structure. She signs out of her customer service job in the late afternoon and turns full time to the march.

At a boisterous sign-making workshop Sunday at the Mudfire Clayworks and Gallery in Decatur, young lesbians created rainbow posters proclaiming “We Will Not Be Silent,” alongside grandmothers printing “Proud To Be A Nasty Woman” on their poster boards. Among the slogans seen at other sign-making events this weekend in metro Atlanta: “Now You’ve Pissed Off Nana” and “Make Racists ‘Fraid Again.”

With no paid staff, volunteers are fielding hundreds of emails a day, mostly from people still seeking transportation to Washington or asking about the logistics once they arrive there and how to find one another. (Look for a sea of yellow knit scarves and hats, a version of the infamous pink pussyhats that many marchers are sporting. Team Georgia went with yellow gold knitwear in honor of the state butterfly.)

When she first learned of the march, Emily Halevy, 37, of Decatur chartered her own bus and hoped it would fill with 49 like-minded women. It quickly did, including eight college students and young teachers whose expenses were paid by $1,700 in donations. “I really hope this is the beginning of a bigger movement,” said Halevy, who works in information technology, an industry where she’s often the only woman in the room and sees subtle but real gender-based discrimination.

Melissa Teague, a member of the National Federation of Democratic Women, lives in Forsyth County and is attending the march with her daughter, two sisters, a niece, a sister-in-law and friends from both coasts. “The idea of a woman as president was the ultimate symbol of equality we had dreamed of,” she said. “Instead, we get a president who embodies the polar opposite: a man every woman has had to endure her entire life, from the schoolyard bully to the guy who judged you only by your looks to the powerful man who feels he can do anything he wants to do to his victim and get away with it. The march is a unified message to Trump, his administration and the world that women refuse to go back, that we will never give up or give in, most especially to a bully.”

DeKalb County parent Mria Dangerfield, her two teenage sons and her daughter will be among the thousands of Georgians boarding buses Friday evening that will arrive at sunrise Saturday in Washington and return to Georgia on Saturday night, an exhausting 36 hours. A veteran of social justice marches, Dangerfield said: “I feel it is a march of hope. It is valuable to be there and be out there and post your pictures for people who can’t be there.”

A longtime advocate for reproductive justice and a veteran of protest marches, Unitarian Universalist minister Marti Keller of Atlanta said the attacks on the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood and Medicare forced her to lace up her warm walking shoes again.

“It is going to be cold. My feet will hurt. And I don’t expect the march is going to do anything for the people we elected and who are going to be appointed,” she said. “I expect not one tangible consequence. I just know we need to have a show of strength and solidarity.”