Two weeks ago, many Islanders took to New York’s Fifth Avenue and Washington, D.C., to protest as part of the Women’s March.
Initially planned as a “million-women walk” in Washington, D.C., to protest President Trump’s inauguration, the march quickly became a global event as millions of women, men, and children took to the street across the country and around the world. For Roosevelt Islanders who attended the marches, the day represented an opportunity to celebrate the Island’s global mindset, express common values, and stand strong with neighbors.
Longtime Islander Gloria Herman said she marched for Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” a set of common ideals proposed by the former President, and which are engraved in stone at the Island’s Four Freedoms Park. She said she reads them whenever she’s there. “It still hasn’t happened. That’s why I marched. We’ve been trying forever for peace among people, and respect for all religious beliefs, and equal rights for everyone, including women,” said Herman. She believes that,with this administration, we took a step back.
Vicki Feinmel, Linda Heimer, and Gloria Herman hoped the march would mark the beginning of a new age of protest. The women remember the women’s rights protests, the civil rights struggle, and the Vietnam War opposition years. “Marching,” said Heimer, a longtime Rivercross resident who also demonstrated in the 1960s, “is not enough.”
For many younger participants, however, the march was a first.
Jax Schott walked with her second-grade daughter, Sienna, and other Island families. “Although it took me time to decide whether to bring my daughter or not, I did in the end because I felt like I’m against everything Trump stands for, and I wanted to show her that we are doing something,” said Schott.
Schott was not alone in bringing a child. Many parents said they had never felt safer.
Smita Narula took to the New York City streets with her husband and 8-year-old son; being a veteran activist, she said she never doubted that the march would be a safe environment.
Nerea Sanchez, who is from Spain and is here for work, said she hesitated at first, because she isn’t American, but then decided to go anyway. Sanchez said she went because “[Trump] represents everything I despise. What motivated me to attend is the negative impact Trump will have [on] the world.”
While many Islanders chose to stay in New York for the march, some, like Kaja Meade and Lauren Gautier, traveled to Washington, D.C., to be part of the march there. The women say there were massive crowds, making “marching” something of a misnomer.
Meade, who already had made plans to travel to D.C. for a friend’s birthday, said she couldn’t resist the temptation and joined the march. Gautier, however, travelled purposely to the Washington march. Both women said that, with the massive crowds, there came an incredible sense of camaraderie. They both also said they appreciated a modern twist: their husbands remained in the D.C. suburbs and marched with the kids, while the women went to demonstrate in the central march.
“You girls don’t know what it was like,” Feinmel said of the difference between this latest march and the marches of past years. “Women didn’t have the same support from men as we do now. We had to do it alone. Seeing fathers with daughters on their shoulders marching for their [daughter’s] future, husbands staying home in support of women marching, and so many men participating in this cause is more than you can ever appreciate,” Feinmel said with emotion.
Many marchers also spoke of a camaraderie between the protesters, law enforcement, and the establishment. In New York, St. Thomas Church chimed patriotic songs in support of the marchers and the NYPD helped demonstrators climb over barricades to join the jam-packed march on Fifth Avenue.
In Washington, D.C., the National Museum of Art distributed free sandwiches and allowed people to park themselves on the floor and rest. It was a communal effort on a national and even global level.
Beyond the March
All the women who spoke, regardless of age, agreed that, while the march was invigorating and important, it is what protesters continue to do afterwards that will matter.
Meade, a veteran of the DC scene, said she was less optimistic about achieving real change, but Feinmel, Heimer, and Herman disagreed, saying this was not business as usual in D.C.
“Unfortunately,” Feinmel said, “everything takes time. Every single thing that we fought for required years of insistence, of continued ongoing protest. We kept hammering away.”
Heimer agreed, “The march was only the start, but marching will not achieve the change we desire. We must continue to participate in civic action, particularly pressing Congress to act. Particularly the Republicans in Congress.”
Narula, a human-rights lawyer who has dedicated her life to activism, also voiced the need for action. “The Women’s March was an incredible, global mobilization of people standing up in defense of our planet and our rights, but,” she stresses, “the real legacy of the march depends on whether we translate its spirit and ideals into everyday action. There is no room to stand on the sidelines and hope for things to right themselves. The march was a reminder that we are powerful beyond measure. It’s time to flex our activist muscles and engage in soulful resistance.”
Heimer and Meade are both organizing new action groups. Meade hopes to spread information to Island residents via social media about upcoming protests, and calls to action. In addition, she intends to use her inside knowledge of D.C. politics to promote change at the Congressional level while providing Islanders with insight into how to influence representatives outside New York. Meade suggests, “You can call Republican and Democratic candidates and acting representatives and tell them that if they don’t vote or act in accordance with a certain policy, you will contribute to their opponents’ campaigns. It works.”
Heimer is part of an emerging Island Action Group that is set to provide a platform for meetings to get information and share action ideas. The group will hold its first meeting February 9 at 8:00 p.m. [see letter on page 2 for reservation details].
In the end, the women agreed, it is our personal responsibility to act rather than passively nod at those who are trying to resist the unbelievable changes thrust upon us. “Forget about Trump,” said Heimer, “It is about each and every one of us working to influence Congress.”
On an Island named after Franklin D. Roosevelt, with his words inscribed here, the Island women, and so many others, will continue the march.