- Real Estate
- Under Cover
- Special Editorial
- In Pictures
BY EILEEN STUKANE
The pink “pussyhats” showed up on thousands of heads again as the second Women’s March on New York City brought an estimated 200,000 people onto Central Park West from W. 61st Street to W. 80th Street and beyond.
“I love the fact that I cannot see the end of this,” said Whoopi Goldberg, speaking from the platform stage at W. 61st Street. Last year’s Women’s March, originally planned for Washington DC, inspired same-day Women’s Marches across the globe, an organic uprising of millions who were stunned by the 2016 election that made Donald J. Trump America’s president. (Worldwide this year, 280 Women’s Marches filled the streets simultaneously.) The mood of that first March was reactionary — an outlet was needed to oppose the misogyny that threatened women’s reproductive rights, and equal rights in general. Resistance was needed to protect freedom of the press, an expected assault on the environment, and a feared crackdown on minority populations and immigrants.
This time was different. Reaction has become action, and a movement is under way. This 2018 Women’s March was a call to vote, to run for office, to speak out, and never be silenced.
“The core principles have remained the same,” said Sarah Steinhardt, press officer for Women’s March Alliance (WMA), organizer of the Jan. 20 NYC Women’s March. “We march for women’s rights and gender equality, to empower women to use their voices, and to give them the tools and the knowledge and the information to do so.” However, in addition to those core principles, this year’s March promoted voter registration, with a clear message to vote. “Our goal is to register one million women to vote by the November election,” Steinhardt explained, “We feel very strongly that women should know how to exercise their rights and the most basic example of that is voting.” On that initiative WMA is working with voter registration groups such as voter.org, Rock The Vote, and Voto Latino.
While the marchers would hear that call to vote from speakers who rallied the assembled thousands on this good-for-marching 50-degree Saturday, they would mostly be moved by the stories of those who were not household names. There were familiar faces who inspired, Rosie Perez, Whoopi Goldberg, Yoko Ono, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — but the day belonged to those women who were committing themselves to change the culture behind the headlines.
From the stage, newly-elected New Jersey Freeholder Ashley Bennett, a psychiatric emergency screener attending grad school, shared the story of how she had seen New Jersey Freeholder John Carman post a meme during last year’s Women’s March that read: “Will the women’s protest end in time for them to cook dinner?” Bennett was offended, and although she had never been in politics she was inspired by the 2017 Women’s March to run for Carman’s seat.
“When I announced my candidacy many people wrote me off because I’m just an ordinary woman,” Bennett recalled. “I wake up early, I go to work every day, I have student loans, and I have to check my bank account before I do just about anything — but I had to remind myself that when ordinary people stand up for what they believe, when they come together around a common purpose and a true desire to lift up everyone in the community, extraordinary things happen.”
Bennett admitted that she was initially afraid and said, “If you feel the call and you’re afraid, just do it afraid. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be willing.” Repeated by several speakers was the reminder that this emerging movement is not about vengeance. Succinctly put by Bennett: “It’s about time, time for women to stand together, not just once a year but every day.”
Sulma Arzu-Brown introduced herself as a Garifuna woman from Honduras, but she wears multiple hats as director of operations for the NYC Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, co-owner of Boogie Down Grind Café in the Bronx, and author of the children’s book, “Bad Hair Does Not Exist.”
On the stage with her mother and two young daughters, Arzu-Brown spoke emotionally of the sacrifice her mother made by leaving her and her brother behind in Honduras to come to the USA. In her native country, her mother was told she would not be promoted in her job because she was Black, Latina, Garifuna, and a woman. “I stand on the shoulders of my mother,” she said. Often, women on stage spoke of helping younger women, mentoring them, supporting them whenever possible. “We are creating a path for our children that lets them know that we are not just people of color, that we are people of beautiful color, that we belong to the human race and we come from beautiful places that we cultivated with our bare hands.”
Through her books, she is striving to spread knowledge of her community and how “we share very similar experiences as human beings and as women, experiences that include love and compassion and heart.” After the march, although Arzu-Brown herself was inspiring, she felt inspired: “The crowd gave me warm eyes and attentive ears and open hearts to hear my story, to take ownership of everything God has given me. I got so much comfort from the women. They gave me courage.”
Although the #MeToo Movement was not mentioned by name, the ability to speak out about the pain of sexual harassment and abuse presented itself. From her wheelchair, Nadina LaSpina, an activist for people with disabilities, told the marchers that the disabled are not spared from sexual assault by medical professionals, and also by those in academia. “I was made to feel that I should be grateful because I was not as good as a non-disabled woman,” she said. She also reminded that in the struggle for equal pay, disabled individuals earn 37 percent less overall than the able-bodied. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had noted that achieving equal pay for equal work was fighting the existing “Seventy-five cents on the dollar if you’re a white woman, 63 cents if you’re an African-American woman, 54 cents if you’re a Latina.”
The moment when a hush fell over the crowd was when the singer Halsey approached the microphone to share her poem, “A Story Like Mine,” her memory of being sexually assaulted as a child, sitting with her best friend in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood after her friend had been raped, being forced to have sex with a “boyfriend,” performing onstage after a miscarriage, realizing that her celebrity is not a protection from sexual abuse. “I believe I’m protected ‘cause I live on a screen / Nobody would dare act that way around me / I’ve earned my protection, eternally clean / Until a man that I trust gets his hands in my pants /… And every friend that I know has a story like mine.”
The spoken words touched the generations, from three-year-old Adelaide Carter from Brooklyn, participating in her second Women’s March, this time walking with no need of her stroller, to 89-year-old Upper West Sider Mary Vanschaick, in a Women’s March for the first time with the help of her wheelchair. With Yoko Ono looking on, the singer MILCK performed “Quiet,” a song with the refrain, “Let it out, Let it out now.”
Barricades removed, women, men, and children, united, surged forward through the streets. An electric energy spread from person to person, especially when the marchers passed Trump International Hotel & Tower, and then Trump Parc, shouting chants: “Not a creepy tweeter, we want a leader,” “Love, not hate, that’s what makes America great,” “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go,” and the repurposed, “Lock him up!”
The determined, hopeful spirit of the marchers was felt by Mayor Bill de Blasio who held hands with his wife, NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray, as they marched in the thick of the crowd, and easily spoke with other marchers. “I’m very proud of New York City today with over 100,000 already out to fight for the rights of women and build a movement that started last year. It’s going to grow from this point on,” said the mayor.
NYC First Lady McCray, when asked what she thought of her New York sisters on the march, responded, “I love them! They’re out here with so much energy and enthusiasm. I think there are more people out here than last year. I marched last year too. This shows much of what we really believe in. You see the signs out here, the values that they’re representing; this is the direction we have to move in. We’re laying the foundation with this march for the elections coming up. I think we’re going to see so many more women in office, so many more, leadership from women like we’ve never seen before. It’s a great thing!”
Many of the signs, such as Chelsea artist Mary Frank’s poster painting “Don’t Tear Families Apart,” showed concern for the current crackdown on immigration and support of DACA.
The banner “Marching For Everything We Hold Dear” was held at one corner by Lynn McMahill from Washington Heights who said, “I don’t know all the people holding the banner with me. People just joined in to help and really, that’s what this is all about, people joining together.” Nina Kulkarni, with the League of Women Voters, was marching nearby with a speaker announcing that she could register voters on the spot. She repeated the mission of registering a million women to vote before the 2018 midterm elections and reminded that on Sun., Jan. 21, the Power to the Polls initiative was being launched in Las Vegas in conjunction with the Women’s March organizations.
Mothers marching with daughters, aunts with nieces, sisters marching with sisters and brothers, wives with husbands, LGBTQ partners and friends, the March had a feeling of family. Chandra Turner, who lives in Westchester, brought her 11-year-old daughter Madeline, “because I wanted her to be here and witness this and not feel alone. I wanted her to see that she is not the only one who feels the way she does, that there are other people who are standing up for equality. She is worried about children being deported who were brought here. Her father is not an American citizen. It’s scary to think about what can happen with this administration.”
Creative signage revealed continued loathing of President Trump, points being made with humor. Shari Oliver, a 7th grade Social Studies/History teacher from Connecticut, came with her 15-year-old daughter Grace, a first march for both of them, because “We’ve been disgusted with so much for so long.” Grace carried a sign reading, “Cheeto In Chief Is Making Me Gassy.” The Oval Office as a toilet bowl was another clever image.
The day was peaceful, with the NYPD only a subtle presence, the sky devoid of buzzing helicopters, the focus being on the power of one’s voice multiplied by others.