Nearly two months have passed since the Women’s March drew a half million protesters to Washington and nearly 17,000 people to a sister rally in downtown Raleigh.
Since the marchers put down their placards and slipped off their pink hats, a question has lingered: Was the historic demonstration a cathartic moment or the beginning of a movement with the power to bring about change?
Four women who helped organize the women’s march in Raleigh told a crowd of nearly 150 people in the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at N.C. State University on Wednesday night that while the streets might not be filled every weekend much is happening behind the scenes.
“We made a big noise with the march,” said Ashley Popio, an organizer of the Women’s March of Raleigh and a founder of the Women’s Theatre Festival and Shaw University writing teacher. “We’re making a big difference with our work.”
Popio was one of four panelists who took part in the first Community Voices event organized by The News & Observer, with support from ABC11. She was joined on stage by other Raleigh march organizers Carly Jones, a professional stage actress, singer and Arts Together administrator; La-Mine Perkins, a student, mother and family support advocate, and Shana Becker, a mother and newcomer to political activism.
The movement borne from the protest of the Trump presidency, they said, has moved from the streets into living rooms, meeting rooms and town halls.
They have organized phone campaigns to elected officials at the state and national level to add their voices to the mix of those speaking out against efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. They have developed lists of organizations in need of volunteers and worked with groups trying to get more women in elected office.
Women’s rights organizations and supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment, buoyed by the recent pro-ratification vote in Nevada, are pushing for similar action in North Carolina.
In an effort to push a local ERA bill through the state House of Representatives, forum participants shared the phone number for Tim Moore, the House speaker, and urged the audience to let him hear their support.
Panelists acknowledged the difficulties of trying to sustain a movement that embraces an array of issues that include reproductive rights, mass incarceration and Black Lives Matter issues, environmental protection and wage and labor equality.
“The Women’s March, I’m sure y’all noticed, wasn’t just about women. The risk we run is, in fact, the diversity of it,” said John Balla, a forum participant who marched in Washington and had his pink hat in his back pocket to show that he was planning to support the movement for more than a moment.
Balla said he worried that such a wide array of issues could either divide the masses or set up a situation in which the energy from the election dissent “peters out.”
Instead, Balla suggested a focus on “the individual.” “It’s the empowerment of the individual that’s under attack,” Balla said.
Lori Jones Tyson, a Durham resident who facilitates “We Need To Talk – In Depth Conversations for Black and White Women,” pointed out to forum participants that while the movement might be built around a diversity of issues, the crowd gathered in the Hunt Library was mostly white and mostly people already involved with organizations.
She volunteered to bring the different races together in smaller settings for more personal conversations among people who are not always quick to participate in marches and rallies.
Ned Barnett, The N&O editorial page director and forum moderator, posed a question for the panelists about whether the interest that men have shown in the marches could be sustained.
“You know, when I told people that I would be moderating a symposium on the women’s march, they sort of looked at me a little warily and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t say anything about women’s issues – they’re not women’s issues, they’re human issues,’ ” Barnett, the only man on the stage, said to laughter. “And that implies that if you get men involved then men can share the agenda, that they can see the humanity beyond the gender. What do you think of that?”
Perkins responded that many of the issues encompassed by the women’s march cross gender boundaries.
“The issues that I am passionate about as a woman and as a mother – things like income inequality, things like poverty, things like cuts to our school systems that are impacting children, things like redistricting that are impacting our ability to have a voice – those are not just issues for women,” she said. “Those are issues that matter to all of us.”
The forum closed with organizers collecting contact information from people with shared concerns and others plugging new numbers into their phones.