Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Women Offer Sign of Hope

Women's March in Washington
(Wikipedia photo)

I was proud to have family and friends participating in Birmingham's sister march in conjunction with the Women's March in Washington, D.C. The entire event served as a sign of hope in the wake of uncertainties felt as a new White House administration took office on Friday.

Like Night and Day

Inauguration Day may have seemed bleak and dark with a new president speaking in stark and strident tones, his inaugural address evoking both national fears and national pride. We heard a commander-in-chief seem to put the nations of the world on notice that America is first (and it sounded like he wants to begin asserting economic and military superiority immediately). Lots of declaratives, few celebratory statements. Meanwhile, the band played the same old tunes and soldiers marched the same routine. Later in the evening, the president and the first lady danced to “I Did It My Way.” (If this were a movie script, producers would reject it saying, “That would never happen,” or Too cheeky by half.)

While some are cheering this new administration, Mr. Trump begins his term as president with a 40% approval rating. There are fears of what may happen with healthcare, environmental issues, voting rights and racial equality – not to mention matters of national security. Many are uneasy about what this erratic, impulsive man with no experience in government might do in the highest office in the land.

A much brighter day dawned the day after the inauguration with the Women’s March. Over 500,000 people marched on Washington while some 2.9 million marched in cities across the nation. In my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, they were expecting 500 to 800 people to show up. Instead there were 5,000 people marching from Kelly Ingram Park to Linn Park downtown. This same trend was seen elsewhere. Here is what some of my friends said about marches in their cities:

“5000 were predicted in Charlotte; CMPD puts the official count at 25,000.”
“4,000 predicted for Augusta, Maine -- tallies more like 10K”
“In Atlanta, the organizers hoped for 14,000; last number I heard was 63,000.”

Remarkably there were absolutely no arrests reported during the D.C. march. One friend who was there, John Northrop, gave this observation: “Judging from many of the signs, you might think it was a flood of anger, but not so. It was a cheerful crowd, full of laughter, smiles, good will, courtesy . . . and awe!”

Moreover, it was not just in the U.S. that the “sister marches” took place. Similar gatherings took place in cities around the world. Everywhere, the crowds were beyond expectation, and everywhere the message was that we need to pay attention to the things that matter. 

Do Not Discount the Women

While some are asking if the Women’s March was just a cathartic moment or and enduring movement, I learned at a very young age the power of women when they get mobilized around an issue. I must have been around nine or ten years old when I saw my mother, Mary Cook Kinnaird, organize Judson College alumnae to prevent executive decisions that would have dissolved the school.

Judson College is a women’s college located in Marion, Alabama, and is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention. In the early to mid-1960’s, the executive office of the Alabama Baptist Convention set out to merge Judson College with Samford University, another Baptist college in Birmingham (over 75 miles from Marion). The merger might have preserved the name, Judson College, but for all intents and purposes, it would have closed the women’s college which some in leadership saw no need for.

I don’t know all the details since I only caught bits and pieces of the fight from conversations my mother had with my father as she would debrief at the kitchen table. She was president of the Judson College Alumnae Association and there were many phone calls, meetings, letters written, and trips over to the college.  All of the leadership in the Alabama Baptist Convention was male, of course, and the executive officer who made it his goal to close the women's school found himself facing more than he could handle. Those women got together, petitioned various offices, rallied the students, sang songs in churches and convention meetings, and preserved their school which continues to operate with high acclaim.

Their Hope Should Be Our Hope

So take it from me, don’t mess with women when they get mobilized. You can also be sure that the issues they stand for are things that will benefit all of us. The Unity Principles of the Women’s March include workers’ rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, environmental justice, and an end to violence. These are the values that will allow us to dwell together in unity in a sustainable world. 

If you followed the events in the media, you know that women were not the only ones marching. There were men there, too. It was the women, however, who brought it together and highlighted the higher values that we must not lose sight of. We should all be thankful for the organizational work that these women have done. It has helped us to realize that we as citizens continue to have a role in proclaiming the values by which we shall live.

About 5,000 Alabamians met at Birmingham's Kelly Ingram Park
to join the Women's March on Washington
(photo by Anna Claire Vollers, AL.com)
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Here is a slide show with images of the Women's March at sites all across the country and in other parts of the world:


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