Many Americans woke up November 9, the morning after Election Day, feeling like someone had just died, and spent the day staring into their coffee mugs or crying in the office bathroom. Theresa, a spunky Hawaiian grandmother, decided she would do differently. She called on 40 of her friends to march on Washington with her the day of Donald Trump's inauguration, to show the man being sworn in as president that the women he disrespected throughout his campaign would not back down. The plan went viral on social media. Eventually, activists to consolidated their efforts and to create one giant Facebook page for a national event to take place the day after the inauguration, January 21.
Emma Collum, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale, was one of the women who woke up shattered November 9. After seeing the viral call to action to march in D.C., she contacted the national organizers and offered them her legal services. Instead, they offered her the chance to lead the Florida chapter and mobilize her state. She said yes, although by the next day she was already panicking at what she’d agreed to do. (She admits, with a giggle, to being a bit of a masochist.)
By November 10, each of the 50 states had its own Facebook-page group to coordinate the logistics of transport and lodging. Florida’s group has a little more than 20,000 active users of the page, according to Collum’s back-end statistics, although each major county has its own leader and subgroup under the state organizer. For those who can’t make the journey to the nation's capital, local solidarity marches will happen in many cities. Stephanie Myers is coordinating the South Florida march, set to take place at Bayfront Park Amphitheatre from 1 to 5 p.m. January 21.
Collum has certainly been busy. She has helped arrange 55 D.C.-bound buses seating 55 people each and responds to the endless slew of questions and concerns crowding the social media page. Just like the march “caught like wildfire” thanks to the internet, so did fake-news articles about the illegality of the march with stock photos of men with guns. “I’ve had to explain to people that the same way people were galvanized into voting for [Trump] because of fear tactics and fake news, similarly on our side, we’re being silenced by it,” Collum says. She urges everyone to use their critical thinking, notice who is publishing these articles, and read beyond the headlines.
Once professional activist organizers joined the all-white female national board (which is also when organizers changed the event name from the Million Women March – a name that many critics thought appropriated the 1997 Philadelphia march for black women of the same title — to Women’s March on Washington), including Carmen Perez, Tamika D. Mallory, and Linda Sarsour, the proper permits were obtained by an interagency task force for marchers to gather at the intersection of Independence Avenue and Third Street SW, near the U.S. Capitol, at 10 a.m. January 21, 2017.
Before Perez, Mallory, and Sarsour had come aboard as national co-chairs, there had been some pushback for a lack of diversity, and Collum readily agrees. “If this march becomes a white affluent women’s trip to D.C., we’ve failed – we’ve miserably failed.” She has worked to make intersectionality and diversity a central theme in every meeting she has. “We are making sure that we are listening to listen, not just to be heard,” she says.
Because Collum understands that those in more vulnerable communities will have the most difficulty affording a trip such as this one, she created Sponsor-A-Marcher. The nonprofit aims to provide 500 marchers (especially women of color, LGBTQ community members, and college students with financial aid stresses) with an all-expense-paid trip from Florida to Washington, including warm clothes and snacks.
An estimated 600,000 women plan to attend the national march, making it the largest mobilization against a presidential inauguration by hundreds of thousands. Florida is expected to represent about 20,000 of those marchers.
According to Collum, the march and rallies have given women something “to focus on other than feeling useless and helpless because we don’t have a coping mechanism for what’s been brought down upon us. We’re taking back our power by going up to D.C.”
And after the march? For Collum, that’s when the real work begins. She has selected 20 women from across the state – including several women of color, several who identify as LGBTQ, and a few with high stakes in immigration issues – to serve on an executive board that she will incorporate and apply for nonprofit status the day after the march. The board, Women’s March Florida, has built up a policy platform to continue mobilizing and to begin selecting policies and legislation that have a real chance of passing to protect the communities that Trump has threatened, as well as concentrating on the environment, education, and gun laws.
“We need to pinpoint nominated, not appointed, cabinet members and make sure they don’t become appointed cabinet members when they don’t stand for the values that we as women and marchers and our partners in solidarity respect... The message we put out [during the march] is the message that we’re going to continue with Women’s March Florida. It’s going to continue on [January 21], and we aim to affect elections in 2018, and we aim to make sure this administration does not stay in power after 2020.”
She emphasizes that this march is for legislation only – it is not anti-anyone, only anti-rhetoric. All are welcome as long as they agree with the march’s platform of nonviolence and equality for all; even if you voted for Trump but agree with the platform, you are absolutely welcome (though Collum admits she would love to pick your brain).
There’s still time to book a ticket to D.C. (and you can find someone to split a hotel room with on the Florida Facebook event page). But if that isn't feasible, consider attending the Miami rally in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of women and allies taking to the streets of D.C. and the nation.