History of protest prepared me for Women’s March

Women rally in New York in solidarity with the Jan. 21 Women’s March in Washington, D.C.
Women rally in New York in solidarity with the Jan. 21 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Associated Press

It was 6:30 a.m., Jan. 21. I boarded my flight to Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March. My message was on my coat: my collection of campaign pins from a life of political activism. Humphrey-Muskie, Jimmy Carter, Kerry-Edwards, Hillary and one from the May 14, 2000 Million Moms March promoting gun safety.

The march was my breakout from post-Nov. 8 gloom, denial and withdrawal back to engagement. I still couldn’t believe that after years of successfully promoting civil rights, voting rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, woman’s rights and access to healthcare — the goals of the march — we would have to fight to sustain what we had achieved.

By 9:30 I was on a crowded Metro heading for Independence and Third where the march was convening. Because of crowd control at the closest station, I ended up behind the Capitol and walking through my own D.C. history en route to the rally.

As I strolled past the Capitol, I relived the thrill of being in the Senate Gallery on June 19, 1964 when the Civil Rights Bill passed; accompanying State Department officials in 1967 as they testified on the Foreign Aid Bill. I remember, too, sobbing as I stood in line in the Rotunda on Jan. 24, 1973 where President Lyndon Johnson laid in state as I paid my respects for his work to pass the Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1966 Model Cities Program.

When I reached the Cannon, Rayburn and Longworth office buildings, which house our U.S. representatives, I was in a flood of people carrying hand-lettered signs: My Body, My Choice; Hope Will Never Be Silent; We Reject Your Hate. Shepard Fairey posters created for the March of a Muslim woman in an American flag headscarf and one stating We the Resilient were everywhere.

I knew those buildings from the 1990s and early 2000s. As CEO of Donors Forum of South Florida at the time, I raced with the leaders of local foundations and corporate-giving programs through their halls — John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Health Foundation of South Florida, JM Family Enterprises — to educate Florida’s lawmakers about private philanthropy’s efforts to reduce poverty, provide access to healthcare and build communities.

Now visible ahead was a river of people filling the Mall. Beyond the Lincoln Monument had been the tent city of thousands that sprouted during the Poor People’s Campaign in spring 1968 soon after Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Its mission resonated at the Women’s March almost 50 years later: reducing poverty.

As I kept marching, my optimism for success in achieving the march’s goals mounted. I felt the positive vibes generated by the thousands of people of every size, color and age. When I finally squeezed my way onto the Mall around 12th Street, calm and humanity ruled.

We stood jammed together, talking about where we were from, why we had come, what we hoped to take away. Many were first-time demonstrators showing their support for our democratic values of equity, justice and freedom of choice.

That day, millions joined in with protests across the United States and around the world, rallying against a presidential candidate, and now a U.S. president, whose values and language were an affront to women, disabled, immigrants, ethnic and racial minorities. We must engage in other ways to help turn around this speeding train before it destroys the Affordable Care Act; freedom of choice; DACA; and the freedom to share government information, among others.

Those millions challenge this administration’s claims of widespread vote fraud and climate change denial.

The momentum from the march is unleashing a flow of actions to preserve the Affordable Care Act by flooding congressional phone lines with messages of support and deluging Paul Ryan at his Wisconsin home with letters. Local efforts are under way to get legislators to block the expected onslaught of damaging legislation and regulations. Efforts have begun to recruit, fund and elect a cadre of candidates at the local, state and federal levels who espouse the March’s values and agenda.

Thanks to the Women’s March, we know we can.

JoAnne Bander is a Coral Gables-based consultant.