Jan. 24, 2018 — Hundreds of people participated in the 2018 Florence Women’s March on Jan. 20. The marchers began gathering just before 10 a.m. at the Florence United Methodist Church on Kingwood Street to distribute signs, go over the route protesters planned to use and to coordinate their message.
According to many participants, the main reason for the march was the ongoing belief that U.S. President Donald Trump does not represent their values and may indeed be acting against women’s interests and those of the country.
The primary organizers of the 2018 march are a group of people affiliated with the Florence ORganizes (FOR), an action group formed last year in response to the election of Trump. FOR was instrumental in the 2017 Women’s March.
According to some members of FOR, many of the president’s policies are divisive and fundamentally at odds with American values.
Stephanie Spradling, Internal Communication Coordinator for FOR, spoke to the motivation for this year’s march.
“We are very concerned with what is taking place in our democracy. The Trump administration is taking a more authoritarian position on issues that are fundamental to our democracy and he is undermining institutions like the Department of Justice, the CIA and the FBI,” she said. “We are also extremely concerned that Trump lies constantly, seemingly about anything, and we believe he is trying to muddy the waters surrounding the FBI investigation into his ties with Russia. We believe this is a danger to our democracy.”
Saturday morning started out gray and chilly, but by the time the march began at 11 a.m., there was just a slight curtain of precipitation drifting down. Patches of blue were visible in the sky as the upbeat group began the short walk up to Highway 101 and back down Rhododendron Street.
The age of the participants ranged from infants to octogenarians, with many marchers wearing pink and purple. There were about half the people from the inaugural year.
One thing that became clear during this year’s march was a more pointed concern about the president and the policies he supports.
This is opposed to last year, when organizer Nin Bebeau said, “He is there to give us a wake up call, but this is not about Trump. This is about women. This is the time for us to make our voices heard and for us to be responsible for our own ideas, goals and what we think is best for the country. We are not against Donald Trump, we are for women’s empowerment.”
Spradling said that this year, millions of people across the country, across the world and across the political spectrum were protesting the policies and behavior of the president.
One of the major issues concerning the marchers was the current standoff surrounding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) legislation and the need to resolve the issue with respect for other cultures and the people impacted by the controversy.
“We are marching after being in consultation with women’s groups from across the country and across the world,” Spradling said. “There are sisters across this nation that are very concerned with what is taking place in our democracy and they want their voices to be heard.”
Florence City Councilor Ron Preisler attended the march not to protest the president, but to support the more overarching issue of women’s rights.
“I felt it important to attend the march to show solidarity with women in their struggle for equal rights,” Preisler said. “This includes choice, healthcare, pay equity and the recent publicity about how workplace sexual abuse is prevalent in our society. By my participation, I wanted to show that many men are aware of their struggle and stand in full support of their issues.”
Another topic that concerned marchers was the president’s continuing actions against the press and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
When asked to elaborate on these issues, several marchers asked to remain anonymous.
One of these was a retired school administrator who has been the recipient of hostility and threats while peacefully holding signs of protest on local street corners.
This man expressed concern that the current president is eroding the freedoms inherent in the U.S. democracy and debasing the office he holds.
“America used to be the shining city on a hill,” the protester said. “In addition, much of that allure had to do with the First Amendment, freedom of speech and the independent nature of our press. This president does not seem to recognize this essential component of our democracy and continually denigrates one or our most important means of holding people in power accountable — the press.”
Another marcher, Bonnie Costa, carried a sign that supported freedom of the press.
“I went to the Women’s March because I had recently seen the movie ‘The Post.’ It reminded me that our freedoms can be lost if we do not act to protect them,” Costa said.
FOR member Eileen Angilletta gave a speech at the beginning of the march to “remind everyone of the progress women made during 2017.”
“We have encouraged people here in town to get involved locally by attending town halls and other events,” Angilletta said. “Smaller groups have come out of the larger group of FOR to address local issues such as plastic recycling, beach clean ups and much more. I believe that our community is more informed now in 2018 due to people getting involved.”
When asked what broader message march organizers wanted to share with the community, the answer from Spradling was clear.
“When we start dividing people into groups and turning them against each other for political reasons, that is wrong and it is un-American,” she said. “That is why we marched in Florence and why millions of us marched across the country.”