Jan. 22, 2020 — The fourth-annual Florence Women’s March, which took place this past Saturday, Jan. 18., and themed “Women Rising,” was coordinated by members of the local activist group Florence ORganizes (FOR). The event drew members of the community from many walks of life and with many different opinions during a march designed to draw attention to the important work that needs to be done to assure the continuation of American democracy.
More than 100 women, men and children met at the Florence United Methodist Church on Kingwood Street at noon. From there, community members marched while carrying signs and banners to Highway 101, making their way along the busy traffic corridor before circling around for return to the church.
The weather on Saturday was cold and wet, but the rain held off until the majority of the marchers had finished walking. The cold was quickly forgotten as participants turned their attention to the waiting potluck, which featured gumbo and lots of discussion regarding the upcoming impeachment trial and the 2020 presidential election.
There was also a celebratory tone when the subject of the 100th anniversary of Oregon’s passage of the 19th Amendment was mentioned in speeches and at discussion groups that followed the march.
To begin the march, short speeches were given by a number of speakers, starting with Nora Kent, a leader of FOR and instructor at Lane Community College. Kent, an outspoken advocate for social justice issues, focused on topics related to women and children, encouraging marchers about the important nature of the work being done by FOR and other social advocacy groups. There are currently FOR teams working on direct action and informational strategies regarding the environment, education, healthcare and human rights.
In an email to Siuslaw News, Kent said, “We are proud of the FOR turnout for fourth annual Women’s March. Apparently, Eugene had an informal gathering of about 60 marchers compared to our 100-plus women and supportive men. Our inspirational speakers fired us up to march with high spirits to brave the wet coastal weather. Over 50 folks stayed after the March, crowding into the Methodist Church fellowship hall for lunch and information from our FOR teams, and other community organizations. Our League of Women’s Voters representative, Shirley Nelson, shared women’s suffrage history with the marchers.”
Florence City Councilor Ron Preisler was the only council member to speak at the Women Rising event. His thoughts on the importance of the gathering spoke to his concern for the future and the important role that women should have in determining that future.
“Any optimism we are currently feeling, in my opinion, is that if we can get the women out to vote in full force, if we can get men who are allies of women out to vote as well, if we can get all generations eligible to vote to register and be willing to show up and exercise their hard-won rights to vote, then there is great hope that we can turn the tide and resume our evolution as an inclusive, just and egalitarian society,” Preisler said.
Preisler has supported the Women’s March in Florence since it began four years ago. Preisler spoke of the differences in the way men and women work, and specifically the more collaborative manner in which women approach solving issues.
“We have had — and continue to have — a predominately male-oriented Congress and executive branch and look at the state of our country. We are at war all over the globe, we deny climate change, corruption is rampant,” he said. “Opioid addiction afflicts families throughout this country, and hunger and poor nutrition affect our nation’s poorest. It is time to try an approach that gives women the voice they deserve.”
Sally Wantz, a leading member of FOR who is preparing to run for Florence City Council in the 2020 election, also spoke to the gathered marchers.
“I got involved in the inaugural Women’s March four years ago and was impressed by the outpouring of support from our community,” Wantz said. “When asked if I would speak this year, I jumped at the opportunity to share my belief that it’s time for women to ‘rise up’ and get involved in whatever community endeavor will fill their souls. It took 72 years of continued commitment to pass the 19th amendment, and we need to keep marching so every human being is not taken for granted.”
A fourth speaker was a new addition to the Florence community, the Rev. Karen Baisinger of the Methodist Church.
“There was a mood in the air of celebration of the tremendous gains that women have made since the suffragettes won women’s voting rights 100 years ago, after an arduous struggle that lasted for many decades,” Baisinger said afterwards. “The women present at the Women Rising March, as well as the large number of men there as allies and support for them, rejoiced that after that long struggle, women were granted equality with men 100 years ago as having the rights to full citizenship by winning access to the voting booth.”
During the discussions, she talked about being an environmentalist and has jumped into many of the issues surrounding the climate change debate with fervor. Like other attendees, she also expressed opinions about the current state of politics in the U.S.
“We are under no illusions that the recent political climate that has not been female-friendly — and in fact, has proven female-hostile — is going away anytime soon,” Baisinger said. “Even if we gain ground in the 2020 election, there has been a backlash, an underbelly of misogyny and sexism that has surfaced and revealed its ugly face.”