Women’s March brings neighbors together in fight against discrimination

Friday, January 27, 2016

Some members of the Hyattsville group made it through the hundreds of thousands of people to gather together at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Photo courtesy of Christine Blackerby

BY HELEN PARSHALL — The Women’s March on Washington provided an opportunity for residents of Hyattsville and surrounding Route 1 communities to come together to reaffirm their commitment to building inclusive, welcoming neighborhoods.

Amidst the fear of the Trump administration, the march became a galvanizing point for Hyattsville residents to engage in conversations, said Anke Meyer, one of the women who started the group.

“Most of us have similar stories,” said Meyer. “When we woke up the morning after the election, we said, ‘Oh my god this can’t be.’ And we have to do something — but let’s do something for the long term.”

It all started from an idea to organize Hyattsville for the march on the group email list for the Hyattsville Organization for a Positive Environment (H.O.P.E.). Residents began posting to the listserv, as a sort of roll call.

“I went to march specifically to be able to share my voice as a pro-life feminist,” said Alison Contreras, a Hyattsville resident who met up with a group at St. Jerome’s before the march.

“It’s necessary,” said Contreras, “not only to show Trump that women deserve equal dignity and respect in terms of his language and his policies, but also to show the other marchers there that pro-life women do not agree with or condone many of his actions either.”

Friends and family came from places as far away as California and Seattle to join the coalition for the march. There were many offers on the H.O.P.E. list offering extra bedrooms or couch space for out-of-towners.

“As soon as [Trump] won and it was announced that there was going to be a march on Washington, we had to do something,” said Lisa Schultz, who flew in from Oakland to stay with friends in the area.

“You can wipe away the information for gays and lesbians on your website, but you can’t wipe away queer people,” said Schultz. “Let’s go back to the 1980s if we have to: We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it. That’s just the way it is.”

 

The night before the march, which was held Jan. 21, local communities gathered for a Resilience Ball at Joe’s Movement Emporium. The Resilience Ball was created as a way to bring people out to meet their neighbors, make signs for the march and, above all, to celebrate the shared values that bring the artist communities along Route 1 together.

“Several community members approached me right after the election and said we have to do something to gather our community,” said Brooke Kidd, director of Joe’s Movement Emporium. “They said ‘let’s have an event where we can come together in fellowship, to sing, to dance.’”

Local band The Wild Anacostias played at the event. “We have to show that we live in a compassionate and inclusive community,” said Joe Atkins, a member of the band.

Speakers highlighted the power of municipal government to enact changes in the next four years.

“I think this resiliency ball is our first step in recovering,” said Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. “In this room tonight … it’s okay to dance like your body has a mind of its own because what you’re doing is creating. You’re creating the space that your soul desperately needs to heal from months of discord, foul language, disrespect, and downright trepidation.”

The morning of the march, a group of women gathered at First United Methodist Church, which had been opened early to house a space for marchers to gather and meet each other before setting off to the metro. Congressman Steny Hoyer also provided vans for some of the marchers.

The women gathered all came with different reasons to march.

“It’s the fact that the majority did not vote for him and the Electoral College still voted him in,” said Cynthia Perdomo, a Hyattsville resident, on why she was there to march. “If you’re not a rich, Christian, white male like him then you’re nothing — and that’s not right.”

“My daughters deserve better,” added Ruthanna Emrys, also a resident of Hyattsville.

“I want to be with a bunch of people who feel the same way that I do and I want to be reminded that there are millions of us that didn’t want this to happen,” said Jeanne Jones. “I’m doing it for my psychological well-being.”

“On the plane ride here, I think half of the people were women coming to the march,” said Roslyn Ramsey, a Georgia resident who had come to Hyattsville to march with Jones, her daughter-in-law.

The groups of Route 1 residents shared red armbands before the march to identify each other as part of the coalition, but the hundreds of thousands of marchers made it difficult for many to make it to the designated meet-up point.

Ramsey described the feeling of solidarity among the packed crowds as celebratory and uplifting.

“It brought so many of us together to say that this is not the end,” she said. “I will not be moved. This man is not my president. I haven’t seen this kind of unity since we protested the Vietnam War.”

The Hyattsville women said they hope to stay connected and active in the community in the weeks to come. They said they want to continue the conversations started at Saturday’s march in local neighborhoods and at the municipal level.

“Our political climate has become so polarized that oftentimes people are too afraid to even have discussions about what we believe, or we surround ourselves with only those who think the exact same thing,” said Contreras. “Hyattsville is a diverse area and I hope from this march we can realize that though we might differ on what policies may get us there, many local women do believe and fight for the respect and dignity of everyone.”

The coalition has grown from the initial posting in late December to a distribution list of over 70 people, said Meyer. The group is discussing strategies for continuing action in future initiatives from phone calls to congressional offices and in-person lobby visits.

“Coming from Germany and seeing how the pre-election month went by, it reminded me of what we learned of the time when the Nazis came into power,” said Meyer. “I don’t want that to happen, so I have to speak out. I think the march is a good thing to get us mobilized, but we have to continue afterwards so that these things that we fear won’t happen.”

“It’s an uphill battle,” continued Meyer, “But if we don’t start the battle, then we surely won’t win it.”