Since taking the office of president on Friday, Jan. 20, Donald Trump has signed 15 executive orders, including one that weakens the reach of the Affordable Care Act and one that says federal dollars may not go to organizations that provide abortion services (including some that provide contraception and counseling). Also during his first week, he has said he’d investigate what he believes to be up to 5 million illegal votes in his election and has said he’ll build a wall on the border with Mexico, without having a plan on how to pay for these moves.
Dozens of women and a handful of men from local towns took 14 buses from Hudson County to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Jan. 21 to march for women’s rights and for civil rights for disadvantaged groups. Similar protests were held in New York, Toronto, and London.
Hoisting signs such as “Nasty woman in training,” “These boobs were made for marching,” “My body my choice,” “Women’s rights are human rights,” “Dump Trump,” “Don’t tread on me,” “Men of quality do not fear equality,” and “Keep your tiny hands off my rights,” the women spent six hours in the nation’s capital before heading home.
The protest was said to be the largest in U.S. history.
“I hope today is the beginning of a movement to keep the next four years moving forward and not allow this administration to pull us back,” said Hoboken resident Liz Cohen on one of the buses, as the group rolled down to D.C. Participants had to be at the buses in Hoboken by 4:30 a.m.
Cohen, one of the trip’s organizers, said 206 local people made the trip to D.C. after months of planning. Only six dropped out.
“Some people were ill, others decided to attend the march in New York City instead, and we had one family who decided not to go because of the violence in D.C. the day of the inauguration, which is understandable,” said Cohen.
Eileen Vanderhaden, 74, who has lived in Hoboken for 24 years, was one of the marchers. “I’m no stranger to activism,” she said. “I marched for women’s rights in the ’90s and against the Vietnam and Iraq wars. But this march for some reason, seeing all those women and men with a singular purpose, was so thrilling for me I had a lump in my throat the whole day.”
Vanderhaden said she has experienced workplace discrimination in the past because of her gender, when she worked in data security.
“I remember at one point my boss called me in and said, ‘I don’t know why they allow women to be put into important roles,’ ” she said. “ ‘All they really want is enough money to buy a good pretty pocketbook. Women do not belong in the workplace. They belong home with their children.’ I was more than happy to testify against him a few years later when he was being sued by a former Hispanic employee.”
Vanderhaden said she was overwhelmed by the love and support of the protestors, even when people who were against the march made their way through the crowd. Those people carried signs against abortion and homosexual rights.
“No one was mean,” she said. “Everyone was kind when those men with the Jesus signs came through. All people did was part and begin chanting, ‘Love trumps hate’.”
Jersey City resident Harriet Taub, 63, said, “There was never a moment from the time I heard about the march that I didn’t want to be a part of it. The tone and tenor of our government is so divisive and mean-spirited that I think it’s important to rally around and be together and say we won’t stand for this.”
Taub said she had marched in D.C for women’s reproductive rights in the 1990s with her then 7-year-old daughter, who was now marching in Toronto with her husband.
She said protesting goes hand in hand with democracy.
“It’s important for anyone and everyone to get together and make a statement and let people know protesting is still a right,” Taub said. “When you take away those rights democracy goes out the window. We have a right to stand together and say, ‘We are watching you and you can’t ignore us.’ I’m hopeful that this march will show the administration and those in political power that we will not accept business as usual, and that they can’t give way to the stroke of a pen and get rid of all the progress this country has made.”
Taub noted, “I have family in Melbourne, Australia, friends marching in Boston, and it’s exciting to see it’s not a localized thing or polarized. Its liberals and conservatives, it’s West Coast and East Coast.”
Thomas Egan, 58, a former Hoboken resident and current Jersey City resident for the past 20 years, felt the march’s positive spirit and enjoyed the creative signs and involvement. He was upset by the election results.
“I felt it would be a historic event if enough people came, and it would become a marker in history,” he said. “Yeah, you could say I was surprised by the election. It was a nightmare. We were looking at the polls thinking it was going to be all right. Then we watched it all fall apart.”
“I went from the despair and depression after the election to absolute joy and a renewal of energy to keep going,” said Cohen after the march. “I remember how horrible I felt. I was literally grieving, thinking the world had come to an end, and now to have been here and think about this today; what a difference. I feel so empowered.”
Hoboken resident Barbara Gambach Weinstein said she thought the march included people from all backgrounds and people with different agendas and some took inspiration from the suffragettes.
“I like the comprehensive nature of the march,” said Weinstein. “This is just the beginning. This is just one part of the strategy. I wore white today because this is what the suffragettes wore to fight and protest before they finally got women the right to vote. They used all the techniques available to them.”
She said, “They marched, they protested, organized, and then went to legislation. This march includes not only women’s rights but movements like Black Lives Matter and women fighting for immigration.”
Jackie Santos, a 26-year-old elementary school teacher from Jersey City, said this was her first march in D.C. She chose to go to D.C. instead of New York. “This is right where all the big decisions are made. Coming here felt more exciting and powerful.”
“There was a lot of positivity and good energy,” she said. “I was a little nervous. Before I came, people were telling me to be careful because it might be dangerous, but it wasn’t at all.”
Santos said she was proud to have been one of the over 1 million people who attended and was comforted by the fact that she wasn’t alone.
The daughter of Hoboken’s late favorite son, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, made it clear on Twitter which side she was on. On Jan. 24 she tweeted “I’ve never been so scared but I will stand up and fight till the end. #Resistance” with an image of an American flag.
Mixed feelings from Republicans
Hudson County Republican Party Chairman Jose Arango did not attend the march, but he said he had neighbors, friends, and employees who did.
“My opinion is, it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “It’s democracy. I congratulate all the women who marched and expressed their concerns. I give a lot of credit to women who started this movement.”
Arango said he found the timing of the march a little early.
“Donald Trump was sworn in to office on Friday and they were already marching the next day before he even made a decision or took a next step,” said Arango.
Arango also believed Hollywood stars like Madonna should have been more careful in their speeches at the marches, and that some celebrities were “irresponsible.”
“I say you have a constitutional right to express yourself freely without saying you are going to blow up the White House,” said Arango, referring to Madonna’s controversial comments, which were actually: “Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot of blowing up the White House, but I know that this won’t change anything. We cannot fall into despair.”
He added, “She has a lot of youth followers. I think we should have responsible freedom of expression. They criticize Donald Trump for irresponsible speeches, and he has made some mistakes, I agree, but one wrong doesn’t trump another.”
Arango added that speeches like Madonna’s “gave ammunition to our enemies with the way they talk. If I was an enemy of our country I would put Madonna and all these people on a statue. They would be my idol.”
How it began
Cohen decided to get involved after seeing the results of the election in November.
“I was so upset that day,” said Cohen. “I was in mourning literally. I was fully prepared to celebrate the first female president and then it all fell apart.”
Then she heard of the 1 Million Women March, the original title of the Women’s March, and heard of a local meeting of New Jersey Awakens the following week and called the organizer.
“I called her and said I wanted to try and get a bus to go and she said she’d put me on the agenda, and the rest was history.”
Barbara Gross, one of Cohen’s partner organizers, said organizing a project of this magnitude wasn’t easy. There were constant changes, including last-minute bus parking fees, rally point changes, and the weather.
The group paid for the trip using donations and a $50 fee from each participant.
Local businesses and residents donated sunscreen and hand warmers and sponsored seats on the bus for those who would not be able to afford to go otherwise.
Many of the participants in the march felt invigorated after attending. But what is next for the movement?
Several suggested calling their state and local representatives about issues that are important to them. Emailing and on-line petitions don’t make as much of an impact, officials have said.
Scientists around the country have been organizing a march for later this year after Trump supporters have made comments trying to discredit fears of climate change.
Taub said, “Yes, everyone should call their state representatives, or write to them, but we should also call other states’ representatives and talk to them, or research the various national committees to see who serves on them and contact those people as well.”
Taub also called for more education on the fight for gender equality.
“I feel there is an educational gap between women of my generation and millennials or younger,” said Taub. “What you don’t realize is how hard it was to get here. People of your generation grew up with these freedoms and don’t know what it’s like not to have them.”
Among more recent changes in the U.S., the Affordable Care Act ensures that people have health insurance through age 25. Before that, young people often lost their insurance a year or two after college graduation.
Gross said she collected dozens of signs, pins, letters, and emails about the march and donated them to the Hoboken Historical Museum for its archives.
Cohen said she has started contacting her representatives and plans on doing so every Tuesday as part of Take Action Tuesday. She also has begun to take some online tutorials on how to be an effective activist and get others involved.
The group is also planning to meet with other D.C. trip organizers in the area to discuss the next steps.
Meanwhile, women in other parts of the country have faced blowback for speaking out.
One woman in Mississippi responded on Facebook to some of her state senator, Chris McDaniels’, remarks about the march such as, “So a group of unhappy liberal women march on Washington D.C. We shouldn’t be surprised; almost all liberal women are unhappy. Perhaps there’s a correlation… If they can afford all those piercings, tattoos, body paintings, signs, and plane tickets, then why do they want us to pay for their birth control?” The woman commented that he should be representing everyone, then called him a “f—wit” and asked her friends to call his office and let their voices be heard. In response, he reportedly posted her image and Facebook information, stating “She obviously believes you should be paying for her birth control. Why not let her know how you feel?” She told a reporter that she was harassed in response.
Marilyn Baer may be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.