On Nov. 8, a grandmother in Hawaii was excited to celebrate the first woman president — and then Donald Trump somehow become the president-elect. She logged on to Facebook and proposed to 40 of her friends that they march on Washington in protest. The idea spread quickly. By Wednesday, it was shared 1,000 times and finally reached the secret Facebook group, Pantsuit Nation, which was started a few weeks before the election as a sign of solidarity among Hillary Clinton supporters, who posted thousands of pictures of themselves and their mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and sisters in pantsuits on their way to vote.
Once Pantsuit Nation, now close to four million strong, grabbed hold of the idea, a movement coalesced, and a small group of women took the lead on Thursday to consolidate various pages and grab the momentum to create an actual organized event. By Friday, those women — already being criticized for all of them being white — had reached out to a trio of organizers to help co-chair the officially named Women's March on Washington. Tamika D. Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour, who have been activists for nearly two decades and are African-American, Mexican-American, and Muslim-American respectively, were key to taking the march from a rising grassroots happening to a legitimate permitted rally in Washington.
In Charleston, Hayne Beattie-Gray went to bed on Tues. Nov. 8 around 10 p.m., when Virginia and Florida looked like they were going to be won by Trump. "I watched with growing horror," she recalls. "I really thought the outcome would've been different on November 9th. I woke up in bereavement, and having gone through bereavement, that's what it really felt like."
A mom of three, Beattie-Gray talked that morning to her daughter, Isabel, who recently took a crowd-funded trip to Antarctica with conservationist and polar explorer Robert Swan and is passionate about climate change. "Her first question was, 'Does Donald Trump believe in climate change yet?'"
Later that day, Beattie-Gray scrawled a quote by Abraham Lincoln on the kitchen chalkboard: "The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it." It was her way of finding meaning for herself and her family, of not giving into the feelings of hopelessness that came with the election of a man she felt had campaigned with messages of hate and fear, divisiveness and discrimination.
On Friday morning, she headed to a meeting at Mercantile and Mash that Amy Hudock, a women and gender studies professor at the College of Charleston and assistant dean of Trident Tech's Palmer Campus, had organized on the Charleston page of Pantsuit Nation.
"I wanted to talk to people," says Hudock. "I was feeling very alone and isolated and I wanted to get energized and do something."
She expected maybe five people to show. Instead, 35 women attended and broke out into discussion groups that focused first on feelings and then on how they could affect change. "We came up with five action items," says Hudock, "civics, service, support, community groups, and donations."
Beattie-Gray attended because she wanted to get out of her own head space. "It was cathartic to sit with like-minded people," she says. Inspired, she went home and booked two tickets to Washington, D.C. for inauguration weekend so she and her daughter could meet with their representatives and be heard on issues that are important to them. And then her Facebook page lit up with posts about the Women's March on Washington and she answered a call for help organizing it. Suddenly, she was the point person for all of South Carolina's efforts.
In the last few weeks, she has reached out to local nonprofits to create an inclusive committee to help her with logistics. She has quickly learned an awful lot about planning a massive event, and she has spoken on a conference call to Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter, who has blessed the march's use of the name, which references MLK's famous March on Washington. "She basically wanted to let us know how important the work we were doing was," says Beattie-Gray. "She told us we needed a victory because we are feeling that we are suffering a defeat."
Beattie-Gray, an avid quote collector, was deeply affected by the Corretta Scott King quote that her daughter repeated to them: "Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul."
National organizers have put out a mission statement that says in part: "We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. ... We work peacefully while recognizing that there is no true peace without justice and equity for all. Hear our voice." The march, organizers have been careful to say, is a pro-women's rights rally and not an Anti-Trump protest.
The national arm is currently working on permits with the National Park Service and booking speakers and performers, which will all be announced closer to the event. Current speculation puts the number of marchers in D.C. at more than a million. In South Carolina, Beattie-Gray has chartered buses to take people up to the march and back for $105 with no need to spend the night. Hotels have been booked for weeks, so lodging is an issue. And several angels have stepped forward to sponsor seats for those who can't afford them.
Shanequa Renee Singletary will be organizing local marches and gatherings to take place the same day as the national march for those who can't make the trip to D.C. She too has been energized to get busy and start speaking up. "I have never been so involved or concerned about government affairs — ever," she says. Last Sunday, she hosted a meeting of Lowcountry Feminists at her office downtown as a way to get women together to learn about organizations that are already out there working on these issues, like Center for Women, whose board she serves on. She says she got involved with the march as a way of tapping into that larger momentum of energy. "I just want it to be known and seen that there are those of us who will be watching what happens and we will be taking note," she says in regards to the new administration. And she, like the 300 women from South Carolina who've already signed up for the bus trip, wants her voice to be heard.
More information on local efforts can be found on the Women's March on Washington — South Carolina Facebook event or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.