Participants displayed a wide variety of signs to promote equality for women, ask for better education funding, and even one asking for help to improve the bowling alley
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff
A day after President Donald Trump was sworn in as president, millions across the nation gathered in the nation’s big cities as part of the National Women’s March. Drawing both praise and criticism from both political spectrums, the march saw cities like Washington D.C., Chicago, New York and Seattle swell with demonstrators. Not one arrest was reported in these marches nationwide.
And Chewelah, perhaps among the smallest towns to have a march, was not short in numbers on Saturday afternoon. Gathering at the Chewelah United Church of Christ (UCC), marchers walked down the snow-covered sidewalk on Highway 395, turned back and came down Main Ave. then stopped briefly at City Hall for a few remarks and then ended by singing, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” at the UCC bell tower.
“I had expected around 25 people, maybe hoping for 35,” marcher Cheri Freeman said. “But at the march I figured there was actually at least 125, maybe more. Many of the marcher’s moods went from an attitude of fear and desperation to one of hope and jubilation as more folks showed up and we all realized we weren’t alone in our rejection of misogyny, racism and bullying.”
Freeman said no one actually organized the march. When a posting popped up on Facebook for the Woman’s March in DC, Freeman commented to the UCC that perhaps a march should happen in Chewelah. The UCC council agreed to use the facility as a warming place and Susanne Griepp went to the city to let them know and see if there were any requirements that the march needed to adhere to.
Griepp also contacted via email, Facebook and texts about 60 people asking if they would be interested in the march. For the most part, news of the march traveled through social media contact and word-of-mouth.
“I was surprised by the march turnout especially since we didn’t put anything in the paper or broadcast it early on,” Griepp said. “On Facebook I expected maybe 50, from responses I got from my emails, texts and Facebook messages.”
One of the biggest questions about the march and perhaps a rallying call for critics was to ask what people were marching for.
“The National message was to 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 our strength,” marcher Aubrey Markel said. “I’m sure others marched for different reasons that were personal to them.”
Freeman agreed with the principles of the march as well.
“For me personally, this was the chance to stand up in public and say I will not stand by while these principles of life are attacked,” Freeman said. “I’m a grandma. My life is winding down, but what kind of world am I going to leave behind?”
Griepp added that the goal was to join other marches taking place that day to show a positive presence in town in support of community, families, men, children tolerance, peace and diversity.
“It was actually better that it was completely grassroots, in that it formed from within those who felt compelled right here,” Griepp said.
“There was no media outreach on the march for fear of a formed resistance by regional hate groups who might assume the purpose of the march was to protest,” Griepp said.
Markel said that she was hesitant at first to participate for fear of resentment.
“I started thinking about the founding fathers and realized that there was a reason that they included freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble in the Bill of Rights and I felt like I would be doing a disservice to those great men and my country by not standing up for what I believe in,” Markel said.
During the march, Freeman spoke to the crowd saying that the march itself was non-partisan and was inclusive. There was talk also of continuing to hold the march every year.
The march was positive, Markel added, saying that it was a positive experience and none of the participants demonstrated negativity.
“As we walked, people honked and waved,” Freeman said. “People came out of businesses and waved. Some joined us. Yes, we got a few one-fingered salutes, but that was so few compared to support. This town really is full of people with good hearts.”
Women who were part of the march provided doughnuts, cookies and coffee for the marchers, who came from Colville, Addy, Loon Lake and Chewelah.
Photos of the march that were posted by The Independent on Facebook were shared 72 times and earned 192 likes while being seen by over 13,000 people, which is by far the most engaged post the newspaper has seen on social media. Comments were mixed in both positive and negative ways.
One person asked if the same people will be marching in the pro-life march this week. Many others questioned why the demonstrators were marching.
Kim Lind said, “We live in the freest nation in the world.. what ru marching for? How about try celebrating because you’re an American.”
Debbie Holmes commented on Facebook, “Sad that ignorance is everywhere. Carrying signs doesn’t make you relevant.”
In contrast, Norita M. Barroga-Hulett commented, “Have never heard of Chewelah, WA, don’t know where it is in the state but here’s saluting it” while sharing the story. Another commentor, Janessa M. Graves said, “WOOHOO Chewelah! What a great turnout for such a little town!”
Another commentor shared a photo of the march on another page that had been liked 3,800 times that same day — more than the population of Chewelah.
“Some people label us ‘whiners,’ and conclude that we’re Un-American and unappreciative of the good lives we have,” Griepp said. “They don’t see that others marched in our history for many of the rights that make our lives good. We marched to protect and maintain those and to improve them. Some marched in support of many who seem to be under assault by proposals made, as well as the most vulnerable in our country, feeling it is especially crucial to do so after the threatening and hateful rhetoric over media and rallies during the past year’s election cycle.”
As with all the marches nationally, no arrests or a civil disturbance was recorded or reported.
“This march gave me real hope that we could come together and agree with all our neighbors, known and unknown, that civil rights are human rights,” Freeman said. “Bullying is not an American value and a clean planet is necessary for human beings.”