The election had barely concluded when Britten Bolenbaugh, a Pilates instructor, HIV counselor and Peace Corps volunteer from Oak Grove, used her own money to put down deposits to charter two buses to a women’s march in Washington, D.C., planned for the day after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The Women’s March on Washington was in its early stages; organizers did not yet have a permit for the proposed rally to preserve and expand rights for women.
But emotions for many local women were high, and on the message boards and Facebook groups many shared their grief and concern that the Trump administration might erode civil rights for women and minorities.
Some have since credited a grandmother in Hawaii who invited 40 of her friends to march in the U.S. capital as the origins for the Women’s March on Washington. Calls and interest in an organized march continued to grow, fueled by women like Bolenbaugh who felt blindsided by the results of the election.
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At least 200,000 people are expected to attend the Jan. 21 march, which will begin near the U.S. Capitol. More than 100 people from the Kansas City metropolitan area, and at least 500 more from across Missouri and Kansas, have made plans to participate in the one-day march.
“We’re just a lot of broken-hearted people who don’t want to sit back,” said Bolenbaugh, who would sign on to become a co-administrator for the Women’s March on Washington Missouri group, in addition to her role as a local organizer.
Bolenbaugh and other state coordinators are focusing on transporting people to D.C., while national organizers have focused on the rally itself since they secured a permit on Dec. 15.
Last week, Planned Parenthood announced it would cosponsor the Women’s March on Washington, while activists Gloria Steinem and singer Harry Belafonte plan to co-chair the event. A lineup of speakers is still in the works, and celebrities such as comedian Amy Schumer and actress Olivia Wilde have pledged to attend.
The focus of the march is broad but is intended to send an important message to the new administration, Missouri coordinator Sarah Wess Potter said.
“It’s ‘women’s rights are human rights,’ ” Potter said. “And we are looking for equality not just for women but for all disadvantaged groups.”
Nine to 10 buses are expected to leave from St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Columbia and Kansas City, where at least two 55-passenger buses are set to depart for D.C. that weekend. In Kansas, organizers are filling buses leaving from Lawrence and Wichita.
Organizers don’t know how many people have chosen to fly or drive to the march. Participation from both states could be closer to 800. For those who cannot make the trip, local rallies are being planned, such as a Kansas City Women’s March on Washington from 1 to 3 p.m. at Washington Square Park near Crown Center.
The cost of roundtrip bus fare ranges from $120 to $200, based on location. Both the local group and state officers have been seeking sponsors and other fundraising opportunities to try to raise money for individuals who can’t afford to pay for their trip.
Originally billed as the Million Women’s March after forming in November, the Women’s March on Washington quickly rebranded when it was pointed out that the group had borrowed the name of a 1997 gathering of African-American women in Philadelphia.
Organizers have since been clear that anyone, including men, can participate, and that the event aims to be a show of solidarity for all those “the rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened.”
The group’s website pledges to march for “immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault.”
Talk to many participants and they’ll cite a video in which Trump spoke about groping women, anti-Muslim and Hispanic rhetoric used by the president-elect, and potential Cabinet members with track records of limiting LGBTQIA rights as inspiration for their activism.
But the march isn’t just about challenging rhetoric and defending civil rights that some worry Trump’s administration has challenged, Potter said.
It’s about sending a message that specific issues — such as paid maternity leave, paid parental leave, wage gaps — cannot be ignored, she said.
“It’s not about Trump — it’s about what does America stand for?” Potter said. “It’s do we actually believe in equality for all. Or do we believe in things like religious tests for being an America? Do we believe women are equal? That gay people, African-Americans have the same rights as us? These are really important questions. I think the election was a wake-up call for those who had a vision of America as a place with more equality than we thought.”