Two Busloads of Southern Ocean County Residents Among the Half-Million Protestors in Historic Women’s March on Washington
To be “on the right side of history” was the motivation for Barbara Crystal, a teacher of 10th-grade special education English at Southern Regional High School, to march in D.C. this weekend, with her 18-year-old daughter, Sarah Manna, by her side and her older daughter, Kathleen Crystal, marching in Philadelphia.
About 100 women and men from Southern Ocean County met in the high school’s 9/10 parking lot at 5 a.m. Saturday and boarded two Trolley Tours buses to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. Armed with pink hats and a multifaceted agenda, they traveled together to march with hundreds of thousands of protesters in defense of their beliefs on the new administration’s first day in office.
The bus trip was organized locally by a number of women including Christine Rooney, Amanda Devecka-Rinear, Becky Tarditi, Bonnie Richmond, Ellyn Hill, Rosa Borenstein and Pat Stenden.
All who participated reported the event surpassed their expectations. Most were happy to see all ages, parents and children, whole families, coming together to support the spectrum of causes – human rights, reproductive freedom, gender/racial/economic/criminal justice, LGBTQIA issues, workers’ rights, civil rights, economy, immigration and climate change.
Rooney, a Ship Bottom resident, is proud to have voted in every local and state election for 46 years and has a long history of political action, going back to Vietnam protests and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
What impressed her the most, she said, was the solidarity of the marchers, from both the LBI vicinity and around the world. Locally, the idea to get a trip together originated in November and took shape quickly: The first bus was sold out in 24 hours, the second bus in a week. A mingling and information session was held at The Arlington in Ship Bottom the weekend before the march.
“The response of the women of the community who were determined to be part of this epic event moved me,” Rooney said. “This is not just a march; this is a movement.” As part of her commitment to keep the momentum of the day going, Rooney has vowed to take one action per week on the issues she cares about, e.g. healthcare, climate change and the arts. “I intend to let my representatives know that I care, I think, and I vote!”
As the buses drove south through the pre-dawn and early morning, riders slept, gathered their thoughts or chatted quietly with fellow passengers. Nearer to the dropoff point, just outside D.C. in College Park, Md., Ray Fisk of Cedar Run stood at the front of the bus and motivated the crowd with a piece of prose he had written, titled “Why I March.” Here’s an excerpt:
I march because it’s no longer enough to be a passive ally. It’s no longer enough to just not be racist, or sexist. It’s no longer enough to only agree, to simply click ‘like.’
I march with sadness, knowing our history of racial oppression, of sexism, of periods of hate.
I march in awe of the courage, determination, and moral strength of those who struggle every day for economic and social justice.
I march to celebrate our glorious diversity.
I march acknowledging that although we don’t always agree, we come together to support each other when threatened.
I march because of the fundamental American values our veterans have fought for. I march because my parents, in the last century, fought against fascism and bullies.
I march to oppose influence and meddling in our democracy by a foreign adversary.
I march for honest political discourse.
I march for health care that my own family and millions of others may lose.
I march because my home and my community and much of the world is threatened by climate change.
I march because I want policy based on facts, not wishes.
I march because I stand with science. I stand with facts.
I march because I know we’re all in this together.
* * *
Upon disembarking in Maryland, the task at hand was to find a way into D.C., and the group dispersed, leaving all marchers to their own devices until the appointed time to reconvene at the buses. Although everyone had been advised to order metro cards in advance in order to avoid the extremely long lines at the stations on the day of the march, several who had purchased the cards online did not receive them in time, and the lines were even longer than anticipated. Luckily, an Uber cab was 10 minutes away, and a ride shared by four people was a convenient and affordable alternative to the overcrowded trains.
On the way to the march, Dani Corso and her friend Janean Harvey discussed their reasons for marching – mainly that they felt it was the right thing to do and saw it as an enriching opportunity to learn and grow. They expressed alarm about the future under the new administration and said they were especially concerned to have learned, in the 24 hours leading up to the march, climate change and LGBTQ were removed from the “issues” tab on the official presidential website, whitehouse.gov.
Corso said she marched, unafraid, on behalf of so many who felt afraid to participate. While she saw the event’s mission as complex, she hoped the overarching message would not be anti-Trump, but rather pro-human. She expected to learn more on Saturday than she had at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event she recently attended.
The streets and sidewalks approaching the Capitol were densely peopled but not chaotic. Protestors with their signs, bearing messages ranging from cute and clever to snarky or outraged, moved toward the rally point and march route. The closer to the start point, the thicker the crowds. National Guard trucks, police vehicles and uniformed service personnel were positioned strategically to manage the crowds and to assist the lost, unwell or otherwise troubled.
By 11:30, some news agencies were reporting an estimated turnout of 500,000.
By all accounts the rally speakers – an impressive array of actors, artists, politicians, musicians, activists, business and nonprofit leaders – were passionate and effective, but not everyone could get near enough to speakers or a video screen to hear what was going on, and the presentations, scheduled to go from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., ran long. By 2:30 the demonstrators had grown restless from the standing, squeezing and elbow-bumping in cramped quarters (“a gentle, loving mosh pit,” as Toms River resident and glass artist Yvonne Yaar-Sharkey described it) and were vocalizing their eagerness to start the actual march.
At last, the marchers mobilized, carrying their signs high, swept along in a current of enthusiasm, pink tributaries flowing into pink rivers.
“The march was amazing,” according to Kristine Pyzyna of Ocean Gate, who has taken part in other, smaller actions. “It gave me hope again, that we as a nation are not returning to the darker, shameful eras I naively believed we had put far behind us. I sat with women on our bus, 10 to 20 years my seniors, who were protesters in the early fights for women’s rights and against the Vietnam War. This whole experience rocked me out of my complacency and gave me new belief in our democracy. I need to keep my sneakers in a perpetual state of readiness. Women’s rights are human rights, well worth fighting for.”
Barnegat resident Susan Uscenski has stood with the Sierra Club against pollution in the Delaware River and the proposed pipeline in the Pine Barrens, but the Women’s March was on a whole other level. “I have been to Washington, D.C., numerous times and have walked the streets surrounding the National Mall, visiting monuments and museums,” she said. “Never would I have imagined that one day I would witness so many people walking those streets in protest over a president’s words, behaviors and stated positions. At no time did I observe rude or dangerous behavior. I was absolutely surprised by the number of children and even babies in strollers! The sheer number of people participating in the many marches across our country will make an important impression on our lawmakers. However, ‘we the people’ must follow up with continued pressure on those lawmakers. Your senators’ and representatives’ phone numbers should be put in your ‘speed dial’ directory.”
Kathleen Birch of Beach Haven Gardens appreciated the peaceful and cooperative tone of the event and “particularly enjoyed the creativity of all the sign makers.”
“I saw very young and very old Americans of every shade and nationality, all with a similar mindset,” she said. “We had occasion to take taxis in town with drivers who had immigrated. As we exited the first taxi, our driver thanked us for coming to town. The second driver, from East Africa, shared with us the difference between the (previous day’s) inauguration visitors and the march visitors. He clearly had better impressions of marchers! Both were happy to be here.”
Feeling bolstered by the experience, Birch said, “I’m not going to bite my tongue anymore. Silence equals death. I recognize my place of privilege, and my intention is to use it.”
* * *
As the bus trippers met back at the metro station in the later afternoon, the shared sentiment was one of proud accomplishment and possibly relief that the day had run as smoothly as it had.
One of the trip’s organizers was Amanda Devecka-Rinear of the New Jersey Organizing Project, Southern Ocean County’s lead agency for political actions for Superstorm Sandy victims (and, henceforth, joining the fight against healthcare cuts and to address climate change). Also representing NJOP were Joe Mangino, Julie Suarez and intern Priscilla Robinson, who described the scene when they got off the train in D.C. as “pretty intense.”
“We were super overwhelmed at first, just at how many people,” she said.
From the march, Mangino said he hopes people draw inspiration to get involved locally in matters of importance to them. If running for public office seems unrealistic, start by attending municipal meetings and staying informed. On Tuesday, for example, the Pinelands Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pine Barrens.
For NJOP, the election presented an opportunity to branch out into other issues that affect Sandy survivors, Mangino explained. Suarez recognizes the “hard fight ahead,” but people should feel comforted and empowered by the knowledge they are not alone. “And now these people are not afraid to mobilize,” she added, having seen how a large-scale demonstration can be conducted by “civilized, beautiful, peaceful human beings.”
Robin Parker of Manahawkin, formerly campaign manager for the Myers, Hagler, Beaty team that ran for Long Beach Township Commission, could not attend the D.C. march but went to Asbury Park instead, where a reported 6,000 demonstrators gathered. And while the location was different, the upbeat vibes reported were much the same.
Parker said she observed an absence of judgment or barriers, a strong sense of solidarity as if none were strangers, and “the love that people really do have for one another in a time when it might feel like the world – well, our world – is falling apart.” She said to see and hear the speech by Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, who has fought all his life for civil equality, from the marches of the ’60s and in the 50 years since, “was simply amazing, impressive and very uplifting.”
The take-home message? In a word, hope.
As a result of her participation in the march, young Sarah Manna said she now feels she has a voice. Janean Harvey captured with her cell phone an image that encapsulates the march for her – two little girls holding a sign that read, “Girls will change the world.”
Leslee Ganss of Cedar Run was wowed by the atmosphere of complete acceptance, and by the generosity and empathy she witnessed: “From the overwhelmed metro workers to the people squished shoulder to shoulder with us, everyone smiled, went with the flow, gave what they could – an inch or two of space, a sticker, a smile and a pat on the back, a free pass, their place in line, etc. – acknowledged our presence, efforts and signs, included us in their photographs.
“The feeling of empowerment and hope from this event far outweighs whatever effort and small sacrifice in comfort was spent to participate,” she noted. Ganss was one who was snagged and interviewed by a TV news reporter, from New York 1, for her eye-catching sign depicting the new president’s likeness. Birch, too, was stopped and questioned – by the BBC.
Saturday marked Marena Lobosco’s first time participating in a political march, but not her last. Her compulsion to participate, she explained, was rooted in her personal understanding of the difference between right and wrong and her belief that the new president is a dangerous role model for children and adults alike. Despite some initial anxiety about the potential for a violent outbreak, to her, “this march was way too important, and everyone knew it and put their best foot forward (literally and figuratively). Despite the overcrowded trains, city streets and marching area, people were extra polite. No one pushed or argued. We were positive, chanting with smiles, not grimaces. I didn’t feel alone and lost, as I did on election night and that whole first week after the election.”
Lobosco was struck by the number of young children and elderly citizens. “On the subway we met an 85-year-old woman from New Hampshire in a wheelchair who took a bus to Washington, D.C. That bus didn’t have seats, only benches, but she didn’t care. There was no way she was missing this. We saw her later in the day on the (National Mall), chanting in her hand-knit pink hat, and we smiled and hugged like old friends, even though I had met her just a few hours earlier. There were infants in carriages, toddlers in cat hats, and seniors with walkers and the same pink cat hats, right in the middle of it all! And the men, too, wore their pink cat ears and were as into it as the women, including my husband (a teacher), whose sign, ‘Teachers give Trump an F,’ got lots of attention, and we stopped many times for people who wanted his photo!
“I was and am proud of him and of everyone who marched, not only in Washington and throughout the country, but all over the world. And I am proud of myself for being a voice and being heard.”
Lobosco’s husband, Greg Phillips, noted the irony that “the best part was being disappointed that we couldn’t get to the White House because there were so many people.”
In contrast to the shame in her country that Lobosco felt after the election, she said at the march she felt prouder than ever to be an American – proud to use her voice to protect civil liberties. “Perhaps we needed this awakening.”
Lobosco, too, plans to use the energy of the march as fuel to drive her continued activism, vowing to take one action per week, following the recommendations from the group Wall of Us, and from the Women’s March itself, 10 Actions for the First Hundred Days.
“This march was like a double espresso, and I don’t plan to doze off for the rest of my life.”