Locals Join Call for Action at Women’s Rally

Gulfport Councilperson Yolanda Roman, center, wears her t-shirt from last year’s march in Washington, D.C. and holds a sign she made for the 2018 rally in St. Petersburg that says, “I Weep for a Nation where Racism Has Begun to Bloom Again.” The quote is by Myrlie Evers, an American civil rights activist working to seek justice for her late husband, Medgar Evers, who was murdered in 1963 for his participation in the Civil Rights movement.

St. Petersburg Police estimated that 5,000 people attended the 2018 Women’s March in Florida rally in and around Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg, Sunday, January 21 from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

“In 2017 we marched! In 2018 we act!” says the organization’s website. For 2018, public events in Florida were held concurrently in Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and St. Petersburg. According to the site, “Women’s March is an international coalition of grassroots advocates championing respect and equality for all.”

The slogan for this year’s rally and the “heavy focus” for all of 2018 is “Power to the polls,” said Lisa Perry, the Women’s March in Florida, Pinellas County chairperson.

Pictured from left are Karen Kotlar and Nancy Heiser, both of Gulfport. Last year, Kotlar attended the 2017 women’s march in Washington, D.C. For the local rally this year in St. Petersburg on Sunday, January 21, she said, “It’s important to reinforce what we started last year. The change I would like to see happen hasn’t yet occurred.” Heiser said that in St. Petersburg “last year was a great turnout. There was some action after last year but it wasn’t enough to make a significant change. These rallies are good but when it gets quiet, what are we doing between?”

One of the goals for this year is getting people engaged through voter registration, she said. “We have the opportunity to be proactive by showing up at the polls to have our voices heard.”

She was also a key local organizer for the 2017 march in St. Petersburg. For both years, she has worked in concert with a 20-member steering committee, she said. Florida’s state-level organization is now a registered 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation and a “branch of the national organization.”

This year, they are “turning last year’s large-scale mobilization energy that brought people together into action,” said Perry. On Saturday, January 21, 2017, the event was “reactive” in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election. Her estimate of attendance in St. Petersburg last year is 20,000, the largest protest in the history of the city, according to an article published in the Tampa Bay Times.

Why the big drop for 2018?

“I believe that last year was kind of shock and awe in the country,” she said. “There was also a large march in Washington, D.C.”

Since then, “we’ve formed a lot of great relationships and coalitions with many minority and existing activist groups like the Dreamers,” said Perry. “My hope is that this women’s organization becomes a conduit to give people a place to plug into, to connect with community action so they can make a tangible impact.”

People from Gulfport who chose to ride municipal buses to get to the women’s rally in downtown St. Petersburg gathered for either the 10:30 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. buses in front of the Casino on Shore Boulevard. Pre-printed and custom signs were commonly displayed.

The organization is also “getting behind progressive candidates because this year, we will be rolling out endorsements,” she said. “We are continuing to mobilize in large numbers but we are directing the energy differently.”

To find out more about the local organization or community activist training opportunities, email Perry at lisa@womensmarchfl.org or visit womensmarchfl.org.

Because action was the emphasis at Sunday’s local rally, “I was walking around to the different tents the event organizers had set up in the park to see what they” had to offer, said Laura Henderson of Gulfport, where her husband, Sam, is currently the mayor.

There were people with petitions to sign and organizations to join, she said.

“People were really enthusiastic. There were a whole lot of signs,” she said. Sign messages included calls for action such as “Keep Dreamers Deport Trump,” “We Will Remember and Vote in November,” and “Sister Resister Persister.”

Two immigrant sisters from Italy who are residents of Gulfport wear “Resist” t-shirts as they team up to create their custom sign for the 2018 Women’s March in Florida rally held in St. Petersburg on Sunday, January 21. Pictured from left are Hannah, a junior in high school, and Teresa Goff, a graduate student. Their finished sign read, “Resist. Persist. Repeat. #metoo #DumpTrump.” It’s the first women’s march/rally event for both. “It’s important to support all women and to be a part of the community,” said Teresa. “I just want to speak out” and put emphasis on “universal healthcare, which is a human right,” said Hannah.  “And DACA” or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, she said. “If [immigrants] are living here for so long, they should have the same rights.”

Another Gulfportian, Jennifer Webb, introduced U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat who represents the 14th congressional district. Castor spoke at the rally. Webb is running as a Democrat for state representative representing District 69.

From her vantage point on the park’s stage, Webb said, “I looked out and saw strength and just how amazing we can be when we all continue to show up and put our neighbors and communities first. There is an imperative for action.”

“Voting, participating in your government, equality and the #metoo movement are bipartisan issues,” said Henderson. “The issues are what really matter. I would hate for women’s rallies or marches to get turned into Democrat-only and be anti-Republican because that is not a healthy way for any of us to be thinking or speaking.”

She participated in both the 2017 march and the 2018 rally in St. Petersburg.

“In the future, I would like for event organizers to reach out and say, ‘Please participate in this,’” regardless of anyone’s political party identification, said Henderson. “That would be terrific.”

In Williams Park and the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, nearly 5,000 people gathered on Sunday, January 21 to attend the 2018 Women’s March in Florida rally. Many attendees carried custom-made signs calling for action on issues from reproductive rights and immigration to racism and inequality. Photo by Cindy Linville.




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