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Hawaii Grandma's Plea Launches Women's March in Washington

FILE - Woman embrace each other during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York, Nov. 13, 2016. Feeling threatened by comments Trump made during the campaign, tens of thousands of women have pledged to march in Washington a day after his inauguration.
FILE - Woman embrace each other during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York, Nov. 13, 2016. Feeling threatened by comments Trump made during the campaign, tens of thousands of women have pledged to march in Washington a day after his inauguration.

Hawaii grandmother Teresa Shook wanted to share her outrage with other women the night after Donald Trump was elected president, but she had few options in her remote island community. So she went on Facebook and in a popular political group wrote the first thing that came to mind:

I think we should march.

Four weeks later, organizers credit Shook's quiet plea with igniting what could be the largest demonstration in the nation's capital related to a presidential election.

More than 125,000 people from across the country have signed up to march in Washington on January 21, the day after Trump's inauguration in support of women's rights. Sister protests are planned in London and Frankfurt and online interest has grown to hundreds of thousands.

"I didn't have a plan or a thought about what would happen," Shook told Reuters by phone from the island of Maui. "I just kept saying, I think we should march."

After a bruising election campaign marked by Trump's comments on women, organizers say his presidency could threaten access to women's healthcare, erode protection against sexual violence and roll back aid to struggling mothers.

"I was in such shock and disbelief that this type of sentiment could win," said Shook, a retired lawyer from Indiana with four grandchildren. "We had to let people know that is not who were are."

Snowball effect

Shook first floated the idea of a women's march in a private Facebook group, Pantsuit Nation, which became a widely popular discussion page for supporters of Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton.

After getting a response to her post from a single woman in the chatroom, Shook said she created a private Facebook event page for the march and invited a few dozen online friends to join before going to sleep.

Overnight, a link to Shook's event page was posted in Pantsuit Nation and possibly sent to similar groups.

"When I woke up it had gone ballistic," Shook said. More than 300,000 people are now "interested" in the event on Facebook, including many of those who said they would participate. Women from across the United States contacted Shook and began to guide the effort.

Supporters say they were galvanized by Trump's insults against high-profile women, as well as by fresh fears the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion could be at risk when Trump appoints the next Supreme Court justice.

And they were outraged when a 2005 video surfaced in which he bragged about kissing women without permission and grabbing their genitals.

Trump apologized for the comments. But the remarks opened wounds for assault victims, and they were followed by several women who accused him of sexually assaulting or harassing them.

Trump denied the allegations.

"Going through the whole election cycle was traumatizing for so many women," said one of the early organizers, Fontaine Pearson. "I think it politicized or woke up a lot of them."

Beyond women

While support for the march grew quickly, it also drew criticism for lacking diversity. Nearly all of the initial organizers were white.

The name, which started as the "Million Women March," was bashed on social media for mirroring the title of a march in Philadelphia 20 years ago to empower black communities.

In response, the name was changed to the "Women's March on Washington" and several veteran protest organizers working on behalf of minority groups were enlisted as national co-chairs.

They included Tamika Mallory, who led a criminal justice reform march from New York to Washington last year.

"Women of color needed to be included," Mallory said.

Bernice King, whose father, Martin Luther King Jr., famously delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in a march on Washington a half-century ago, encouraged women's march organizers in a phone call last week, the organizers said.

The march's mission was also expanded to include concerns about racism, xenophobia, and the targeting of Muslims and gay people.

The alt-right movement, which includes white supremacists and anti-Semites, has been emboldened by Trump winning the White House. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported a sharp spike in hate crimes following Trump's victory.

'Just about showing up'

The protest route, security and speaker lineup are shaping up. Hotels in the Washington area have received calls from many prospective marchers, said Solomon Keene, president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C.

"It's just about showing up," said Gretchen Kryss, 29, a trainee psychologist who is driving to the rally from Cleveland with her fiance and a group of friends.

The only other similar demonstration in recent memory was at the first inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001, but the several thousand who turned up were focusing on the contested election, not the new president.

This time, the focus appears to be Trump himself, said Mark Peterson, chair of the Department of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Peterson, a Washington native who is an expert on politics and political campaigns, said logistical challenges, including heightened security during presidential inaugurations, could hamper the women's march.

But the level of anger voiced by many women over Trump's comments, including calling a former Miss Universe "Miss Piggy" and saying women should face punishment for abortions, could drive the demonstration to success, he said.

"My hope for this march is that for people who are scared, who are marginalized in America, will feel safer and know they have allies," said Lisa Fetterman, a 29-year-old San Francisco resident flying to Washington to march with her husband.

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