HAMLET — According to some counts, more than one million rallied in America’s largest cities — and in cities around the globe — in support of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. on Sunday.
The march, organized to protest several of President Donald Trump’s campaign trail promises, called attention to a large swath of issues including women’s reproductive rights, immigration policies, LGBTQ rights and overall respect for women and their rights to be treated as equals in the workplace, among others.
One Hamlet native, 25-year-old Ashley Faye Miller — daughter of Mary Ruth Miller and a 2009 graduate of Richmond Senior High School with a bachelor’s degree in history — now lives and works in Charlotte. She spent Sunday marching in the nation’s capital.
“To me, this movement was about more than protesting one person,” she said. “It was against sexism, homophobia, racism, ageism, xenophobia. It was for love, peace, inclusivity, equal representation and all of the good things they encompass.”
Miller said she is aware that many people did not understand the reason behind the rallies, and offered an explanation for a movement that has been difficult to define with precision.
“I’ve seen a lot of posts and heard a lot of voices asking what the march was (or) is about and why it happened,” Miller explained. “I’ve also seen women openly rejecting the ideals of the march and saying ‘I love this country. You don’t speak for me.’ Let me just tell you, we marched because we love this country, too.
“We raised our voices for a multitude of social justice causes including, but not exclusive to, the following,” she continued. “Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, protecting our children, against domestic violence, against sex trafficking, against sexual assault, equal pay, pro-choice (and some pro-life as well), respect for the disabled, veteran care, improved health care, immigration reform, refugee embrace, endangered species protection, and environmental protection. If you aren’t behind even one of these causes, then yeah we didn’t speak for you. We would love to talk with you about why, though.”
Susan Browder, a Rockingham High School graduate, attended the march with her daughter Katie Browder, granddaughter of long-time Rockingham residents, the late George and Ethel Browder.
“We were told that there were more than one million marchers, including men and children, in addition to many women,” Susan Browder said. “We believe that approximation is accurate, because the throng was body to body for as far as we could see, for blocks, and the metro was taxed beyond capacity, so we had to walk to leave the area at the end of the march. The atmosphere was one of solidarity and support. We personally saw no inappropriate behaviors nor rudeness. We came home feeling uplifted and hopeful.”
Susan and Katie Browder said there were many reasons for wanting their voices to be heard by the new administration.
Susan Browder said that “…as the mother and sister of Sarah Browder — a woman murdered by a misogynist very similar to our president — we fear for the safety of women in this already emboldened atmosphere of disrespect.”
As an advocate of victims of domestic violence, Susan Browder said she sees incidences “already rising in the aftermath of overt bullying. We fear for friends and family who are members of the LGBTQ community. Judging from the blatant display of homophobia by certain cabinet appointees, we fear that the recently hard-earned right to marriage and the right to name both parents on a child’s birth certificate will be taken away. Our new vice president Mike Pence supports the medically unsound practice of electro-conversion therapy.”
In addition to marching for the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, Susan Browder said she and her daughter marched for all those threatened by the new administration. Susan Browder, a retired educator, said she also marched for her students “who include immigrants, African Americans, Latinos, children of poverty, and girls of every demographic. We walked for Katie’s many patients who fear what will happen to their health care with the repeal of the (Affordable Care Act) and the threats to Medicaid.”
Katie Browder is a doctor of physical therapy in Gainesville, Florida.
“We marched for seniors worrying about their earned Social Security and Medicare,” she continued. “We walked for victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice against the (National Riffle Association), knowing that the NRA was the highest donor to the campaign of Donald Trump who promises to allow guns everywhere. We marched because 20 to 40 percent of American gun sales take place without a background check — which is the reason that the dangerous man who murdered Sarah Browder was able to access a gun. We marched for our children and grandchildren, in the hopes that they will have clean air and water, beautiful national parks, and a planet without war. We marched for our country. We feel that surely notice will be taken that such a large group of feminists were willing to travel to our country’s capital to make our voices heard.”
To Miller’s mind, the disconnect between those who supported the march and those who did not stems from a deep divide in the way things have always been and the way they might be.
“We have entered a time where many people feel they shouldn’t have to be politically correct,” she said. “That term does no justice for what many decent people think of as a simple evolution of thought. We are supposed to move forward as a society, not dwell on what was allowed for in the past because of ignorance. We, as a society, are supposed to grow upward — not stunt ourselves.”
Celebrities and activists who participated in the event set contrasting tones during the Washington march, adding to the confusion as to what it was all for.
Scarlett Johansson, who addressed President Trump stating she did not vote for him, said she nevertheless respects his office and wants to support him on the condition that he supports women in return, multiple media outlets reported. She advocated for Planned Parenthood and called on the president to support the rights of women’s choices about their bodies.
Madonna and Michael Moore, on the other hand, launched outright attacks on Trump — openly bashing him along with his policies — with filmmaker Moore ripping apart the inaugural edition of The Washington Post and Madonna getting herself in hot water over a speech that included the words, “…blow up the White House,” which she claimed were taken out of context as rumors of an impending U.S. Secret Service investigation of the pop star surfaced.
“Unfortunately, a person I did not vote for is the president,” Miller said. “But dissent is a patriotic act. If Americans did not allow for dissent, we would not currently be Americans; we would still be American colonists under British rule.”
Miller described her experience at the march as being one of the most formative events of her life.
“At the march, I was embraced by women from every state and many countries,” she said. “There was such a large crowd, the word ‘embrace’ is used here in both a figurative and literal sense. It was such an empowering experience as a young woman, and I am so glad I overcame my fears (violence from counter protests, domestic terrorism, social anxiety) to attend. I was surrounded with ‘family’ who were showing their willingness to fight for me. I’m willing to stand up for you, too, whether you asked me to or not.”
She said she believes the reason many did not participate — or support — the march did so because they did not understand it was “more than an anti-Trump protest.”
“This was a show of bravery and support in the face of what many people fear his administration is a representation of,” Miller clarified. “I met people there who were Republicans who could not abide by his sexist commentary or his cabinet choices. I met pro-life advocates who believe in caring for all life, including refugees and the homeless. This was an inclusive event. A great show of America’s Melting Pot.
“Honestly, I am so glad I went because it gave me hope again,” she continued. “With all of the negativity surrounding and trailing the election, so many loud negative voices around me, I was afraid I might be alone or a part of the minority. Now I know I am not alone, and there is an army of people with a like-mind for freedom and equality with me that refuse to be quiet anymore.”
Asked what she hopes the future holds for what is being widely described as a movement, Miller summed up her thoughts.
“I hope that the marches empowered other young women like myself to stand up for their rights,” she said. “I hope this let minorities know that there are people who realize they are afforded privileges and are willing to use that to fight for the minority. I hope these marches brought concern for social justice issues to the forefront of the public eye. We are serious about pursuing these issues and overcoming the obstacles.”
Miller had one important point to add to her description of the march and the impression it made on her.
“That my mother raised me to be a strong woman, to fight for myself,” she said. “She wasn’t with me, but I thought of her that day. I marched with the spirit of all of the strong women who have ever touched my life. Here’s to strong women — may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.