REMEMBERING THE 2017 MARCH ON CHARLOTTE
WITH THANKS TO THE WOMEN WHO MADE IT HAPPEN

by Kathleen Mundle

As uptown residents, when January 21 rolled around last year, my husband and friends and I strolled over to First Ward Park to hear the speakers before the start of the Women’s March on Charlotte. We didn’t have to worry about parking, and we didn’t figure there was any need to hurry because … well, because we weren’t sure there’d be all that many people there.

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Romare Bearden Park, 2107 Women’s March on Charlotte

According to CMPD estimates, the crowd that day exceeded 25,000 people.

If we were stunned to find thousands of people jamming the park and spilling into the streets that morning, what could the parade organizers possibly have been thinking?

For that matter, who were those organizers anyway?

And how in the world did they make it all happen?

 — a 2017 Marcher

THE FEM FIVE

Five women — five women — organized the entire 2017 Women’s March on Charlotte, and they pulled it off in six weeks. Amazingly, they’d never met before they got together to plan and organize the event.

Their names are Autumn Watson, Calla Hales, Diane Shoemaker, Regina Stone, and Barbara Mason Van, and they were called The Fem Five by some of the people who signed on to march.

It all began shortly after the national elections in November when Autumn posted on Facebook looking for people to help organize an event. She created a volunteer interest form, including a category for people interested in being part of “the core organization team.” Of the eight people who signed up, only Autumn, Barbara, and Diane showed up at the first meeting in early December. A week later, however, Calla and Regina contacted Autumn, and the core group of five was established. They went straight to work, and over the following six weeks communicated via telephone and email, often several times a day.

AutumnI didn’t meet Regina or Calla in person until the day of the march, even though I felt like they were family. We came together seamlessly. Not that we didn’t face obstacles — we did: CMPD made us change the route three times less than two weeks before the march because of construction uptown, Facebook auto-changed the time of the march to 7:00 am and locked it after we had over 3,000 confirmed attendees, and the forecast called for a 70% chance of rain.

Barbara – I went on Facebook and did a search to see what ideas might be floating around and came upon a post for a Women’s March in Charlotte. Great! I sent a message that I thought it was a fabulous idea and said I would love to help in any way I could.  That began a journey with intelligent, caring, talented and wonderful women of different backgrounds and diversity of ideas that led to the Women’s March on Charlotte.

ReginaWhen it came down to it, things needed to be done and we all jumped in where we could. It was awesome to organize an event that then-Mayor [Jennifer] Roberts attended, and that Congresswoman [Alma] Adams attended. It showed that politicians were interested in being a part of the changes to come.

CHALLENGES … AND SUPPORT

The intense effort it took to organize the march should be self-evident, along with the stress of having to accomplish so large a task in so short a time. But time, effort, and stress weren’t the only issues facing the organizers.

Knowing that some people would see the march as controversial, the women had personal considerations to take into account as they worked, and each of them had to figure out the best way to deal with them.

They had friends who supported their efforts and looked forward to marching, but some people said things like “how nice.” And still others let them know they thought they were wasting their time on an event that no one would attend.

BarbaraSome of us had jobs that were in line with the principles of the march, but others had to try to do things in a way that would serve the cause but not put their jobs in any kind of jeopardy. Some had health challenges, while for others it was having to balance something so immediate and intense with the needs of their families and everyday lives.

CallaI had a wonderful experience working with these ladies last year, and though it was incredibly stressful at times, I made some bonds that can never be broken.

Autumn It was tough on the five of us full-time working mothers and business owners who put in hundreds of hours, “but we did a amazing job!”

“TO HEAVEN AND BEYOND”

Whether it was tracking the number of people on Facebook who signed up to march, monitoring questions and writing responses, creating an invitation to join the march, or dealing with city government requirements, there was always work to do.

But with all the work, all the monitoring, and all the preparation, throughout the six weeks of intense effort that lead up to march day, no one knew how many people would show up when the time came. No one.

Early on, the group thought maybe 500 or even 1,000 people might march, but as the responses came in over the two weeks before the event, it looked like there could be as many as 3,000 people. And by the week before the march as the responses continued to come in, it seemed maybe there could be over 7,000 people.

BarbaraCMPD estimated there were between 25,000 and 30,000 people filling the streets of Charlotte that day. “It was mind blowing!” You could hear the cheers and phrases shouted in unison bouncing “from the streets, up the high rises of downtown to heaven and beyond. These folks were here and they were ready to make a difference. They were going to do it peacefully, joyfully, and loudly. And so it was. Simply amazing.”

Regina “To have so many people show up and have a small group that brought it together … It was amazing to be part of something so loud.”

Autumn –  The march is very near and dear to my heart. The women who put it together may not have gotten the recognition they deserved last year for the hundreds of hours they put in. In the end, people thought we’d been working together for a long time, not that we had met just six weeks earlier. It was a completely grassroots effort from the five of us.

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MARCHING FORWARD, NEVER BACK

The birth of the organization we know as Charlotte Women’s March was a direct result of the 2017 Women’s March on Charlotte, and of the passion the Charlotte women who marched in DC that day carried home with them. Something important and exciting had happened, and women (and men) who had experienced it wanted to keep the momentum going.

And now in January 2018, after a year of organization and growth, more work by more volunteers, letters written and phone calls made to elected officials, taking to the streets to register voters, and many other activities, Charlotte women are preparing to march again.

Barbara A fabulous group that resulted from the march is the Charlotte Women’s March. The 2018 Women’s March on Charlotte – Remarchable Women is just one of the things they are working on. Those of us that organized the first march have eagerly joined with CWM for the anniversary march and support the great work they are doing for the Charlotte Mecklenburg area and beyond.

ReginaMy hope for this year’s march is that more women of color will become involved and offer feedback about issues that affect all women.

CallaI think we had the eye-opening experience of seeing where we could have done better … I’m incredibly optimistic that this year, the march will have a more diverse set of partners and speakers. “It will always be a work in progress, but it’s one that I can confidently say we’re all committed to.”

 

[The Fem Five are working on Remarchable Women — but with help this time. The January 20 march will retrace the one-mile route of the 2017 march, beginning at First Ward Park and ending at Romare Bearden Park. A speakers’ forum will be held at 10:00 a.m.; the march begins at noon.]


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Join us Saturday, January 20 for Remarchable Women, on the Anniversary of the Women’s March.
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