Interview by Alyssa Stevenson
This weekend was inundated with protests, rallies and more in the wake of a new president. Across the country there were over 1,000 sister rallies to the Women's March on Washington. Here in Denton, there was a rally on the square that gathered over 2,000 people who stood united, exercising their right to peacefully protest and gather together for their voices to be heard. We sat down with some of the organizers of the rally afterwards to hear their thoughts on the turnout and the event. Read on to find out out what surprised them the most, and why people marched.
This morning the courthouse square slowly started filling up with pink hats, hand painted signs, and women, men and children gathering to rally together in an effort to build bridges and encourage community amongst the diversity of our population. After a couple of hours of sign holding, chanting, and marching around the square, the crowd eventually dispersed.
Not quite knowing what to expect, I myself walked away energized, hopeful and proud. I was proud of the people who showed kindness, care and support to others. I was proud that the entire rally stayed completely peaceful and non-violent. I was encouraged by women who gathered with generations of family members, and friends from all walks of lives in support of equality for all.
Afterwards we caught a few minutes of time with two of the organizers, Brooke Scoggins and Amy Taylor to talk about their expectations, challenges and experiences through the process of putting together and participating in the rally.
Brooke Scoggins, thinking about their initial expectations of the rally said, "Initially we thought maybe we can get 200 people. Then once we set up the Facebook page and saw the numbers starting to increase we thought, 'This is awesome! Yes!' That's when we realized this is going to be huge. This is going to be big."
Soon after that, the Action Network, set up a page for the march without them being involved at all. According to Taylor, "By the time we got involved they had 1,000 people RSVP'ed to our event." People got involved after seeing friends post about the event on Facebook or from friends. Volunteers started participating after seeing the call to action online, and decided they wanted to be more involved. "One thing that I thought was great was that there were so many different reasons for marching. Everyone was there for their own reasons, based on similar values," said Scoggins.
Taylor thoughtfully added, "I learned this new word - intersectionality - and it sounds very fancy and academic, but I just love that idea. We have an intersection of causes that are really rooted in respecting human beings, and respecting the diversity of our community - and that diversity builds on itself. Intersectionality simply means diversity makes us stronger. Thats the lesson for me in this event. It never occurred to me to organize a chant - but some young people did it and I think it made the rally better. The rally changed because of that and I think that's good, because that's what we want. We want a grassroots movement."
During the rally, I met a woman who was marching with her mother's picture on a sign. There were mothers and fathers marching with their very young daughters on their shoulders. There was a point when the rally recognized five minutes of silence - a time during which many people extended their arms with their hands in a peace sign. In reflection of the silence, Taylor commented, "The silence was pretty powerful. In that moment of silence I was thinking about all of these women and men who have marched for so many important things who are no longer with us. And we're on their shoulders. It was a powerful moment."
Scoggins added that she was touched by the kindness that everyone had. "Everyone was kind to each other, everyone was generous. When we went to clean up, there was no trash. I think that kind of kindness is just beautiful." Taylor added, "From the moment I got there, early this morning, there were crowds of women and men introducing themselves, asking how they could help, what they could do. We needed a few volunteers and they just jumped in and volunteered."
Taylor also remarked on the ease of working with the city as they organized the event itself. "The city and the county were both so incredibly supportive. There was not one person, from the sheriff's office to the police and fire department, to the county commissioners who expressed any concern about us being out there other than our own safety. They really stepped up." Scoggins added, "One of the sheriff's officers engaged with a little girl who had a sign that said 'future glass ceiling breaker' and he looked down and said, 'I hope you are.' and shook her hand."
Taylor also noted, "There is so much that brings us together. When we focus on the things we disagree on we forget about the bridges we can build. Very few of us are not interested in education, the state of our foster care system or CPS and that is what can build bridges. I think we've built too many walls. That's why we're called a United Denton. I don't think we're 100% on anything. There are stances on the national principles that I don't agree with. That's okay with me because 90% of it I do agree with." Scoggins said, "Looking out at the crowds thinking - all these people are here because we share the same kinds of values. That itself is empowering and overwhelming."
As we were talking volunteers at the table were looking through the piles of cards people filled out stating their reasons for marching. The organizers brought 1,200 cards to the rally, which were gone by noon. There were boxes around the square that people dropped responses in - which ranged from, "To stand with past, present and future women in the USA and around the world," to "Because I am a young woman getting my education and I want to know that the future I am working towards will be bright for myself and everyone after me."
When looking ahead at what comes next, Taylor said, "I'd say the biggest challenge is tomorrow. Will we translate this passion and enthusiasm to political action, or running for office? Will we be willing to represent equality in every venue, from city council to congress?"
Which leaves me thinking - what happens in May? Historically we have less than 20% of our city's eligible voters turn up in a city election. Will that number grow? Will we see an increase in voter turnout for local elections? During the rally, someone near me was asking, what's the next step? I just thought - well, voting is a good next step. Here's to hoping the passion moves beyond this week and makes a significant impact in our community in the future.