Forty women who had never met before gathered at Tracy Talbot’s house in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood last week and told each other why they will march on Saturday.
Mary-Madison Smith, 21, a third-year student at LSU, said she felt inspired to march by her ancestors, including her paternal great-grandmother, Zoe Edney McDuff, a teacher who graduated with the first class from Mississippi Normal College — now the University of Southern Mississippi — in 1916.
“I can’t sit on my butt when I come from a long line of people who got up to do something,” Smith said.
Instead, she will join the roughly 1,000 people from Louisiana expected to participate in the national Women's March on Washington, a protest set to take place the day after Donald Trump's inauguration as president.
Several hundred Louisiana residents are expected to travel to the nation's capital this week…
The event was organized in response to the misogyny that many women saw in Trump's campaign and in his long career in the public spotlight.
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Similar meetings were held in living rooms across the region. Organizers in Alabama and Mississippi said their states will also send about 1,000 apiece to the rally, while Texas will send about 2,000 and Arkansas about 300.
Before she left to drive back to Baton Rouge, Smith walked across the room to talk with Cam Mangham, 54, and thank her for “fighting for the rights I was born into."
As they stood next to a kitchen counter laid out with sandwiches, king cake and a pitcher of mimosas, Mangham recalled her first protests in the nation’s capital, in 1987 and 1993, when she marched with hundreds of thousands of other protesters in what are often referred to as the Marches for Gay Rights.
Grabbing a marker, Mangham leaned over a piece of poster board to write the same words she had carried in 1993. On one side, her sign read “Solidarity"; on the other, “Love Conquers Fear.”
A few feet away, Talbot, 53, penned her own sign for Saturday, reading “Menopausal Feminists and Millennial Feminists Can Rule the World.” Before November's election, Talbot said, she was not very engaged with politics. “I now want to be an activist,” she said. “It’s changed me.”
Talbot and her friends have sold purple sashes and chipped in financially to sponsor seats on a coach bus and motel rooms near D.C. for 22 younger women, many of whom are students at Dillard and LSU.
Melissa Flournoy, 55, of Baton Rouge, the board chair for Louisiana Progress Action, pointed out that taking time off from work and traveling to Washington are big sacrifices for many families.
“I’m going because I can,” she said. “And because I feel like we should.”
Flournoy, a lifelong activist, said she is heartened to see organizers across the country bringing in a broad, diverse constituency. “At first, some people were concerned, and rightly so, that this would just be cranky rich white ladies,” Flournoy said.
The women in Talbot’s group spent several hours gathered around a table stocked with glitter, glue, ribbon and shiny craft tape, decorating hundreds of purple sashes, many of which will be sold to help pay for the sponsored marchers. Each sash is topped with a small Louisiana map, printed onto silver glitter paper.
Each marcher also made her own purple sash, to help the Louisiana contingent stand out in a crowd that organizers say could top 200,000.
The seasoned festival-goers among the group scrutinized the march’s restrictions, which include bans on metal poles and backpacks. So they went to the French Market, bought handbags of the proper size, decorated them and then improvised eye-catching signs or flags they can raise on telescoped cardboard poles to find each other if cellphone towers become overwhelmed by Saturday’s crowd.
The group’s colors are purple and silver. Purple stands for justice, they said, and silver stands for the silver lining that they see in the relationships they’ve formed through the protest — even though the march was prompted by concerns that a Trump administration could damage the rights of women and other historically marginalized groups.
“This is the good that comes out of this, the people who are coming together because they’re scared for the right reasons,” said Lanie Dornier, 55.
Flournoy agreed. “I think we’ve got this real organizing moment that we haven’t quite figured out,” she said, suggesting that November's election and the resulting pushback may be “a tipping point in history.”
It also seemed like a crucial time to Robin Palmer Blanche, of Baton Rouge. Blanche, who has two young children, will celebrate her 48th birthday on Saturday as she marches through the streets of Washington. As a mother, she said, she is marching to protect education and health care for her children and reproductive freedom for her daughter’s generation.
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“I know that I can clothe my children. I can feed them, but I can’t promise them that I can protect their civil liberties,” said Blanche, who will be wearing a T-shirt that reads “Mama Bear” during the march.
Since the election, Blanche has met other similarly minded women on Facebook and through local advocacy groups. “This is such a dark moment, but there’s a light within it that’s been formative for me, that’s pushing me to be more involved,” she said.
In Talbot’s house last weekend, the mood was enthusiastic.
“Every cell in my body is telling me to be there,” said Lisa Laursen, 48, who will travel there with her boyfriend, John Franco, 52.
Laursen’s sign reads: “I will no longer accept the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
Franco was considering a quotation from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for his sign.
At one point, the couple took a few minutes to stand back and look at the roomful of friends armed with glue guns, glitter and determination.
“It definitely gives me a lot of hope,” Laursen said. “I know that there are more of us than them.”