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Mich. women march toward D.C. to make ‘voices be heard’

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Warren native Sue Myal had an unusual request when her daughter Jane Stewart of Huntington Woods asked her what she wanted for Christmas.

What she wanted, Myal said with a laugh, was to attend the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21.

She wasn’t joking. The 81-year-old Myal has had many sleepless nights since Republican businessman Donald Trump was elected in early November. Now, the day after Trump is officially sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, Myal, her daughter Jane and granddaughter Grace, 17, will be in Washington, three generations coming together amid of sea of women from across the country, marching in solidarity.

It’s about having “our voices be heard because he (Trump) is not listening,” said Myal, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona.

More than 200,000 women — including roughly 7,000, if not more, from Michigan — are expected to march on Saturday in Washington for what’s been billed as the Women’s March. Organizers insist it isn’t an “anti-Trump” march as much as it is about women standing together on issues such as reproductive rights, equal pay, and lesbian and gay rights.

“It’s really important to have our voices heard at all levels of government, not just the president. Women’s rights are human rights,” said Michigan coordinator Phoebe Hopps, quoting the famous line from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Lena Epstein, who co-chaired Trump’s campaign in Michigan, said she is friends with some of the women planning to protest, including her Harvard classmate, Randi Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and former marketing executive at Facebook.

“I don’t feel threatened at all by the March on Washington,” said Epstein, general manager of Vesco Oil Corp. in Southfield. “I think it’s important for people to feel safe and be safe in exercising their right to free speech. I am a constitutionalist and feel very strongly about that. So, march away.

“At the same time, let’s talk and have that conversation about the future. How we address our differences is really going to matter going forward.”

Hopps says the response from Michigan women interested in attending the march has been so overwhelming that they’ve run out of buses. Roughly 86 busses carrying 5,000 people – including some men and children – are scheduled to travel from Michigan to Washington for the march. Another 2,000 people are planning to fly, drive or carpool on their own.

“I’ve called every charter company that I could,” said Hopps last week. “There are no buses. They’re all sold out.”

Congressional welcome

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, will be in Washington to greet buses from Michigan full of people who are concerned about what they feel is the threat to women’s health care, as well as equal opportunities for women and other potential policies of the incoming administration.

“There are just a lot of concerns about the future, and it’s been amazing to see the response of women wanting to come in and show their concern for the new administration’s policies and trying to make sure we don’t roll back history as it relates to opportunity for women,” Stabenow said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said she also will be at Washington’s Hancock Park on Saturday morning to greet roughly 1,000 women from the Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County areas.

“I am excited to welcome so many women from my district to Washington,” Dingell said. “I’ve talked to the organizer, Phoebe, who has said they’re taking a positive tone.”

Marion Christiansen, a retired Oakland Schools employee who has also done work as a tour guide, booked four buses that will leave Friday from Metro Detroit and return late Sunday. She said people are coming from as far away as Grand Rapids. Some husbands are coming along with children.

Christiansen said she wanted to be there because she worries the country has taken “a huge step back” with Trump.

“What’s important to me, first off, is maintaining women’s rights,” she said. “And I also wish to march for all religious groups.”

Anne Doyle, a former Ford Motor Co. executive from Auburn Hills who wrote a book about female leadership, bought her plane ticket to Washington months ago, thinking she would be headed to Clinton’s inauguration. Instead, she’s going to the march.

“Women are half of the human race, half of the citizens in this country and our voices and influence is dramatically under-reperesented,” Doyle said. “...I thought it was very important to come together with other women and remind our government that we’re going to be engaged and continue to work to make sure that the rights we’ve fought for a long time aren’t eroded.”

The idea for the march was first conceived by a woman in Hawaii the night after Trump was elected, according to Reuters. Frustrated by the election’s outcome and feeling isolated, Teresa Shook went on social media and suggested a march. The concept took off.

For women who can’t attend Saturday’s march in Washington, sister marches are planned in cities across the world. In Michigan, Hopps said sister marches are planned in Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Ypsilanti, Marquette and Ann Arbor.

“The goal of this march is to be all inclusive,” said Sarah Eisenberg of Clawson, an organizer of the Lansing sister march, in a GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for the event. “It will be a peaceful demonstration in opposition to the wave of hate crimes and violence, and threats of official discrimination that have proliferated following the election.”

Urged to be inclusive

The Women’s March has its critics. Some say it’s opened uncomfortable questions about race and feminism, with some black activists accusing white allies of being blind to racism and sexism until now.

In Michigan, Hopps said there were some “red flags” when she noticed there were no buses going to the D.C. march from Detroit or Flint. To make sure Michigan’s contingent is inclusive, Hopps said more than 40 scholarships funded by supportive donors have since been given to those who might not otherwise be able to attend. She said she’s also reached out to groups in Dearborn and elsewhere to make sure they’re included.

“We’ve really tried to reach out to the marginalized people,” Hopps said.

Many attendees say they’re looking forward to being part of history — though it wasn’t the history they originally planned.

Grace Stewart, a senior at Berkley High School who will march alongside her mom, Jane, and grandmother, says she’s marching for many issues: women’s health, lesbian and gay rights and the environment. But mainly she’ll be there for her family and friends.

“Marching is a way for my voice to be heard, because whatever the Trump administration does to this country, the future generations will inherit,” she said.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4686

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.

Women’s March on Washington

■10 a.m. Saturday

■More than 200,000 expected, including 7,000 from Michigan.

■Michigan marchers will meet at Hancock Park at 8 a.m.

■Sister Marches planned in Lansing, Detroit, Marquette, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Grand Rapids and Traverse City. The biggest, in Lansing, runs from 1-3 p.m. on the Capitol steps.

■Sign making event “Motown to March Sign Party” at Grand Circus Detroit,1570 Woodward, 3rd Floor, 6-9 p.m. Wednesday.

■More march details at womensmarchonwashingtonmichigan.wordpress.com and www.womensmarch.com.