Michigan women’s march activists aim to organize

Maureen Feighan, and Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan activists who flooded Lansing, Detroit and the nation’s capital to protest President Donald Trump and defend women’s rights say they want to build on the momentum from this past weekend’s marches, urging participants to stay active, vigilant and involved.

Phoebe Hopps, coordinator of the Michigan contingent for the Women’s March on Washington, said she and other organizers are already mapping out their next steps, including possibly creating a nonprofit out of the Michigan’s arm of the national march. Hopps said she also wants to divide the state into 14 districts — similar to Michigan’s 14 existing congressional districts — that would then meet regularly to discuss women’s and other issues.

“There has been zero break” since Saturday’s march, said Hopps, who lives in Traverse City. “Everyone is pumped up.”

Sarah Eisenberg, a co-organizer of a sister march in Lansing that drew 8,000 protesters, said they’re also figuring out their next actions, but one of their first steps is to revamp a website with information and ways for people to get involved in grassroots politics. Those could involve volunteering at a local Planned Parenthood office or giving tips for getting in touch with a state or national representative.

“Whatever they’re passionate about, we want to give them real passionate ways to stay involved,” Eisenberg said.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters, mostly women, descended on Washington Saturday for the Women’s March a day after Trump’s inauguration. Sister marches, meanwhile, were held in conjunction with the national march in cities across the world, including Detroit, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Marquette.

More than 9,000 women, men and children from Michigan attended the Washington march, including Lisa DiRado of Northville. A former delegate at the Democratic National Convention in July where she held a sign “Our Daughters are watching,” DiRado, who has two grown daughters, brought another sign to the march: “Our Daughters Are Still Watching.”

“We reject the hate. That’s why people marched,” said DiRado, 54.

After the march, national organizers outlined the first of what they’re calling 10 actions in 100 days. The first is to contact a U.S. senator, by phone or in writing, and outline specific concerns.

Although skeptics may question how phone calls can affect a Republican-controlled Congress, Hopps insists they make a difference. On Monday, Hopps said she posted a status update on Facebook, asking people to contact Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, about his vote for Trump’s pick for education secretary, Michigan-native Betsy DeVos.

“And by 10 a.m. his lines were full,” said Hopps

Some are reaching out to local Democratic clubs. DiRado, who also heads the Northville Democratic Club, said her Monday night meeting drew roughly 90 people, nearly double the 40 to 50 who usually come.

“We really have turned our club upside down,” said DiRado. “We are switching from just having meetings. We are going every other month to committees. We have groups of people who are now getting together to act.”

And that’s important because it will take more than one march to institute change, say some statewide activists.

In Lansing, Progress Michigan is planning a summit at the Lansing Center on March 4 to help like-minded activists learn about issues and understand what actions they could take or how to remain involved in state politics, said Marissa Luna, the group’s new media specialist.

“It has to continue if we’re gonna create real, long-lasting change because it’s really easy to go to a march and feel really great about it and then people don't know what to do after it,” Luna said.

DiRado said she always urges members at her club’s meetings to look to their left and right at one another.

“Nobody is going to save us,” she said. “We are going to make a difference.”