Marlene Wagman-Geller

"As far back as I can remember, it was always on my bucket list, even before the term bucket list was coined,
to be a writer. It was a natural progression to want to go from reading books to writing one."

Resistance to Tyranny (2016)

Jan 20, 2023 by Marlene Wagman-Geller


    Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” A woman in Hawaii was unwilling to be one of the proverbial monkeys- hearing, seeing, and speaking no evil was not enough. Her effort set off an earthquake that reverberated worldwide.

    On the night of Donald Trump’s transition from reality television star to reality president, Teresa Shook’s mood turned the color of the Democratic states. She had never considered herself an activist or particularly versed in feminism. With her conviction “Grab them by the pussy” was less presidential than, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” she needed a platform to vent. Her concerns mirrored those of many: the Chief Executive’s vision of making America great again could entail returning to the time when women, people of color, and those with minority religions were branded second-class. Citizens. Teresa stated, “I was in such shock and disbelief that this type of sentiment could win. We had to let people know that is not who we are.” However, Shook had few options in Maui, far from the eye of the storm. 

        Teresa turned to the pro-Hillary Clinton “Pantsuit Nation” Facebook page and called for women to march on the capital on Inauguration weekend. Historically this venue of protest bore substantial fruit. In 1789 the women’s storming of Versailles led royal heads to feed the guillotine; in 1913 the suffragettes’ marched on Washington and won the vote seven years later, in 1917 female demonstrators lined the streets of Petrograd and brought about the fall of the House of Romanov. It was time to march once more.

      Teresa hoped someone else would take the lead, but when there were no takers, she asked online friends how to create a Facebook group. By the time she went to bed, there were forty R.S.V.P.s; when she awoke, there were more than ten thousand. Shook said of the event she described as gone ballistic, “I guess in my heart of hearts I wanted it to happen, but I didn’t really think it would’ve ever gone viral. I didn’t even know how to go viral.” Responses indicated people were galvanized to action due to Trump’s treatment of women-calling Miss Universe “Miss Piggy” after her weight gain, claims of sexual harassment, fear the President’s appointment of Supreme Court justice could overturn Roe v. Wade. Shocked and awed at the promise of fantasy turning into reality, Shook was nevertheless unsure how to proceed. Organizing a massive protest was not a skill Teresa, a native of Indiana, had ever encountered in her role as attorney or as grandmother of four girls.

      On the same night Shook had posted her plea 5,000 miles away, Bob Bland, a fashion designer in Brooklyn, had also taken to Facebook to plan a protest. Bland had been political from the get-go and had accrued a few thousand online followers after she had created “Nasty Woman” and “Bad Hombre” T-shirts that raised $20,000 for Planned Parenthood. Both women understood it would take a village, yet immediately cracks appeared. Participants began to judge one another not on the content of their character but on external factors. The first fissure was the matter of race: Teresa, Bob, and all the volunteers were white. A black activist expressed anger, “You don’t just join now you’re scared, too. I was born scared” and added it should be called White Women’s March. Another sticking point with African-Americans was they felt Shook’s naming of the Million Woman March was an appropriation of the title of the 1997 gathering of thousands of black women in Philadelphia. Bob suggested the Million Pussy March. Polarized concerns set off a heated and divisive conversation on the Facebook page; lost in the crossfire was Franklin’s admonition, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

    Bland realized in order to transform the march from a contentious Facebook group into a united movement, they needed help from nonwhite organizers of different demographics and recruited African American Tamika Mallory, Hispanic Carmen Perez, and Muslim Linda Sarsour. Their challenge was to orchestrate one of the largest Inauguration demonstrations in history in a two-month time frame. The first order of business was the christening, and they decided on one that invoked Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil rights march of 1963- the Women’s March on Washington; it received the blessing of King’s youngest daughter, Bernice. She shared with them a quotation from her mother Coretta, “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.”  Despite the initial tensions, as well as Jewish women taking umbrage with Sarsour, a Palestinian-rights agitator, the animosity between pro-choice and pro-life groups, the women decided to focus on commonality: a country led by Trump could endanger universal freedoms. The organizers released their guiding vision declaring support for black, Native, poor, immigrant, Muslim and LGBT women, as well as all women who “deserve to live full and healthy lives free of violence against our bodies.” A sign symbolizing sisterly solidarity: We march togetHER.

      After months of agitating on social media, there was relief at getting beyond the virtual streets onto the real ones: to commiserate, to chant, to hope. On January 21st women and men congregated on all seven continents (in Antarctica, a placard proclaimed, “Penguins march for peace.”) More than half a million people converged on Washington for a counter-inauguration-three times as many as the turn-out for the President’s. The face of the opposition to the President was predominantly female. Jam-packed streets were punctuated by a preponderance of pink hats and the chant of “When they go low, we go high!” They gathered to support a liberal agenda in sharp contrast to what Trump had laid out for his tenure. The platform focused on issues such as the rights of workers, women, and immigrants. It was a star-studded event with celebrities such as Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, and Ashley Judd, the latter of who delivered an uninhibited speech, “They ain’t for grabbing. They are for birthing new generations of filthy, vulgar, nasty, proud Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, you name it, for new generations of nasty women.”  Her impassioned words continued, “I am not as nasty as a swastika on a rainbow flag, I feel Hitler in these streets. A moustache traded for a toupee.” America Ferrera, whose parents hail from Honduras stated, “It’s been a heart-rending time to be both a woman and an immigrant…but the President is not America. We are America.” Feminist icon Gloria Steinem cried, “This is the upside of the downside. This is an outpouring of energy and true democracy that I have never seen in my very long life. It is wide in age and deep in diversity and remember the Constitution does not begin with ‘I the president.’ It begins with ‘we the people.’” The crowd showed solidarity by the waving of placards, some bearing messages such as “Free Melania!” “Thou Shalt Not Grab,” and “We Want a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter.”

      Amongst the marchers was Teresa, catapulted into contemporary mythology as the woman whose post ignited a movement. Strangers lavished her with hugs of gratitude. Shook wants people to know that one person can make a difference but only if animosities are set aside. She said of the massive crowds launched by her Facebook plea, “It was an out-of-body experience, to look out and see that sea of pink bodies.” Teresa said there were too many favorite moments to pick just one, but a highlight was meeting Gloria Steinem and for the feminist icon to know who she was.  Bob also stepped on stage accompanied by her infant Chloe- clad in a furry bear suit and pink hat-and her six-year-old daughter Penny. She wanted her daughters to see that united women “can transform the world.”

       Behind the witty signs and street theater remained a deadly serious message: the current administration was not going to slip into the prejudice of yesteryear. There were women who rode buses for 10 hours from Flynt, Michigan, to remind everyone they still do not have clean water. Some pushed wheelchairs-no small feat in the teeming wall of bodies, to express their fear of losing Obamacare. LGBD teens who had seen the White House lit up in rainbow colors only to fear a future reign of homophobia. And amongst the pink pussy-hats were hijabs; Muslim-Americans describing who felt the welcome mat had been pulled from under them. Mothers born in Mexico were marching to show their American born children America is indeed a melting pot. Fathers brought along their sons to teach a living lesson on gender equality. Just as Rome burned while Nero fiddled, during the massive march, the Trump family bowled in their new Pennsylvania Avenue home.

      Irony permeated the Women’s March: what started as a divisive movement ended as a unified wave of sisterly solidarity. Facebook- that launched the social tsunami-had originated as facemash: a way to rate Harvard women based on who was hotter. But the true spirit that reigned that January morning was of the suffragettes who had paved the way. In the words of Susan B. Anthony, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”