Woodstock marchers exceed expectations tenfold

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Originally the plan for the Women’s March on Woodstock was to stick to the sidewalks as marchers progressed from Andy Lee Field, along Rock City Road, and then down Mill Hill Road to the Bradley Meadows parking lot. But when police saw the size of the crowd assembling in front of the community center, they decided they had to shut down the streets for the marchers, as an estimated 1000 to 1500 people gathered on Saturday, January 21, in Woodstock to march for the rights of women and minorities the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. As in cities around the country, the number of marchers far exceeded the expectations of organizers.

The March on Woodstock was put together in one week, in response to a wistful post on Facebook, said Anula Courtis, one of three women who impulsively came together to start a local action, expecting maybe 60 to 100 people to show up. On Wednesday, as they watched the number of respondents to their Facebook page get bigger and bigger, they put out a call for volunteers.

Twenty minutes before the start of the march, as a driver was waiting to pull into the parking lot opposite the Colony Café, the volunteer at the entrance informed her the lot was now full. “Yay!” said the driver, clapping her hands.

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The mood was buoyant as people arrived with signs bearing slogans such as “A woman’s place is in the resistance,” “Pussy grabs back,” “Love trumps hate,” “Trumplestiltskin,” “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this crap!” About one-third of the those gathered were men, several wearing signs that noted, “I’m with her,” with arrows pointing in all directions. The color pink was widely worn, and many people showed up with “pussy hats,” pink knitted hats with peaks resembling cats’ ears, in response to Trump’s lewd comments about women reported during the presidential campaign.

Emma Dooley, 23, who had traveled 70 miles from Carmel, in Putnam County, said, “I knew I would be surrounded by people who are active politically here, people who would be supportive.”

Amanda Lynne, also of Carmel, had thought of going to the Washington, DC, march but is caring for her ailing mother. “I knew this would be a more grass-roots version,” she said. “I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and my mom was part of the women’s rights movement. I never suffered for lack of rights, and now they are in jeopardy. I have a daughter, and I want her to have the same rights.”

A ten-year-old boy rang the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center’s historic Keegan bell to start off the march at 11 a.m. As the crowd moved down the road, Linda Cook-Sterling of Lake Katrine explained her reasons for marching. “I couldn’t sit at home and do nothing. Trump stands for everything I’m against. I had been angry, but now I’m afraid. It’s shocking that our election may have been influenced by colluding with the enemy.”

Robyn Filkins traveled down from Selkirk, near Albany, because she feared there might be violent confrontations at the Albany march. “I’m marching for women’s rights, everyone’s rights,” she said, “and against global warming.”

Jean DiMarco of Red Hook commented, “Our solidarity with women of the world must be strong. Together we can make a change. My grandmother was an immigrant who came from Italy and worked as a seamstress in the Bronx. She stood on picket lines. I march in her honor.”

One of the organizers read chants off her cell phone, and the crowd chimed in, shouting, “Women united will never be defeated.”

Woodstocker Terri Mateer, who had joined as a volunteer a few days earlier, said she had thought of going to Washington, but because of a shoulder injury, she feared the jostling of crowds. “It’s amazing how the town came together, the businesses, the police,” she said. “There was so much wind behind our backs to get this going.”

Parents pushed strollers taped with signs stating, “My body, my choice” or “I deserve better.” Emily Barton of Kingston was marching with her husband, Tom Hopkins, and small sons, Tobias and Emmet. “With a toddler, we couldn’t go to DC,” she said, “but we wanted to show our solidarity for women’s rights, justice, and inclusivity.”

The crowd was orderly as it headed down Mill Hill Road, with the exception of one agitated man briefly shouting about “our totalitarian, racist, unqualified, misogynistic president.” A volunteer across the street called back, “Change your ways; love your neighbor,” and the man subsided.

In front of Sunflower Natural Foods Market, Don LaSala played guitar and sang “The Times They are A-Changin’” and other songs of protest. When he invited people to come up to the mic, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason of Ashokan Center led the crowd in “This Land is Your Land.” Ungar’s daughter, Ruth Merenda of the duo Mike and Ruthy, stepped up with a child on her hip to lead “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

During a lull in the music, Shayna Schwartz, a Bard College student from eastern Pennsylvania, said she had come to “support feminism. Especially at Bard, there’s a lot of struggle to accept that this man is our president. We have to stand up to him.”

As the march resumed, heading back up the hill, Belgian photographer Bert Danckaert said he was in the U.S. for a professional conference. “We have the same extreme right politics everywhere,” he said. “Marine Le Pen may win the French election. In Antwerp, we have a far-right mayor. I’m for women’s rights and equality.”

Someone passed by with a sign that read, “We shall over-comb.”

At the town green, the crowd observed a minute of silence, and there was music by Jennifer DuBois.

Recently appointed town supervisor Bill McKenna was standing at the green, wearing a neon traffic vest. He said, “I’m so proud of the organizers, the police department, the police chief, everyone who worked so well together this week, when we had no idea what we’d be facing. This is what makes Woodstock great.”

In an interview two days later, the three organizers, Anula Courtis, Maria-Elena Conte, and Annie Reed, said they had no past experience in putting together political actions, except for Conte, who had helped out with “Take Back the Night” rallies in college. She is a massage therapist working on a music therapy degree, and Courtis runs a health care software company, both living in Woodstock. Reed, a retired musician, lives in West Hurley.

The success of the march speaks to the power of social media and the spirit of cooperation in the town of Woodstock. The management of Sunflower donated refreshments, gave permission to use their parking lot, and printed up flyers that were posted in the store. Bread Alone brought coffee to the volunteers at Andy Lee Field and cleaned up afterwards. DuBois was allowed to store her equipment at Jean Turmo before setting up to perform.

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“I’ve never felt so connected to a community and so positive about what can happen when people come together,” said Courtis, who had been the liaison with the town board and the police department, all very supportive of the event.

Courtis, Conte, and Reed want to harness the groundswell of energy from the march. The national Women’s March movement has launched a website proposing “10 actions in 100 days,” beginning with a post card campaign. Reed was planning to print out post cards from womensmarch.com and gather people at Inquiring Mind Bookstore in Saugerties on January 24 to write post cards to our congresspeople.

The trio are still strategizing ways to move forward. “Women’s equality is such a massive issue,” said Courtis. “We’re asking people to pick the two things they’re most interested in, so we can figure out where to start, what makes sense right here, right now.”

To learn about forthcoming initiatives in the local area, visit the Facebook page “Woodstock Women’s March.” Join the email list by sending a message to woodstockwomensmarch@yahoo.com. For information on the national movement, see http://www.womensmarch.com/100.