While hundreds of thousands of people converged on the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., on Saturday, a few hundred trudged happily through the fresh snow in Soldotna to show their solidarity.
There were at least 17 demonstrations in Alaska the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to a graphic from the New York Times. The march which began at 3 p.m. outside the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library in Soldotna was followed by a community gathering in the library for participants to brainstorm ways to make local change.
Michele Vasquez, one of about a dozen residents who teamed up to organize the local events, said the march was not an anti-Trump event “by any stretch of the imagination.” The march was open to men and women alike, who were encouraged to bring signs advocating for whatever issue they thought should be addressed locally, she and other organizers said.
“This march is human rights,” Vasquez said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re basically following the same theme as the national march.”
Some people held signs Saturday advocating for women’s reproductive rights, while others marched with signs demanding clean water. Still others waved posters advocating for better health care and some signs simply called for unity among people.
“It’s not just the typical women’s issues that you might think of,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez estimated that 200-300 people showed up to march through Soldotna’s streets. Soldotna resident Leonard Ball, who participated in the march, said he counted at least 322.
“This Woman’s March, some people are calling it a solidarity march, just shows that … we all need to pull together and somehow unite to make sure that America stays America,” Ball said.
The march was described by organizers as a nonpartisan demonstration. Some marchers, though, did have Trump on their mind Saturday.
“I didn’t come down here as an anti-Trump thing, but I understand that this is pretty much spawned by all this recent excitement,” said Kasilof resident Steve Schoonmaker. “And so, I need to show solidarity.”
Schoonmaker said he was at first a little nervous about the event because it was called the Women’s March, but decided to make a sign and come out to participate because he has been frustrated lately and wants to see the community come together to find a solution other than anger.
Gerald Brookman, 82, and Carroll Knutson, 73, said they braved the cold Saturday because they wanted to show that they disagree with Trump in a civil manner.
“I think it’s kind of obvious,” Knutson said. “We’re concerned about the direction that things are moving, and Mr. Trump seems to only hear his own set. There’s a whole bunch of us out here who have a different opinion. I’m afraid that nobody is going to listen … unless we turn out in crowds and they can see.”
Saturday’s march was added after the community gathering at the library had been planned, Vasquez said. Carrie Henson, who heads the local secularist organization Last Frontier Freethinkers, coordinated the march and said it was a good way for people to physically show their fellow community members what they would like to see improve in their lives.
“This rounds it out,” Henson said. “This lets our community know that these are the issues that we are interested in, and then we are going to go in there (the library) and come up with action plans to make sure that those issues are important issues going forward.”
Once participants looped back around from the Kenai Spur Highway to the library along Binkley Street, they packed into the building’s community room, where they wrote down their vision for what they would like the community to look like over the next few decades. Vasquez said the community gathering was slated to include dinner, music, presentations of poetry and break-out group sessions where people could mingle and brainstorm ways to set about making the change they advocated for with their signs.
Kenai resident Sue Smalley, another organizer, said she was more involved with the community gathering portion of the event. She said before the march Saturday that she hoped the meeting would provide an “in” for people who want to get involved in local efforts to improve community life but might not know where to start.
“We have people who have been elected to office, and then we have people who have voted, and then there’s this giant spectrum in between,” Smalley said. “Because it’s kind of scary sometimes to join in something or to go out and figure out … where you can make that impact, because that’s very personal.”
Smalley emphasized that change starts locally, and said most often trying to make a difference is a matter of getting connected with a group that is already working on an issue, whether it be the environment, women’s rights or myriad other topics present at the demonstration.
“I’d like to do world peace,” Smalley said. “But, you know, meanwhile to start with the small things that lead up to that direction.”
Schoonmaker, too, said he had high hopes for the gathering following the march. He said was looking for an open discussion among residents.
“What happens often times is these divisions are already so entrenched you can’t even have an intellectual conversation, which we really need to try and understand where each other are coming from,” he said. “It’s easy to flop the handle when someone’s so far off from what you think. If we could start talking, there’s (always) some commonalities … If I’m not mistaken, I’d be taking a wild guess but just looking around the crowd here I’d say that every person here came from a mother, which was a woman. Every single person. That’s pretty common, that’s a commonality, that’s root.”
Ball and Smalley also emphasized bringing area residents together for a common cause as the main tenet of Saturday’s events.
“It’s an affirmation of ourselves as community,” Smalley said. “And it’s an acknowledgement that we need to be more connected. And, too, there are a lot of things that we can do, but we have to get more connected in order to do them.”
The group that organized Saturday’s events also plans to hold a followup meeting in the spring to try to make progress on the ideas that come out of the community gathering and breakout sessions.
“I hope to see what comes after,” Vasquez said. “That’s going to be the really exciting part.”