Health Team

Women who marched, one year later: 'We are exhausted but we're here and we're still marching'

Posted January 18, 2018 10:54 p.m. EST

— One year ago, Allison Busch-Vogel of South Orange, New Jersey rented four buses even before she knew if she could fill them.

So outraged about the election of Donald Trump, she focused her energies on getting her and her 13-year-old daughter and more than 200 other women, mothers and daughters from her community, to Washington DC for what turned out to be a historic march in the nation's capital.

But one year later, after 12 months of the Trump presidency, Busch-Vogel found herself utterly exhausted. She considered sitting this weekend out and not joining women across the country in marches to mark the one year anniversary of the extraordinary outpouring of women.

The lawyer and mother of three said she had "activist burnout" and she clearly is not alone. I checked in with other women I interviewed last year before they marched, and they also described feeling fatigued, exhausted and worn down after the non-stop news of Trump's controversial actions and tweets.

But I also heard something else: a commitment to not give up and to continue to make their voices heard. Their experiences marching last year sparked a spirit of activism they are continuing in their own unique ways.

'Does anything matter?'

In a recent email to friends, Busch-Vogel said that she had decided a while ago that she was just going to "ride it all out for the next three years by basically doing nothing."

She would just wait for the Trump administration to end, she said, feeling as if there was nothing more she could do.

"I was feeling tired," she said during an interview. After organizing and participating in last year's momentous march on Washington, she returned to New Jersey and found herself taking part in demonstrations nearly every weekend, reacting to one controversial Trump policy after another.

"It didn't take long. After saying 'OK, which protests are we going to this weekend? Are we going to Newark Airport?,' you say, 'Oh my God, I can't keep doing this,' " she said. "I felt like, 'Does anything matter?' "

But after reading about a local politician who is up for re-election and a chance to turn a congressional district from Republican to Democratic, she decided she couldn't stay away and wanted to "get back out there."

In that email, she told friends she plans to march in Morristown, New Jersey this weekend with her husband and her 10-year-old daughter and invited them to join her.

"I think having marches locally, having them include people who might not have been able to go to Washington, just says this is the substance of what we were talking about last year," said Busch-Vogel.

"Now we're all going local. We're saying this is what needs to change locally. We're still listening to you Washington. We're concerned about you but where we make a difference is locally and that's what the women's march did. It gave birth to a lot of new activists."

'We can't all run for cover'

Patricia Canning, who worked tirelessly alongside Busch-Vogel and another friend, Marietta Zacker, to organize and oversee the South Orange bus brigade to Washington, said last year's march and events that have taken place in communities across the country, including hers, ever since have "normalized activism."

"People know how to turn up with their signs," said Canning, a former management consultant who brought her two daughters, ages 13 and 15, to Washington last year. "They know how to show up and ... that's what young people are learning."

Canning said she wishes she could be marching this weekend, but logistics -- a swim meet for one daughter, a volleyball tournament for another -- will prevent her from attending.

While she has kept up a level of activism that started with last year's march, like Busch-Vogel, she too had a period where she almost felt like she had to "run for cover."

Immediately after the march, she was in constant contact with everyone on the bus, encouraging them to read stories, make phone calls to their elected leaders and do other tasks that came directly from the organizers of the women's march.

"And then I just think we got inundated with stuff. Every five minutes there was something else," she said. "We lost momentum or just lost steam trying to fight every single minute of the day."

She and friends would tell each other to "just take a break" when they needed one, and that was really her story for the first three to six months after Washington.

"Then I felt I just had to do more. I had to make every minute really count, like I can't really run for cover. We can't all run for cover. We have to do something."

Like Busch-Vogel, Canning has gone local. She is active in her community's coalition on race, helping to organize a town-wide event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and is currently working with the women's triathlon team she founded to develop a workshop for young women in the community on consent following the #MeToo movement.

"There's no reason for anyone to stand still and look around and say, 'What can I do?' " said Canning. "You've got to figure out something. Do something. I do feel like we're under siege on a daily basis."

Getting men involved

Sabha Shere of Palo Alto, California, an artist and entrepreneur and mother of two, wholeheartedly agrees. Last year, she traveled to Washington to take part in her first-ever march. She said it was a no-brainer that she would march again. This year, she will participate in San Francisco.

"I'm more motivated now because even though I felt like it was a nightmare last year, this time, this is really, in all honesty, a nightmare year," said Shere, who has two sons, one in high school and one in college.

"Every day we wake up to such bad news. It's almost, it's surreal," she said. "There's just so much going on that I can't even pinpoint but I think more than ever we just have to stay active and not slow down."

This year, she'll be bringing her fiance with her and is encouraging all her friends to bring a male friend or partner with them.

"We need to do this together," she said. "It's a women's march but bring all the men in your lives ... This should be a human march, a human issue."

Learning how to listen

Summer Johnston traveled from Eugene, Oregon to Washington DC for last year's march. She was only able to attend after her husband used some insurance money from a motorcycle accident to pay for her trip.

This year, the mother of three will be marching in Eugene.

"Being loud and being seen is making a difference," she said. "It doesn't feel like it sometimes but women experiencing inequity and abuse are stories that, as ugly as they are, must be brought to light. They are real and I will support each step towards exposing and changing the systems and culture that perpetuates the behavior and detrimental ideologies behind them."

Last year, Johnston said her goals from the march were to connect with women and learn how to bring activism back to her community.

What she learned most, she said, is how to listen. She was struck by what she saw -- "so many different voices, so many different faces, and ideas of what being a woman was," she said.

She ended up returning to her community and spending months on a special project, a mix of art and storytelling, showcasing women's stories.

"Mostly we just need to listen to each other," she said. "I think the women's march is an opportunity not just to be heard but to listen. I know that is the opportunity this march provided our country and our government, an opportunity to listen to us, the people and for women in particular to elevate voices long silenced in (the) community."

No longer afraid to speak up

Michelle Sinisgalli-Yulo of Atlanta marched last year in Washington but won't be able to participate this year because her daughter has basketball tryouts.

While she would love to be marching, she also feels hopeful, at least some of the time, about how things are moving forward. She points to wins by Democrats in the recent elections in Virginia and Alabama and believes there are strong signs for Democratic wins in the 2018 midterm elections.

"There are some days I feel completely hopeless and then there are some days I feel extremely hopeful because we do see progress on some level," said Sinisgalli-Yulo, founder and creator of Princess Free Zone, which makes empowering clothing for girls.

"There's an undertow here that will push over in 2018 and I do believe if nothing else comes out of this, our ability to be organized and be focused on what we need to do to change things has become more acute and so necessary for us to really see what we need to do to make change on every level, for women too."

She says she's always been very active, but what's changed for her, since the march last year, is she is no longer afraid to share her feelings about the president and the administration.

"I think I would withhold before for fear of getting into it, getting into arguments," she said. "I just didn't care anymore. I feel like the president has pushed people to that point ... He just makes it almost impossible not to say anything."

For the women who plan to march this weekend, the hope is the rallies will remind the world that women are continuing to rise up and have their voices heard, said Shere, the artist and entrepreneur.

"I think that if we continue to get out there and march or whatever we can do, it still draws attention to it and I think it helps our children also realize how activism is important," she said. "We can't just sit at home. We have to do something."

Said Busch-Vogel, "I think it says we're still here and while you might have thought the women's march last year, as extraordinary as it was, was a passing storm or that it was just a celebrity sort of day ... I think the marches -- continuing both on this anniversary and throughout the year -- is saying no, this is a movement."

"We're exhausted but we're here and we're still marching," said Canning, adding this reference to President Trump: "We will be here every year if we have to until he's gone."