On Saturday morning, January 21, Erica Littlewood Work gathered march volunteers into the downtown library meeting room to provide a quick briefing on crowd and traffic control. As she stepped back outside 20-minutes later she could see that the crowd had already surged far beyond the predicted 2,000. She faced a wall of people that had filled in between the library and City Hall.
In the weeks leading up to the Women’s March on Washington a local group of friends who had previously worked together as a Relay for Life team raising money for the American Cancer Society had set up a Facebook page on which they had received approximately 2,000 responses. No one could have predicted the final number of 10,000-plus for Bellingham’s historic march.
January 21, 2017, became the single largest day of protest in U.S. history. It was a day of unity, love, human power, and a tidal wave of support against the ideologies of hate, racism, and sexism that newly elected President Trump represents.
“It was stunning and overwhelming,” Erica said. “I was thrilled to see so many people come together to support one another.” After the November 2016 election, she and her friends shared feelings of depression and a loss of hope, but seeing thousands of people in Bellingham marching – and millions worldwide – was inspiring.
Missing from the march both nationally and locally was any single organization that could claim the event as their brainchild. Erica describes herself as non-political; however, in November she had completed a successful campaign as Chair of the Whatcom “EMS Saves Lives” funding levy.
“The march was not intended as an overtly political event,” she said. “It was about bringing people together to show support for marginalized groups. People asked a lot of questions when we were making signs, like ‘What can or can’t I say on my sign?’ But it was really a free-speech event with a range of issues that galvanized a cross-section of the community as never seen before.
Erica coordinated logistics, march permits, police relations, public works contacts, food trucks, and the medical team. Her career as a public educator with the South Whatcom Fire Authority gave her skills used for this event. Other team members coordinated speakers and the Community Connections Fair held after the march.
“The Fair was a great success,” Erica said. “It provided a way for people to connect with local groups that can take ideals forward beyond the march and fill in the gaps for people.”
Another friend and local teacher, Jackie Brown, coordinated speakers, musicians, poets, and interpreters.
“It took over my life for a few weeks,” Jackie said, “but I felt inspired by people rising up and being heard. The march showed me how diverse we are as women and how important it is to honor our diversity. One of our group is a ‘stay-at-home mom’ so she coordinated the volunteers. Another younger woman put together our Facebook page.” Now people are begging for more, Jackie says.
What’s next for Bellingham? The group will hold a public meeting 4 to 6 p.m. Sat., Feb. 4, at the WECU Education Center 511 E. Holly St. to reach out to people interested in continuing the work they began. Speeches given at the march will be published on their Facebook page at “Womxn’s March on Bellingham.”
Ordinary women like Erica and Jackie, who put aside their personal lives long enough to bring Bellingham into solidarity with an extraordinary national and worldwide movement of resistance, now need help to sustain the momentum.
Protests alone won’t be enough to fight Trump’s version of America. A powerful, unified resistance must be built, and these local women are providing that leadership.