Seven thousand Rhode Islanders made history as part of the worldwide movement known as the Women’s March on Washington last January. That was just the beginning.
This year, on Jan. 20, they will be on the march again on the South Lawn of the State House from noon to 2:00 p.m. The event is hosted by Women's March on Washington - Rhode Island.
In 2017, Shanna Wells took on the task of organizing the Providence rally while Nancy Rafi got Rhode Islanders down to DC for the national march.
"When I took on the task of organizing the Rhode Island Chapter to participate in the Women's March last year in January 2017, I knew it was the beginning of something big. After the 2016 presidential election, I could feel a shift in energy and was excited to be a small part of what I knew would be a once in a lifetime event,” said Rafi.
“We had two official busloads of  people who stayed for two nights in Virginia. We took our buses from the hotels to JFK Stadium where we gathered with 1,498 other buses from around the country. A short but very packed Metro ride later, we met up with other Rhode Islanders at the Hirschorn Museum in DC and were joined by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman David Cicilline. We stood behind our state banners and then gathered in the street with the throng of activists that seemed to go on for miles - it was incredible!” she continued.
The focus of all the speakers is how to translate a desire for justice into concrete action steps for activists.
"For many of those who attended the 2017 Women's March on Washington or the RI Women's Solidarity Rally in Providence, it was the first time they'd ever been involved in social activism. We are so proud of those folks who stayed engaged all year in social justice actions. This year's event is to provide encouragement to activists, and an action plan for expanding human rights and justice in RI in 2018,” said Wells, this year’s RI march organizer.
Last year, there were many issues that brought the group together - immigration, social justice, income inequality, racism - and there was a place at the table for anyone who wanted to be involved. Many of the attendees then were first time activists. Included in this year’s March will be the ACLU, AMOR Coyote-RI, Humanists of RI, Indivisible RI, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, NEARI, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Resist Hate RI, RI Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence, RI Commission on Human Rights, RI Democrats, RIPTA Riders Alliance, The Women's Project, Women's Health & Education Fund of RI, RI Working Families Party, RI Young Democrats, SEIU 1199 - Health Care and Service Workers, and The Woman Project. More are expected to join.
“I'm so grateful to the volunteers who make this event possible,” said Wells. “RI Women's March is entirely grassroots and volunteer-led group, with no paid staff or infrastructure. Money to fund the event was raised through direct fund appeals and t-shirt sales.”
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead, another activist, added.
"I don't presume to believe that RI Women's March has changed the world. But if we can educate, inform and empower Rhode Island to be a more just and inclusive place, we will consider ourselves to have done some good work - for all Rhode Islanders,” said Wells.
In addition to the speaking program, Wells stated that there will be music by the Extraordinary Rendition Band (ERB) and that the event will include art installations by Brick X Brick. The Women's Project will also have a collection of sanitary products for local women in need by Happy Period and a Social Justice Expo area, featuring over 20 local social justice, political and civil rights organizations.
“I’m from Cranston and as a social worker, I march for social justice, human rights and equality and against racism and discrimination,” said Haley Kate. “I march so our country moves in the right direction and hears our voices.”
The Women’s March website states: “we believe that all issues are women’s issues—from racial justice to environmental justice to disability rights to Indigenous sovereignty. Nothing demonstrates this more than the devastating impact of the #LicenseToDiscriminate Executive Action and the House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act on women and femmes of all backgrounds, nationwide…For 100 days, this administration and leaders of Congress have used tactics to try and overwhelm us, by enacting harmful and destructive Executive Orders and legislation in rapid, overlapping bursts. They mean to divide us into groups with conflicting priorities. We will not let it happen. Our resistance movements are more focused than ever, we know these issues are interrelated. The attacks on queer and trans people, on disabled people, on black, brown and indigenous people, on immigrants, on poor people, on Muslim and Jewish people, the attacks on health care and the environment, the rendering of violence against women as a pre-existing condition – these are all one assault on our fundamental rights to live with dignity, autonomy and liberty.”
So far on the official Women’s March - Providence 2018 Facebook page more than 2,000 people have signed up to attend with another 6,000 people interested.
“Our main goal is to energize people for the year ahead - to make the statement that we're still here, moving forward. There's work to be done and we're ready to do it - and there's a place for everyone this movement so we hope people will join us," said Rafi.