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Women’s Marches inspire locals and some students to activism

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Mercer student Essence Otero and friend joined the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017The day after Donald Drumpf’s inauguration saw what experts believe is the largest political demonstration in U.S. history. According to Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman, two experts on political protests from the Universities of Denver and Connecticut respectively, as cited on Vox.com, the Women’s March on Washington was joined by sister marches in more than 600 U.S. cities and attended by 4.2 million people in total.

Stay-at-home mom Elizabeth Meyer of Somerset County. Formerly a teacher Meyer told The VOICE: “I got married, I had two little girls, life became so busy. I didn’t really have the time to pay attention….I [was] more worried about getting my girls off to school in the morning or how we’re going to pay the mortgage.”

But Meyer, a trained teacher, says that feeling changed after the election of Donald Drumpf; there was so much at stake that she felt compelled to do something. However, the trip to Washington seemed financially and logistically challenging with young kids. Still, she was determined to persist: “Just because I can’t make it to Washington D.C. [didn’t] mean that I don’t have a voice.” Meyer says.

Meyer decided to organize a sister march in Trenton. She reached out to the Women’s March organizers through Facebook and couple of days later she was given the green light to host the Women’s March on New Jersey.

As part of the planning phase she says: “I just started making calls, Googling organizations online…I thought the ACLU, Planned Parenthood may be into this. Then I found a group called New Jersey Citizen Action.” With the support of these groups, the event started to come together.

The Trenton march was attended by an estimated 7,500 people according to NorthJersey.com, and six other smaller marches were held in other parts of the state including Asbury Park, Mount Laurel and Pompton Plains.

Groups from a number of New Jersey colleges and universities sent delegations to the Women’s March on Washington and the sister march in Trenton, but Mercer was not one of them which is perhaps not surprising as a VOICE survey of 30 students found that while 60 percent were either pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of our country following the election, even more–63 percent–said they were unlikely or very unlikely to participate in any political action going forward.

One exception to this is is Essence Otero, a seventh semester Liberal Arts major who did attend the Women’s March on Washington. She said her rights as a Hispanic woman were the driving force in her participation.

Otero says: “Since the election, our president has made a lot of people angry, including myself, with the choices he has made and the words, or tweets, he has said. I truly believe the only way to get our president’s attention and actually start seeing change, is to peacefully protest and fight for our rights and for equality for all, no matter what race or gender you are.”

Survey results show Mercer students, despite mostly being unlikely to join Otero in her fight, think the efforts are still worth it. More than half of the Mercer survey participants said they believe political activism is effective in influencing governmental policies.

When asked what their main post election concerns are, the majority of the students surveyed said women’s rights, immigration, and jobs in the economy. They gave three primary reasons for why they weren’t likely to become politically active:  either they do not know how to get involved in political activism, are unaware of how to contact activist groups in the area, or they do not have the time to participate.

Professor Dylan Wolfe, Assistant Professor of Communication attended the Women’s March on Washington. He told The VOICE: “I’ve always been a strong believer in the power of young voices in political change. I myself was a political activists as a young man, I was involved in local and national organizations.” He adds: “There is a lot of clear evidence that student activism in particular has a strong energy.”

Asked about his participation in the Women’s March as a man, Professor Wolfe said: “Primarily, [I participated fo
r] women’s issues, immigration and minority issues, and environmental issues…I believe strongly in America’s foundation in free speech and dissent, and the power of both of those in American Society.”

Another professor who attended the D.C. March is English Professor and current interim Dean of American Honors, Dr. Bettina Calouri. She told The VOICE her main reason for attending as identified on the sign she created for the protest: “My sign read, ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Key for our DEMOCRACY.’ Our democracy goes nowhere if we can’t show respect.”

Dr. Calouri says: “When people demonstrate something on their feet, they show they’re passionate about it. It’s one thing to post something to Facebook. That doesn’t take a lot of time and personal commitment…[but putting] your body out there in some sense shows a commitment.”

But student Otero says she views social media as a key starting point for young activists.  She told The VOICE: “Twitter and Facebook have definitely helped people become more aware and are getting involved in protests and actually fighting for what they believe in, not just hiding behind their phone watching everything happen. During the Women’s March I saw babies, children, teenagers, young adults, older adults, literally every age of men and women were there fighting together and protesting.”

While students may be slow to engage in social action, those who are hesitant because they feel like they don’t know where to start are certainly not alone.

Elizabeth Meyer, the Trenton March organizer, says: “Before the election, I had no idea who my state rep[resentatives] even were…So, I’m coming from a place where I’ve gone from 0 to 60. It’s like having no knowledge whatsoever to being thrown in the midst of all of this…It has been a really sharp learning curve.”

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