In Statement To Trump, N.J. Mobilizing For Women's March On Washington

NJ.com — December 11, 2016

By Mark Mueller / NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Just one bus.

Jessi Gottlieb Empestan believed that if she could fill one bus with people from her community to attend the Women's March on Washington next month, she would be doing her part to challenge the tone and rhetoric she said she found so abhorrent during the presidential campaign.

As a Jew and as a woman, as the mother of two ethnically mixed children, as the wife of an immigrant from the Philippines, Empestan said she was appalled by many of President-elect Donald Trump's comments and policy positions on race, gender, religion and immigration.

So she texted a few of her neighbors in South Orange. She put her plan on Facebook.

She filled a bus within hours.

Then another. And another.

Weeks later, Empestan, working with equally motivated women in her area, says she has filled 14 buses and counting from South Orange and Maplewood. With 54 seats each, those coaches alone are expected to ferry 756 people to the Jan. 21 march in Washington D.C.

Since the election, Empestan's experience hasn't been unusual.

Viewing the march as a chance to project both unity and dissatisfaction after a year of vitriol and polarization, grassroots organizers across New Jersey and the nation are rallying women — and in many cases men — to descend on the capital the day after Trump's inauguration.

Some 140,000 people have said on the official Women's March on Washington Facebook page they plan to make the trip. An additional 229,000 said they were interested in attending.

If those numbers bear out or grow, it would be among the largest demonstrations in Washington in several years.

A satellite rally has been planned for the same day at the Statehouse in Trenton to accommodate those unable to travel to Washington. Other satellite rallies are planned around the country.

Empestan, 40, a corporate attorney, said she felt compelled to act after looking to her own family.

Her son by adoption is African-American and Hispanic. Her daughter is Jewish and Filipino.

"My daughter is 5, and she asks a lot of questions about what she hears at school and on the playground," Empestan said. "And she's afraid that the president of the United States is going to hurt her."

Empestan also considered the sweep of history, wondering about those who did not speak up for civil rights in the Jim Crow era or who stood by while Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

While not comparing the president-elect to Hitler, she said the racial animus stirred by Trump, with his references to Mexicans as rapists and his proposal to ban some Muslim immigrants, mirrored the rhetoric that gave rise to the Nazi party in Germany.

"I couldn't stand by to let history judge me about not speaking up," Empestan said. "I'm hearing from friends across the country who are also arranging a way to travel and finding a way to stand up and say in the face of this much darkness, we are going to light as many candles as possible."

New Jersey's transportation coordinator, Felicity Crew, said organizers are trying to spread the word the march is open to all, including Republicans who voted for Trump.

"It's not just a march for women," said Crew, 35, also of South Orange. "There are definitely men going. People of all gender identities are welcome. People from all sides of the political spectrum are welcome. It's about positivity, not negativity. It's very specifically not an anti-Trump rally."

By late last week, an estimated 150 buses had already sold out in New Jersey, while others were still being filled, said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, one of the sponsoring groups.

Departure points span the state, from Bergen to Cape May counties.

Salowe-Kaye said the election has inspired a wave of activism by people not just interested in the march, but who want to get involved in health care and environmental initiatives and who want to donate to causes.

"I've been with Citizen Action for 30 years — I'm going to turn 70 very shortly — and I've been through a bunch of presidents," Salowe-Kaye said. "I have never seen a response like what we're getting."

The march, initially a scattershot effort that attracted followers through thousands of Facebook posts in the election's immediate aftermath, has become more organized in recent weeks with the introduction of three co-chairs, all veteran activists who have experience planning movements.

Among the challenges, the co-chairs have worked to blunt an early criticism of the rally: the appearance that it was mainly being organized by white women affiliated with the Democratic Party.

Tamika D. Mallory, national organizer for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013, is an African-American civil rights leader. Carmen Perez, who is Hispanic, has been a critic of mass incarceration and an advocate for gender equality. And Linda Sarsour, a Brooklyn-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, is a nationally known community organizer and civil rights activist.

The three join Bob Bland, a white woman and business executive from Manhattan, as the event's top planners.

The group's mission statement champions human rights and diversity, saying the aim is to "show our presence in numbers too great to ignore."

"The Women's March on Washington will send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights," the statement reads. "We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us."

The organizer had hoped to begin the march at the Lincoln Memorial — an iconic location that has been host to some of the nation's largest demonstrations — before setting off for the White House.

That plan changed Thursday, when the National Park Service, acting on behalf of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, denied the group's request to gather at the memorial, citing inaugural activities that had already been planned.

The march is now expected to start in front of the Capitol building, at Independence Avenue and Third Street SW.

For those interested in finding transportation from New Jersey to Washington, organizers have created an online listing of buses and county coordinators. The document also is linked to the New Jersey Facebook page for the Women's March on Washington.

Additional information about the event can be found on the national group's Facebook page and on its website, womensmarch.com.

The satellite rally, known as the March on New Jersey, is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Statehouse. A Facebook page about the march also has been created.

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