On Saturday, tens of thousands of New Yorkers and our neighbors are expected to take to the streets of Midtown and join the Women's March on New York, to send a big fuck-you to our newly inaugurated pussy-grabber-in-chief. Only that's not how the organizers see it. Lead logistics wrangler Katherine Siemionko, a self-described conservative, Clinton voter, and human rights supporter, told AM New York the march, "is not anti-Trump. It’s pro-equality. We have marchers who voted for Trump who want to support equality."
There are other aspects of this march that some may find mystifying—staggered start times, an online ticketing system, and on-location therapists—so I spoke to another organizer, singer-songwriter Cecilia Villar Eljuri, to get some background on the biggest thing happening in the city this weekend.
How did the idea for the Women's March NYC come about?
The march started with just a concept from Katherine, our fearless leader Katherine Siemionko. She just wanted to get a bunch of friends to get together and march that day. She started with a bunch of friends of hers, 250 people, and she went and got a permit for 1,000 people.
It quickly grew on Facebook. It was grassroots. I'm a singer-songwriter. What I saw was this Facebook page, as did many, that had a like-minded mission to what I felt my lyrics are all about: fighting for your rights, equality. And I couldn't go to Washington. I got like-minded people to join and so on and so on.
It quickly grew to 5,000, 10,000, 15,000. She had to get more and more permits. Now it's up to 100,000 people, more than 15 permits. The volunteers have grown. The team behind this are a tight, dedicated group of organizers supporting the same mission.
The marches around the country [there were 574 gatherings of various types planned worldwide at press time] grew similarly. The vision was to stand as a symbol of the American right to assemble and congregate and demonstrate and vote. That was the incentive, to demonstrate that to the incoming cabinet the ease and the speed with how we can mobilize if the policies that are being promoted of inequality arise. That's exactly what happened. The rhetoric that we heard sparked us to mobilize. It's important for us to demonstrate. This is probably going to be the first of many.
Who is involved in organizing it now?
Even though it's the women's march, we really stand for human rights, so it's really the greater good driven by the important message that women have to be treated equally. A small group of us rose up to be part of the organizers. I'm one of the later additions because of my voice as a Latina. There's people helping to run the Facebook pages, all the social media. We have someone working on security.
It sounds like it's fairly decentralized—
Oh, no, it's very centralized. Katherine is the one organizing all of us under her. It's a tight, small group that's very dedicated. In that group, everyone has their role. It's quite efficient because there's a lot of powerful, special people involved. We're very motivated.
It's not like we're all professional marchers. What's great about it, what I find so exhilirating is that it's the opposite: it's quite efficiently run, we're responsive to the people signing up. We have people who are professionals in PR, professionals in crowd control, lawyers, designers, social media people, website design, all that. All those people came together and pretty much rose up.
But we're not professional marchers. I'm a musician so I'm used to doing press. I'm also representing the Latina community.
Katherine said that the march is not anti-Trump, it's pro-equality. I think I speak for a lot of people when I ask, why? Isn't Trump the reason the march is happening in the first place?
We're celebrating religion ethnicity, race, creed. We want to foster tolerance and diversity, especially being in New York, being in such an international place. I don't think Trump is the reason the march is happening, rather [it's] some of the rhetoric we were hearing from, not just Trump, but some of the people that are going to be in the incoming cabinet. The policies that promote inequality, that's what motivates us to demonstrate. Our dissatisfaction with the policies and appointments of the incoming president.
So...even though all these policies and appointments trace back to one person, you want to make it more about the issues you can change?
We're defending equality. It's not a bash session. We're standing against intolerance. It was important to demonstrate because of what we're hearing. So we're there the day after they're in office, saying, not just to him, but to the whole administration, saying we're here, we're watching. It's preventing any policy that would promote inequality. That's I think why we're so motivated, because we actually feel like we're losing ground.
(Women's March on NYC/Facebook)
No, because the rally area can't handle that many people. It's not like we're in a big park or in a lawn where you can handle capacity of 100,000. We're working very closely with the NYPD, and we have our own special task force volunteer group. The rally point is a funneled street path so you can only handle so many at a time. If we were in the Great Lawn or something we could, but that's not the case. It's just logistics, basically.
We do want motion. We want it to be a march, physical march, from Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, at 47th and First—from there we're going to go down Second Avenue to 42nd Street and then across [on] 42nd Street to Fifth Avenue and then up Fifth Avenue to Trump Tower. There's going to be a steady stream. It's going to be like relentless up to Trump Tower.
People have been cooperative when they see that for the most part. Some are difficult.
One other thing that stuck out to me from the description of the event was that you're going to have therapists along the march route. Can you tell me a little more about their role?
It's really great. We're having therapists because they're going to manage people who are feeling vulnerable or who feel a moment of unsafety because they get overwhelmed by crowds. We're sensitive to that: they might be too emotional. We feel it's important to keep it from escalating, to have professionals.
We're also going to have information agents throughout the march to help escalate to the appropriate team members. The information agents will help where people travel, and help get assistance for people, or help people who are overly emotional or overwhelmed get support.
So the thought was specifically to provide support for people who are overwhelmed by crowds?
Not just crowds, but if they're overwhelmed emotionally. It's like a community. We were trying to think of every aspect of what a communtiy would need so everything would go smoothly. We're going to have builders, information agents, and we're also going to have monitors, to help make sure things don't escalate on a legal perspective.
Do you have signs that you're going to be carrying?
I have many signs. I have bilingual signs. I worked closely with one of the designers.
What do your signs say?
My signs are in Spanish. One of them is "Contra Injusticia" [Against Injustice]. Another one is "Para Igualdad" [For Equality]. Another is "Levantamanos," Rise Up, all under the banner of #WhyWeMarch.
Are you going to carry them all, or who is carrying them?
I have my own team of people that are marching, and we're going to share a bunch of signs. We have been encouraging people to go to our website and download the logo and make their own signs. One thing we want to caution people is to not attach their signs to poles, because those are not allowed.
At Eljuri's direction, I emailed fellow march organizer and spokeswoman Alison Sherman a few follow-up questions
There's a right-wing meme that George Soros is paying for any and all protesters who aren't part of the tea party. Having been to a lot of protests, I am confident that, though paid organizers from various groups exist, the larger point is not true and it's meant to de-legitimize opposition. That said, in the interest of transparency, are there any large organizations or donors supporting the Women's March that you'd like to disclose?
I am happy to be able to tell you that we have no partners or paying sponsors, we are completely self organized and have been funded by the public only, through Eventbrite. We shut down our Eventbrite page when we reached our goal.
I also asked if the organizers were at all concerned about the security implications of asking tens of thousands of marchers to provide their information in a centralized list via Eventbrite and Facebook, for the incoming Trump administration to view at will. Sherman had not responded at press time.