The morning of Jan. 21 saw more than 300 women, men, children and families of all ages filling the Joseph city parking lot to overflowing, joining what became millions marching worldwide.
The city’s parking lot resembled a protest from another era, with dozens upon dozens of brightly painted signs espousing women’s and racial rights, pleas for understanding and harmony.
The idea for a Jan. 21 Women’s March started with an event planned in Washington, D.C., as a response to a perceived lack of civility along with increasing racism, misogyny and hatred permeating America’s social and political landscape.
The idea didn’t stop there. Major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland followed suit with the idea swelling nationwide, even into rural areas – including Wallowa County.
One of the Joseph event’s organizers, Sarah Lynch, addressed the crowd before the march.
“I originally thought we might have 20 or 30 marchers, but quickly realized we might have 50,” Lynch told The Chieftain after the event. “Then a few days before the event we thought we could expect 100. As it turned out, we had 310 marchers with several individuals that could not complete the march so we estimate total participation to have been 325.”
Shortly after 1 p.m. marchers filed from the parking lot along a route that led down North Lake Street, two blocks to East Williams Avenue and across Main Street, being careful to cause as little traffic disruption as possible. Turning north the marchers traveled to East Maple Street while many cars honked while shouting approval. After re-crossing Main Street the long line traveled to the Jennings Hotel lobby where hot chocolate and snacks awaited the jubilant marchers.
The marchers filled the hotel lobby where several of the event organizers including lead organizer Sarah Lynch stood atop the counter to address the crowd, congratulating them for their participation and urging more political activism to ensure their voices be present in the political process. Many marchers also wrote about their experiences on the lobby’s papered walls.
Lynch said a local march was suggested at this month’s Wallowa County Democrats meeting because many local women wanted to attend a march but did not want to travel. To that end, a group of local women, not all from the local Democratic Committee, set the wheels turning for a local march.
“The event was not difficult to organize and it was done in under 2 weeks with local activists and businesses rallying together to quickly organize a wonderful event,” she said.
All of the marchers the Chieftain interviewed said they were surprised at the turnout size as well as the spirit and joy emanating from fellow marchers.
Heidi Muller said she marched, in part, to let members of the community in ethnic, religious, sexual preference or gender minorities to know they have allies standing behind them.
“I did so because the new administration is poised to take action to dismantle much of the good that I think has been achieved over the course of my lifetime, and I do not want to be complicit in actions I think are harmful for people and our planet,” she said.
Wallowa resident Katy Madrid described herself as very political person who planned to attend the march in either Boise or Portland, when a friend told her about the Joseph march.
“I think it’s a very critical time to be counted, and to get and stay involved ... I hope we use this momentum to stay connected and heard in future years,” she said.
Many men joined the march, Mark Lacey among them. Like Muller, the Joseph resident marched to ensure that advances in human rights over the last several decades remain in place. Lacey appreciated the civility of the march as well as the large numbers of families that participated.
“I think the march, in solidarity with other marches around the world is the beginning to keep pressure on our elected representatives,” he said. “If they do not respond appropriately, they’re going to be out of office.”
Robin Martin, a resident of Joseph, said she marched to protect the environment and be encouraged by others to not be afraid to stand up for what she believes. Martin was happy seeing her community pull together in solidarity and love. As a cancer survivor able to afford private health insurance, Martin said she marched for those who can’t afford or are unable otherwise to get health insurance as well as reproductive rights.
“I cherish the right to make choices without government interference,” she said. “I marched because I remember myself as a young woman entering Planned Parenthood for the first time to receive my first birth control. I am blessed to live in Wallowa County and know we’ll remain strong together.”
Lynch said she expects the marches to have an impact globally as well as locally. She said that one marcher told her she no longer feels invisible while another who hadn’t planned to march but did, now sees her community differently. Lynch saw hope for the future.
“What I saw happening in the days leading up to the march and 48 hours, it seems like people are using the march as a stepping off point to further organize and decide how they’re going to respond to the country’s current leadership,” Lynch said. “They’re not going to be comfortable sitting on the sidelines, and that message is definitely resounding across the nation and around the world.”