By Megan Lupo
Walking down the crowded NJ Transit train platform with a sign tucked under her arm, a teenage girl boarded at Secaucus Junction with her mom at 10:31 a.m. on Jan. 20. She was constrained to standing in the narrow aisle for the 14-minute ride to New York Penn Station when approached by an older man.
The interrogation began when he asked her what the point of her involvement in a women’s march was. He told her this was not a movement and that she won’t make a difference.
Calmly turning to him in her rainbow beanie, she launched into a recitation of the history of the women’s suffrage movement and how a myriad of brave women before her have been greatly opposed and ridiculed, yet never gave up on fighting to allow women the right to vote. She was inspired by them to never silence herself so she can be the voice of her generation, and he was never going to make her afraid.
Women, for centuries, have been oppressed and discriminated against in the fight for a feminist, not sexist, society.
In an October 1979 edition of The Rider News, it was stated that “At Rider, the general attitudes toward feminism follow the national trend. Open discussions of feminism and women’s rights are virtually ignored on this campus.”
Almost 40 years later, this previously disregarded conversation about the injustices that women face was loudened dramatically by the Second Women’s March.
More than 200,000 people rallied at the 2018 Women’s March on New York City organized by the nonprofit Women’s March Alliance.
Amongst the crowd was, at least, a handful of Rider students, many of whom marched in last year’s Women’s March — some their first protest.
“Last year, I marched proudly with the intent of showing the current presidential administration that women would not be cowed or defeated by whatever policies would be put in place that could harm us,” Jenn Fanelli, ’17, said. “This year we’ve seen those same women make incredible progress. Women are running for office in droves, men in positions of power are finally being held accountable for sexual assault and harassment, the success of the #MeToo movement has sparked important conversations that our society needed to have. The list goes on.”
Not all Rider students and faculty have been relatively new in their activism, veteran advocate English professor Jack Sullivan has been involved in protests and marches since his high school days when he gave speeches in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Having graduated from Furman University, a conservative southern college, he progressively protested against prominent issues such as racism, sexism and the Vietnam War through his school’s organization, the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC). His group was even followed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation when they were involved in a demonstration against the Orangeburg Massacre.
Sullivan stated, “It was just as bad as Kent State, but because it was black students who were shot to death by police, it was like nobody cared, so we organized right away.”
His organization rallied against many injustices.
“We ended up having 100 people in it at one time, more than the Baptist Student Union which was deeply upset. We organized [demonstrations protesting] many local issues,” Sullivan reflected. “We had to parietal dorm hours for women. There were all sorts of discrimination against women. Women couldn’t even wear pantsuits to classes.”
Comparing his involvement in college, he said he is impressed with the millennial advocates, especially with the “pragmatic” Women’s March. “ I think the Trump thing really stunned people into activism. People are traumatized by it.”
Standing at the corner of 81st and Central Park West, he observed, “It was still very friendly. It was more seasoned. It was more like, ‘We’ve been there, done that. We’re going to keep doing it.’ It was more resolved.”
“The Trump resistance seems more organized,” he continued, “So back in my day, people were disdainful of voting, but I think it’s really important. You got to start with people who can actually pass laws and protect us from really wicked new laws that are coming down, especially on women.”
Senior political science major Kenneth Dillon noticed the message of the march to be the power of voting. “This year, the organizers of the march were focused on voter registration, which sends a clear message that women’s rights are going to be an important topic in this November’s midterm elections,” Dillon said. “The more idealistic message of the march is that solidarity is key to fighting for women’s rights and place in society.”
Those fighting for that message spanned all ages.
Fanelli said she saw “grandparents, parents, single fathers who came in with their daughters, mothers with sons.”
“All the kids had protest signs they had made, one of my favorites being a little girl who proudly wrote ‘Trump eats farts,’” she said.
In the midst of creative signs and pink hats, Fanelli noticed the children.
“I didn’t even start going to protest until I was in college, and to see a group of kindergartners was a bit of a surprise,” Fanelli said. “Don’t get me wrong, it made me happy to see the younger generations getting involved and learning about their rights to freedom of assembly and free speech, but it was heartbreaking in a way. I couldn’t help but ask myself what had these children seen or heard in the past year, whether in school or on TV, that made them feel the pressing need to come out and protest.”
One image that stood out to Dillon was seeing that there were men in solidarity with women.
Dillon said, “When my friends and I were standing among the growing crowd waiting for the march to begin, I ended up standing next to a man holding a sign that read, ‘Real Men are Allies, not All Lies.’ It’s important for men to see themselves as allies, not the center of attention.”
The visibility of women’s rights issues needs to be addressed at Rider for the fight to continue and diverse people to get involved, according to Sullivan.
He said, “There needs to be [a more prominent democratic club]. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and there is a very vital resistance, obviously. I think it would be great if we had regular meetings, have somebody who’s in charge, have a whole structure to it. I think Rider Resistance has a nice ring to it. I’m happy to join. Sign me up.”
Senior English major and marcher John Modica summed up the effectiveness of the women’s march with the belief that this is a continued movement, in spite of some criticism.
“Some people go to make the best sign or go to take an Instagram photo and be like, ‘Look how woke I am,’ but at the end of the day, I know that the Women’s March is very intentional about bringing in speakers and putting out a platform that is particularly inclusive of the entire spectrum of feminism,” Modica said.” Does it always accomplish what it needs to? No, but it’s an ambitious goal. I see the Women’s March as an opportunity for people of many different perspectives on different problems and issues to, at least, come together and not necessarily agree on one certain agenda — that would be impossible. However, I do think that it marches towards it.”
Published in the 1/31/18 edition.