By Megan Lupo
The day after a cluster of red caps embroidered with the slogan “Make America Great Again” gathered for Donald Trump’s inauguration, a vast assemblage of pink hats and empowering, feminist posters swarmed the National Mall for the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21.
Beginning at the rally point at Independence Avenue and Third Street, southwest of the Capitol building, 1.2 million demonstrators marched to send the message about protecting human rights for the world to hear.
Joining the millions of people at this historic march were 56 Rider students and faculty, but the road to the protest was no simple task.
After hearing about the march a few days after the presidential election at the Gender and Sexuality Studies forum, Mary Morse, English professor and director of the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, knew that there wasn’t enough money in her budget to plan the trip, but she knew who to contact to make going to this march a reality: Vice President of Student Government Association John Modica.
“I asked him, ‘Would this be something that Student Government Association would consider funding?’” Morse said.
Morse and Modica first brought in Rider’s United Women and Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX) to help sponsor the trip and then got the bus quote through Rider’s affiliation with Stout’s Charter Company.
“I, as vice president, put in a funding request for the amount of money for the bus, and, then, I had to go before the finance board to just make my case as to why I thought that this was important and why it should be funded,” Modica explained. “Luckily enough, the finance board gave us full funding for the bus.”
After Rider had approved, Modica took upon the rest of the planning himself, which included securing the permit, determining the route, contacting the national organizers to register and creating publicity around campus to get students involved.
“It would not have happened without John,” Morse said. “I don’t take credit for this other than putting the wheels in motion and going to the provost, making her aware that we were going to have this bus.”
Morse explained that the journey to the march became a “university event” with the help of faculty members.
“The next thing I know, Provost DonnaJean Fredeen said, ‘Well, I’ll supply lunches for everyone on the bus,’ and Jonathan Millen, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, had said, ‘Well, I will fund T-shirts for the event,’” Morse said.
The university’s sense of harmony in supporting this cause carried well into the day, and from the moment that Rider students stepped off the bus in D.C. and made their way to the front, they were touched by the amount of diversity coming together.
“Every stretch of land was covered with people,” Modica said. “There was no block, no corner, no patch of grass that was not covered with someone with a sign, holding their child, holding their partner’s hand. It was incredible. I’ve never seen something so moving than seeing literally over a million people come out to say, ‘We want to protect those who might not be able to protect themselves.’ And when everyone shouts in unison, and that voice echoes down blocks and blocks of a city- that’s a feeling you will never be able to match. I wish I could relive that moment just because it’s something that I’m going to look back on and think like I was a part of something so much bigger than myself. It was cosmic because I felt, in that moment, I was marching not just with people around me, but people all over the world.”
One image that President of the Rider College Democrats Ruth Del Pino will never forget was one of simplicity, yet of fierce power.
“There was this moment when I looked over, and there was this baby girl in those pink hats that they had, and she had two moms,” Del Pino recalled. “What I really learned was that every family is unconventional in some way, but every family deserves a place in the United States. Every love, every kind of person and every kind of future that any American citizen will experience is all valid.”
However, along with the inspirational sights, there was a bittersweet feeling to the day.
“It was both heartening and disheartening to see women in their seventies and eighties, marching, using all this energy, and saying, ‘But I thought I was done with this. I thought we had achieved some level of equality,’” Morse said.
Although the march took place after the inauguration, the motive for many of those present was beyond politics.
“So many people came out to that march because we did not see it as an issue between Democrat and Republican; we saw it as an issue of humanity,” Modica said. “People around the world marched, of all different cultures and backgrounds and faiths, because this was a movement about women, about Muslims, about black people, about people of all identities, sexual orientations, genders. This movement is about protecting our fellow humans.”
Despite the inclusiveness that some of the people at the march might have felt, transgender activists have criticized it, citing that there was an intolerable message stating that “vaginas were essential to womanhood.”
“As a queer activist, I was very aware of the overwhelming narrative of vaginas being associated with womanhood,” Modica explained. “That was very omnipresent at the march. I’m going to agree with the transgender activists that said that. We, as feminists, have to be more aware and inclusive of the narratives that we create.”
Del Pino agreed, stating that although society is still trying to navigate around the definition of “womanhood,” the transgender community “deserves to be recognized.”
“We have to understand how to figure out how to include [the transgender community] better because every woman, every person that is affected by these policies that are coming up and by these services that are being taken away. These women and these men all deserve to be recognized. It’s just a matter of how, not when, because the time is now.”
As to what to do next to continue to support the cause of humanity, Del Pino advised people to stay educated, to not be afraid of politics and to just get involved.
“In whatever position you are and whatever title you hold, you are able to be an activist,” she said. “You are able to put forth the ability of yourself but, also, encourage the ability for others to participate in the movement.”
Modica echoed the same sentiment, stating that this is the first time Rider’s Student Government Association has organized a project directly related to a social justice movement.
“I want everyone at Rider to know that while you are in college, this is your opportunity to stand up and make a difference, so I’m hoping that this sets precedent at Rider that something like this is something that students not only can do but should do,” he said. “They should stand up for what they believe in, protest, fight and be loud.”
Originally published in the 2/1/17 edition.