Maureen O’Hanlon and Claire Sanchez make signs for a Women’s March in Sitka on Saturday (01-21-17). Organizers say the march is to “in solidarity with other marchers, people standing for equality, tolerance, freedom of religion, respect for Mother Earth and our rights for our quality of life.” (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

On Friday (01-20-17), Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. And among the throngs gathering in Washington D.C. to attend is an expected crowd of hundreds of thousand, from around the world, in protest.

The Women’s March on Washington is coordinating buses to Washington D.C. for a grand showing of female power and human rights advocacy. It’s inspiring marches around Alaska. One will be held in Sitka on Saturday (01-21-17). Over 200 have expressed interest on Facebook. And while organizers say the march will give voices to issues locals care about, other don’t see it that way. 

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The night of the election, Marian Allen said she wanted to do something and something good. “I heard about this Women’s March on Washington and I thought, ‘Oh what a great idea.'”

“You’re going to make me cry!,” says Kathy Ingallinera, as Tina Bachmeier displays her sign march on Saturday (01-21-17). It says, “Dear the women who started this fight, it’s an honor to take each step with you.” (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

In the past few weeks, Allen and other organizers coordinated a Women’s March on Sitka that will begin at the Crescent Harbor Shelter and end at St. Peter’s See House. Allen plans to fill the space with tables, hosted by local non-profits, that invites marchers to take direct action on local issues.  “I feel that change is going to come from the ground up. Washington is so deadlocked. That I think it’s really going to be a groundswell of people. Just as the whole issue around gay marriage…it’s a non-issue with the younger generation so old people can get all hot and bothered by it, but 25 years from now it won’t be an issue.” 

Organizers gathered on Sunday (01-15-17), a few days before the Sitka March,  at the Island Institute. Markers and paint and poster board are strewn about the floor. Most of the dozen signmakers are young women, some a part of a local activist group that meets every weekend. They’re coloring in block letters for subsistence, gender equality and multiculturalism. One sign says, ”Dear the women who started this fight, it’s an honor to take each step with you.”

Allen said the Millennial generation inspires her. “I was a women’s studies major as an undergrad – the first woman ever to graduate from UC Berkeley with it. And just connecting with this young people just made me realize that it’s coming into being. There’s this huge upsurge of people that are just accepting that it’s what you want to be, not your definition by your gender or your sexual orientation or the color of your skin or your religion. The younger generation gets it,” she said. 

Co-organizer Kathy Ingallinera says the march is open to all – “men can come, children can come, well-behaved dogs can come” – and the last time she marched with Sitkans was in 2003, condemning the War in Iraq. She made a sign for her dog that said, “Peace! Now wouldn’t that be a treat.” For Ingallinera, this time it’s about marching for something, not against, and she wants her sign to reflect that. “I might go with healthcare. Or women’s rights. Or LGBT. There’s so many issues we have to address,” she said. 

“Sitka is a marching town,” said Marian Hall. “And there are a lot of people how like to express their first amendment rights that way.” Sitkans marched for the Civil Rights Act in 1964. (Photo by Martin Strand)

But Ingallinera thinks she wants to dedicate her sign to Representative John Lewis of Georgia, who said in an interview that Donald Trump was not a legitimate president because of Russian aid. In response, Trump tweeted that Lewis was ‘All talk, no action.” Ingallinera was devastated by that. “I just couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe he would knock down a civil rights pioneer,” she said.

This feuding on the national level has trickled down to Sitka.

When Ingallinera posted news of the march on Sitka Chatters, a Facebook group, an argument exploded over what the march really means. Most of the commenters are women. Faced with an uncertain future, Ingallinera wants critics to know Saturday’s gathering is less about Trump, and more about defending equality – for all people – and protection of the planet. And translating that into action on the ground.  “All these issues have been brought to the forefront in the last couple of months. Ones that, no matter who was in the presidency, we need to deal with. We need to work locally on these issues,” said Ingallinera. 

Kjersti Koskinen doesn’t see it that way. “To people not involved it in, it feels like it is about sour grapes with the election more than anything,” she said. 

Supporters and critics of the march have been debating its purpose on Chatters, a local Facebook group, all week.

Koskinen has been weighing in heavily on Facebook. She wrote, “I thought we were a place women could ALL be in solidarity rather than breaking off to be a special club only for women who hold the same political views.” For her, organizers can say they’re marching for groups and issues they care about, in an inclusive way, they’re really marching against Trump and half of Sitka’s voting population, who went for him.

“They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s not a protest. It’s merely a march.’ And I’m like, ‘But it’s linked to a protest! It’s in solidarity with a protest.’ Snoop Dogg has put out threats to people. Madonna has shaved her pubic hair for the event. You’re doing this in solidarity with all these people who are clearly protesting,” Koskinen said. 

Koskinen plans to watch the inauguration. While she declined to say who she voted for, is hopeful that Trump will surprise people. She likes that not everyone in his inner circle shares his views. “He met with Steve Harvey last week. People who didn’t vote for him. And they leave feeling like he is sincere. So, I’m encouraged by that. I’m encouraged that he surrounds himself by people who have different opinions than he does,” she said. 

And these next four years, when it comes to resolving problems in Sitka, Koskinen thinks protest is not the way. “I think it would be constructive to get people in a room to talk about issues. Like gun control. The pros and cons of everything. I think if you put people together and people can really talk about the pros and cons of things, they can find out where the common ground is and realize the other side isn’t as dumb as you think they are. And I don’t think that marching loudly and carrying signs doesn’t help.”

Koskinen ended by saying, “We all want the same thing, right? Peace and prosperity.” The question at the center then is which tools of our democracy are best for accomplishing that. The March begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday. 

Nina Vizcarrondo cares about the herring fishery and subsistence rights, and will be marching in the name of those causes on Saturday (01-21-7). (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)