PORTLAND — Lea Vlcek of Elkton describes herself as a long-time feminist. Feminists changed the world for women, she said, opening shelters for battered women, improving women’s health and opening up jobs to women where none had been before.
So for Vlcek, riding the bus to the Women’s March in Portland Saturday was all about continuing that legacy.
“It’s a constant struggle, and we’re not going away. We’re not giving up, we’re not giving one inch,” she said.
While the march was a show of unity, it was also uniquely personal. Each of the 16 people who trundled onto a chartered school bus early Saturday morning for the ride north had her (or in one case, his) own reason for being there.
For Francis Eatherington of Roseburg, Saturday’s march was about equality.
“Women are not equal and we want equality. Back in the ‘70s, we were on the way there, and we’re not there yet,” she said.
Mari Hess, a retired teacher from Roseburg, said President Donald Trump’s behavior sets a bad example for children.
“What has been called ‘political correctness’ is just civility. You don’t say things like what he said about women, about people, and call people names,” she said. “I don’t believe that’s any way to model to young citizens how to behave.”
Vlcek had a second reason, besides her feminism, for attending. She’s worried about what she sees as fascist tendencies in the new leadership in Washington, D.C. She’s concerned that neo-Nazis have saluted Trump, and doesn’t think he’s forcefully disavowed that action the way he should. It’s a theme that’s very personal for her, since her parents were both from Eastern Europe, where they experienced fascism first-hand. Her father had all his land stolen by the Russian government, while her mother suffered through the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia.
“I’m concerned for my country. My parents suffered so much coming here, running away from tyranny. I know what that kind of suffering does to people, and I don’t want to see it in my country,” she said. “I”m going to fight with everything I have to not have that happen here.”
Stacey McLaughlin of Myrtle Creek organized the bus trip. She said she’s “disturbed by the value system that seems to have entered the Oval Office.”
“I just want to be comfortable that I am not alone, that there are more people out there who are going to protect my rights,” she said.
She was most certainly not alone Saturday. On their arrival in Portland, the Douglas County residents joined a sea of close to 100,000 people, some men, most women, many there to voice dissent against the new president on his first day in office. And all were there to send a message that women’s rights are equal rights.
Marchers streamed from every direction into downtown, and they were sometimes packed like sardines waiting for the crowd to move.
One Portland journalist said it was the most people he’d seen gather there since former President Barack Obama visited during his first election campaign in 2008. Despite the numbers, the protest was remarkably civil and orderly. The marchers followed a prescribed route, interacted positively with police officers (some of whom wore pink hats to communicate their support for the marchers) and even piled garbage high on top of full garbage cans to avoid leaving litter behind them.
As they walked along the city streets, the marchers were greeted with cheers from others leaning out the windows of tall buildings or looking down from overhead walkways and bridges. They frequently broke into chants, like, “This is what democracy looks like,” and “We will not go away, welcome to your first day.”
It was a new and eye-opening experience for Larisa Czernowski of Roseburg. Czernnowski said she had never attended a protest before, but she wanted to learn more about women’s issues for the benefit of her 3-year-old daughter.
“I can only make her world as big as I’m willing to make mine,” she said.
Judy Martin of Roseburg said it was also her “first march ever.”
She had her granddaughter’s future in mind and said she wasn’t happy about things President Trump has said about grabbing women.
“It’s not OK to treat women the way he has treated them,” she said.
Her husband, Mike Martin, was the lone man who came along on the bus. Asked why he came, he gave a simple answer:
“My wife asked me if I would,” he said.
He also was concerned for all his female relatives.
“I go as a son and as a brother and as a husband and as a father and a grandfather,” he said. “It’s important to me that all people, women included, are treated equitably and with respect. I don’t think my president has done anything to indicate that he shares that belief.”