Hundreds of islanders helped make history last Saturday, when they lent their voices, walking feet and sign-making creativity to protest marches in Seattle and beyond.
On Vashon, the day dawned gray as hundreds of people — many sporting the famed pink pussyhats worn by thousands who marched — lined up near the high school to board the seven chartered buses to Seattle. The transportation, which many considered a master work of organization, took more than 300 people into the city and brought them home again after the 3.7-mile trek from Judkins Park to the Seattle Center.
Islander Letitia Reason was on board bus one, where spirits were high. She hails from New Zealand and noted that both her home country and Australia were among those holding marches in solidarity with the United States.
“If you cannot find the energy and motivation that it takes to come to this, then we’re in bad straits,” she said. “I think that everything I hold dear and the values that are important to me are being challenged by this political turn.”
While the events on Saturday were billed as women’s marches, all people were welcome, and men, by some estimates, made up about one-third of the Seattle marchers. From Vashon, Roger Fick and his son Dylan, 11, were among them and also onboard a chartered bus.
“I believe in the mission of the march. It shows affirmation and respect for the diversity of American residents,” Fick said, adding, “And my wife went to Washington, and we didn’t.”
Traveling on the ferries was a prelude to the event itself, with the boats more full than most people had ever seen them and passengers traveling in full march regalia. At a table, 17-year-old Avery Jones spread out fabric embellishments for the pink hats, inviting those in the crowd to decorate theirs in return for a donation to Planned Parenthood. Her mother, Susan Jones, had put her sewing skills to work and made 21 fleece hats the night before, then handed them out to participants. On board the ferry, Avery Jones explained her purpose.
“Planned Parenthood means a lot to me and a lot of people,” she said. “If it is going to be one of the things Trump cuts, I want to be there to support it.”
Before the march, many knitters’ were hard at work, including Kathleen Johnson, who knitted hats for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and his husband, Michael Shiosaki. Johnson heads Vashon Youth &Family Services and belongs to the King County Alliance for Human Services. Her high profile hats began when she was at a meeting of the group last week and took her knitting along. She had questioned the appropriateness of doing so as a professional woman, she said, but forged ahead. The next day Johnson ran into a woman who had been at the meeting, who said the mayor had told her he would wear a hat in the march if he had one. With that, the hunt for a suitable pussyhat was on, and Johnson was pressed into service.
“I think I found the last bright pink skein of yarn in the city,” she said. “It was meant to be.”
The Seattle march itself drew as many as 175,000 people, and many of those who attended commented on the good feeling in the crowd as the marchers made their way through the city streets. Fran Brooks, who went with her 19-year-old daughter, Kaija Elenko, was among them.
“There was so much camaraderie,” Brooks said. “Our group grew as the day went on.”
Elenko, a freshman at the University of Montana, said she originally had not intended to go, but was glad she changed her mind.
“It ended up being really cool,” she said. “I did not see a single hate anything.”
While the marches held in the United States and around the world were in response to Trump’s election, the march in Seattle was not simply about being against him, but about being for many issues: equality and dignity for all, immigrants’ rights, climate change, access to health care and quality education among them. Many of those who attended marches other than Seattle shared similar observations.
Risa Stahl and planned on participating in the march in Seattle, but a sick child foiled those plans. Instead, she joined the last-minute march on Vashon, planned by Emily Wigley. Stahl said one unofficial count was 253 people and 22 dogs, much higher than what she expected, and a hit with those who attended.
“Everybody was so grateful that someone had the idea to organise a march on Vashon,” she said.
She ended up with another pleasant surprise when she found herself walking with a couple she had not ever met before, who know both the Obamas and the Clintons and shared their stories. The gray, rainy morning gave way to sun, and the marchers made their way from Center to town together, ending at the Village Green.
Other islanders opted for a middle ground between the small Vashon march and the long, march in Seattle by going to Olympia. More than 10,000 people attended that city’s 1-mile march. Karen Eliason, owner of Vashon Island Music, was among them.
“There were fantastic hats, signs, and outfits. It was definitely not just an anti-Trump rally. It was a show of positive passion about a wide variety of issues, including LGBTQ rights, health care, immigration and the environment,” she said.
The rain let up during the march and held off afterward as the group assembled on the steps of the capitol building.
“The entire plaza was packed and overflowing,” she said.
Vashon was represented in Hawaii, as well, when islanders Ann and George Lewis marched on Maui, where George Lewis grew up. In small world turn of events, the Lewises are friends with Teresa Shook, the Hawaiian woman who is credited with planting the seeds for Saturday’s events, when she wrote on Facebook after the election, “I think we should march.” Last year, in fact, Shook stayed on Vashon for a time, renting out space from Chad and Beth Magnuson.
Shook attended the march in Washington, DC, as did some 500,000 others, including Vashon’s Rebecca Wittman, who said last week that she was traveling to the Women’s March on Washington because she felt the need to join a proactive, effective chorus.
Afterward, she described the crush of the crowd — much larger than anticipated — and standing “shoulder to shoulder visiting with new friends from all over the world.” She added that the highlight for her was passing by the First Amendment carved in stone, looming over the marchers heads’ at the Newseum.
“It brought tears to my eyes. The whole day, my overarching thought was how the day before had felt like a funeral for truth. And so many of the signs in the crowd echoed that grief,” she wrote.
Despite hundreds of thousands of people being there to protest, marchers’ anger was tempered with joy, she noted.
“I feel hopeful for our country for the first time since election day,” she added.
On Vashon, stories and photos of the day have continued to be shared since Saturday. Among the sentiments repeatedly expressed was gratitude for Emmett Pickerel and Craig Berry, who arranged the school bus transportation to Seattle within days for hundreds of people — from an initial estimate of 20. On Sunday, Pickerel extended his own appreciation to the people who assisted, including Berry, the bus drivers and monitors, the flag makers and the ferry workers, who handled huge numbers of passengers crowding the boats’ upper decks. Pickerel, who works as a programmer, noted that he spent about 50 to 60 hours tending to the details of the trip, including writing a live web app to assist the bus monitors with checking people in and out. The day went mostly smoothly, he said, except for a flat tire on one bus, handled with speed, and a change in the bus parking location at the Seattle pick-up spot.
“I’ll be honest: I hadn’t slept very much and started panicking, but all of them (the bus monitors) were on top of it,” he said.
On Sunday evening, he acknowledged the gratitude coming his way — and looked ahead.
My work helped people create some good memories, and I am happy about that!” he said. “What I hope, though, is that many who made it there see it not as a great day, but a great first day. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”