Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Women’s march not just for urban folk

On Saturday, as I browsed media coverage of the Women’s March, my husband was the first to alert me to the number of rural communities participating in the march that day. As he referred to the spreadsheet organized by Professors Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman, who were collectively documenting crowd sizes across the country, he began to name the small communities in Michigan where women were gathering. Small towns in Michigan were of particular interest to us because we both grew up in the state. “Clare, Michigan, somewhere between 24 and 75 people,” he read aloud. “Copper Harbor, Michigan…19 people?!” (19 people and 2 dogs to be exact). 

By all accounts these communities are considered rural. Clare consists of approximately 3,118 residents, while Copper Harbor consists of only 108 residents. Needless to say, we were surprised to see organized groups in these areas.

Meanwhile, across the country, millions of people were marching for women’s rights and against Trump. Although the largest crowds were reported in Washington, D.C. and other metro areas like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Boston, news outlets also reported on the number of “sister marches” led by groups in small towns and cities in rural America. 

Given the contentious nature and geographic divide of this year’s election, one might assume that women would only march in states where Clinton won the vote, or at least in large urban areas that are more likely to represent democratic views. After all, rural America is disproportionately white, and Trump won 62% of the vote among rural white women

In fact, a Vox headline covering the Women’s March seemed to suggest surprise at the idea that women would organize in traditionally Republican states and communities. The headline read: “Women are marching in cities across the Midwest, the Rust Belt, and the South. They are even marching in states where Donald Trump won the presidency.”

My husband and I also shared that initial sentiment of surprise. We grew up in Michigan and we had some familiarity with the cultural make-up of the Michigan communities listed on the database. But as I reviewed the crowd estimates across the country, I began to feel ashamed that I doubted the ability of these communities to organize or thought that they wouldn’t be interested in showing their support for women’s rights.

Contrary to my initial assumptions, many rural communities across the country banded together in support of women’s rights, regardless of size. Here are just a few stories of those who participated: 
  • A small group of about 38 people organized in Unalakleet, Alaska   a city with a population of 700 – despite a weather forecast that predicted Saturday afternoon temperatures with a high of -19 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Singer-songwriter Carole King showed her support by protesting in her hometown of Stanley, Idaho, along with half the town, which has a population of approximately 60 people. 
  • Michelle Barton, a retired librarian, prepared to march in her rural town of Longville, Minnesota (population of less than 200) because she was unable to travel to a larger march in Bemidji or Fargo. Barton had posted a local Facebook event about the march, but she didn’t think anyone would join her and prepared to march solo. To her surprise, 66 people showed up to march with her on Saturday.
Finally, I stumbled across an opinion piece written by Zachary Michael Jack - an author who writes about life in the modern Midwest. His article should serve as a reminder that this isn’t the first time rural women have banded together to advocate for women’s rights.

Jack’s piece, published in the Des Moines Register a few days before the march, reflected on his first experience with a women’s protest  – when he attended the Fourth of July parade at age 12 in his hometown of Cedar Bluff, in rural eastern Iowa. That year, in July of 1986, five women dressed as Lady Liberty and rode topless across a women’s rights float, sending a message against pornography and objectification. And on that day, a crowd of approximately 15,000 people gathered, even though Cedar Bluff had less than 50 residents.

Although some participants used the march to protest against the Trump administration and Trump’s remarks on the campaign trail  – donning pink knit “pussy hats” and “nasty woman” tees  – to many participants, the march meant more than that. The national mission of the march was to send a message to the new administration that “women’s rights are human rights.” But organizers in Anchorage, Alaska insist that the march was also about issues that have affected their local communities for some time. 

To them, it was an opportunity for these communities to “stand up and do something.” The march was a way for their voice to be heard and they did not hesitate to show their support for women's rights. Regardless of their size or cultural backgrounds, some women in rural communities chose to stand together in solidarity.


Anonymous said...

This post has me thinking about the "Cheers" trope of rural places, that they are close-knit and everybody knows your name. It likely follows that everyone knows your politics, too. To the extent this is true, we might be surprised at first to see people rallying to show strength and resistance -- if everyone knows everyone else's politics, what's the point?

But the counterpoint is that -- again, to the extent that the trope is accurate and is doing work in these instances -- these folks know where their allies are and do not suffer from the sometimes-paralyzing effects of anonymity. "If I don't march, no one will miss me." "I won't know anyone there." "In a country/state/city as large as ours, my voice won't make a difference."

The estimates of 3-4 million marchers in a country of 308 million works out to around one percent of the population, which is staggering. But when we look at 19 people marching in a town of 108, that's more than one-sixth of the population. (And 66 people out of 208 is nearly one-third!)

A final thought: the mixed blessing of political action in a depopulated place is that your grassroots turnout is likely to be of the scale that humans are capable of managing. Anthropology -- and common sense -- tell us that discussions work best in small groups and that social structures start to unravel once they exceed a one or two hundred individuals. In that sense, it's better to be an activist in Copper Harbor than in Washington, DC!

Jenna said...

I was watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee this week and I was particularly excited for her coverage of the Women's March. I was expecting it to be full of her usual humor and sarcasm and was looking forward to her jokes about Trump and the "pussy hats." What I was not expecting was for her to play a clip from Fox News (that I would otherwise have never seen) that actually related to this class. Samantha Bee introduced this clip by saying: "There were sister marches from coast to coast. And if you watch Fox, nowhere in between."

According to these Fox new anchors and personalities, the Women's March was made up of "[l]iberal people from liberal cities" and happened exclusively in "liberal enclaves." Indeed, one anchor even stated that she was "not sure that is a message that is going to resonate outside liberal cities."

As seen by the many smaller sister marches that Kelley pointed out occurred in various conservative, rural, and small cities across the country, these anchors were obviously wrong. Whether they chose to ignore these sister marches so that they would not have to address the fact that the March's message did in fact resonate across the country or because they wanted to downplay the sheer size of these marches is unclear. However, I believe that this clip makes it obvious that even news stations which cater to conservative populations forget to address the concerns and actions of their viewers if they do not live in urban communities.

ofilbrandt said...

I commented on Danielle's post that rallies and demonstrations against Trump are much more widespread in the wake of his election than other elections and are especially strong in urban centers. ( I posed the question: does being in a rural populations necessarily mean that you are disconnected and struggle to organize? Your analysis seems to answer that this is not the case.

However, I would still posit that there remain limitations to demonstrations in rural settings that do not exist in urban settings. The commenter above pointed out that in small towns everyone knows your politics so whats the point? While I don't agree with this, it is a salient point. Far-reaching news outlets are not likely to hear about your demonstration and message. The sort of funding and organizational resources useful to "get the ball rolling" are more scarce. The vast majority of these larger marches were organized on Facebook, and Twitter that require accessibility.

Institutional barriers, on top of human capital barriers, limit rural demonstrations which make your findings even more remarkable.

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