Most Influential Seattleites of 2017: Organizers of the Womxn’s March on Seattle

Meet the Seattle leaders of the women-led resistance.

In the days after last November’s presidential election, many Seattle women talked of crossing the country to attend the Women’s March on Washington, planned for January 17, the day after the inauguration. Instead, within days, they found a local alternative: the Womxn’s March on Seattle. 

Thanks to the power of social media and conference call technology, a few local women tapped into a rapidly organizing national tour de force that saw the creation of state and city groups within days of the election. The growing Seattle group decided to organize its own march.

Among the organizers was Keala Aronowitz. “Early on, we decided we weren’t going to have a hierarchy,” she says. “Our group was open to anyone who wanted to join and each woman had an equal vote.” The racially diverse core group of approximately 20, ranged in age from 22 to 64 and brought a variety of skills and sensibilities to the table. Some were veteran community activists and protesters. Others were new to political expression. 

Rather than featuring politicians and other famous speakers, the Seattle march deliberately chose to highlight some of the 180 participating organizations, representing disenfranchised groups that would be most impacted by a Trump administration, such as those focused on immigrant rights, reproductive rights and climate issues. Organizers also chose to use the word “womxn,” a more gender-inclusive term.

As word of mouth and Facebook shares spread, the number of potential participants grew, which complicated logistics. “We were hoping for 75,000 marchers,” says organizer Liz Hunter-Keller, laughing. Final estimates put the number somewhere between 120,000 and 175,000.

The march’s 3.5-mile route through Seattle was a powerful display of solidarity. There were magical moments, such as when the indigenous women leading the march arrived at Seattle Center, just as eagles were seen flying overhead. But the real magic lies in the results: Volunteer “connectors” matched 15,000 people with social justice organizations, leading to 500 new volunteer sign-ups, nearly $25,000,000 of funds raised that day for those organizations, and several truckloads of donated goods sent to support Mary’s Place homeless shelters.

Once the march was over, its spirit continued in the Seattle Womxn Marching Forward movement. This group has encouraged participation in national efforts, such as 10 actions in 100 days and 5 Calls, as well as local marches and events. In May, the group organized a Town Hall community convergence of small nonprofit organizations to help develop action plans and get the support and help they need. 

“The reason I march and will keep marching is I believe you have to voice your opposition to injustice, especially when there is no social justice for everyone,” says outreach organizer Palmira Figueroa.

“I have never been silent,” says Charmaine Slye, a veteran of the civil rights movement, who enjoyed working with younger activists. Now, she’s encouraging the group to take a hard look at what comes next. “We don’t want to duplicate efforts, but we are committed to the organizations we started working with,” she says.

Though the Seattle Womxn’s March was a first for Joy Gerhard, it won’t be her last.  “I now have a rotating collection of posters that I keep in my car, so that I’m ready to participate in other marches,” she says. 

“Putting your foot through the door is easy,” says first-time marcher Kate Burnley. “The next part is hard.”

Read about the rest of 2017's Most Influential Seattleites here.

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