A year ago, the Women’s March in Washington and 673 sister events worldwide including one in Atlanta brought millions of people to their feet to protest Donald Trump’s election. On this year’s anniversary, organizers hope to bring those people to the polls.
Rather than commemorating the anniversary with another march, Atlanta organizers are holding a Power to the Polls rally on Saturday, Jan. 20, where the focus will shift from mobilizing to strategizing about the midterm elections.
Women around the country will again don knitted pink “pussyhats,” which became the march’s trademark, at similar rallies in other cities. Organizers of the Washington Women’s March are holding their Power to the Polls rally in Las Vegas.
“We are taking the model that was powerfully used by Dr. Martin Luther King,” said attorney Gerald A. Griggs, an Atlanta NAACP officer and organizer of last year’s Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women, which drew 63,000 Georgians. “Dr. King didn’t have multiple national marches. He had one. After that first march, he moved to policy and legislative changes and that is exactly what we are doing. The march was powerful; that moment can never be recreated. But we are pushing from a march to a movement.”
And the focus of that movement is the November elections, said Janel Green, co-organizer of the Atlanta Women’s March and co-founder of the advocacy group that grew out of the march, the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice.
“Like the national Women’s March organization, we have made the decision not to march,” said Green. “We chose an event that would be more of a rally to get people to recognize the need for progressives to be more successful in the 2018 midterms. Our focus is to inspire people to run for office and connect with nonprofits and grass-roots organization that are doing meaningful work on social issues.”
To that end, the noon to 4 p.m. rally at the Bakery, a warehouse events space in southwest Atlanta along the Beltline, will begin outside with a slate of speakers including U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Lithonia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a state representative from Atlanta, and Doraville council member Stephe Koontz, Georgia’s only transgender elected official. The event will then move indoors for “Social Justice City” where participants can talk to advocacy groups and attend a session on running for office or how the legislative process works.
In the year since the Women’s March, the #MeToo movement erupted, revealing the shocking depth and breadth of sexual harassment in the United States. The Power to the Polls rally in Atlanta will include an open-microphone #MeToo demonstration in which participants will be invited to share their experiences. There will be entertainment on the outdoor stage, and food trucks.
Green and Griggs expect between 2,000 and 5,000 people at the rally, although they only predicted 10,000 at the Atlanta march last year and six times that number showed up, turning the march into one of the largest social-justice gatherings in Georgia history.
“We are just using those numbers based on the level of interest we have gotten thus far,” said Green. “There are definitely people who are not happy we are not marching, so we think those people are not going to come. This targets people ready to dive in and do the work, people who will become leaders in their communities, spreading out across the state and doing the work.”
After last year’s march, held a day after Trump’s inauguration, Green said Georgians were energized by the massive turnout in Washington, Atlanta and other cities.
“People who had not felt empowered and not felt safe in speaking out — some people didn’t even feel safe to say ‘I am a Democrat’ in their community — made connections and now feel safer. Those fears have been diminished. People have found their voice and are really taking action,” she said.
Another change is that Georgia is now vying for businesses like Amazon that insist on diverse communities and want progressive public policies. The stunning turnout at the Atlanta march helped rebrand Georgia, said Griggs, “as a state that is too busy too hate, just like Atlanta is a city too busy to hate.”