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Women march for more than poll power
Sexual abuse, immigrants rights and racism also addressed
W 012118 WOMENS MARCH 03
Participants in Sunday's Power to the Polls Women's March in Statesboro circle the Bulloch County Courthouse before staging a rally. About 200 attended the march and rally, where speakers, poets and musicians expressed their thoughts about women's, immigration and LGBTQ rights, as well as civic engagement. The rally also included a voter registration drive.

Some 200 or more people taking part in the second annual Women's March in Statesboro rallied for "Power to the Polls" Sunday afternoon, but not just for electoral clout and electing more women.

Resistance to racial and anti-immigrant prejudice and rejection of sexual victimization from harassment to rape were topics of outspoken concern and personal stories.

"In 2017 women on the local and national level rose up and spoke up," said event emcee Jill Johns, greeting marchers. "We raised our hands and said, ‘Me Too,' and it wasn't easy. 2018 is the year of showing up, at home, at our places of work and especially at the ballot box."

Marchers first gathered outside the Bulloch County Annex, the local voting headquarters. Lead organizers Suzanne Hallman, Johns, Suzanne Shurling and Ivory Watts coached them on chants such as "The people, united, will never be defeated!" and the call-and-response, "Who's got the power? We got the power!"

Thus chanting and cheering, the phalanx of activism marched down North Main to the courthouse and circled it two or three times before gathering on the lawn. "I am no longer accepting things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept," stated one woman's sign. Another's proclaimed, "If you elect a clown - Expect a circus."


New goals?

"I don't think the goals have changed so much as we're pushing more for action on those goals and objectives that we had last year," Watts said in a brief interview. "With this being 2018 and election year, that's why the theme is Power to the Polls. We're trying to encourage more people, especially women, to run for office, especially when it comes to local offices."

Last year's march, like many across the country, occurred the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration. This year's was held on the anniversary of the first. Organizers have insisted that the marches are not specifically anti-Trump.

"It's definitely not partisan, but at the same time we have to be realistic of what our goals are, and we came together as against what Trump and his policies are," Watts said.

She is current chair of the Bulloch County Democratic Party. In 2017, Watts was also campaign director for now-Mayor Jonathan McCollar's successful effort in Statesboro's nonpartisan city election.

Watts carried a sign that read, "Angry Black Woman" and wore a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt.

"We have to remember that women are also black women, and a lot of times we're not looked at the same," she said. "When we're talking about the pay gap, a lot of times you hear that women are paid 70 cents to the dollar, when in actuality, black women are paid 57 cents and Latino women are paid 53 percent."

In her rally remarks, Watts called for "intersectional" action, with people seeking equality for people who are not like them.

"We vote because that's the least we can do," she said. "We vote because black lives matter, DREAMers' lives matter, LGBTQ lives matter and sexual assault victims' lives matter. If it's not intersectional, it's just white supremacy."

"DREAMers" are potential beneficiaries of the proposed DREAM Act, providing a path to lawful permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. LGBTQ means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and "queer" or "questioning."


Immigrants' reality

Maria Olivas, a second-year doctoral student in public health at Georgia Southern University and now a U.S. citizen, spoke about her experience as a childhood undocumented immigrant. She also quoted Trump's recent profane disparagement of immigrants from certain countries and noted that Americans often dismiss them as people who will not contribute.

"But the reality is different," Olivas said. "We come here because difficult circumstances obligate us to leave our country and sometimes there are things that are out of control."

In the late 1980s, a war she described as "funded and supported by the U.S." was underway in Nicaragua. Boys as young as 12 were being forced to fight, so her mother fled the country with Olivas' brothers, traveling first to Guatemala and Mexico. Olivas and her sisters remained with their father for a time, and after he sent them to their mother, he died and Olivas never saw him again.

As an undocumented immigrant, her mother had to work hard, was always underpaid, and a landlord threatened to call immigration authorities if the rent was ever late, Olivas said.

"So when we talk about immigration, we must remember that each and every one has a story, and no one wants to leave their family, their homeland and their parents and everything they have because they choose to, OK?" Olivas said. "We must consider the circumstances that force people to make this difficult decision, and unless you are a Native American, rightfully owner of this land, we are all immigrants."



Elisabeth Malloy, a sophomore political science student at Georgia Southern, self-identified as a rape victim in speaking about sexual assault and the #MeToo movement.

"Me too. In my freshman year of college, I was raped," Malloy said.

When she finally found the courage to seek help, she sat down in a conference room with faculty members and was told, "(Expletive) happens," she said. The only woman in the room, a student graduate assistant, was the one person to help Malloy at that time, comforting her and helping her find the counseling center and the dean of students, she said.

"When further action against my rapist was finally taken through the dean and Title IX, it was discovered that the original professors never even filed a report," Malloy said.

A taboo against talking about sexual assault and harassment has been extremely isolating to victims and served their abusers as a control mechanism, she said. The MeToo movement took off as a social media hashtag last fall.

"What this movement did for me, and what I think a lot of people never realized that it started doing, is that it gave people who were still struggling with their stories hope, hope that the world is changing, hope that this behavior will not, will never be tolerated," Malloy said.


Other voices

Kannette King, in 11th grade at Statesboro High, read her poem "In America," which begins, "To be black and woman in America is to be the mother of a child that doesn't claim you."

Rylee Martindale-Rushing, fifth-grader, Girl Scout and honor student, recited the poem "United" by fellow "kid activist" Erica ML.

About a dozen speakers, poets and musicians were heard during the rally. Adrianne McCollar, wife of the new mayor, named some of her "sheroes," or female heroes, local and national. She also announced that she will run for a Bulloch County Board of Education seat.

Meanwhile, Women's March volunteer Janice Cawthorn staffed a voter registration table. By the end of the rally, four people had registered to vote in Bulloch County.

"That's four we didn't have," she said.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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