AP NEWS

Inspiration aplenty for local women set to march

January 20, 2017

Rosemarie Bostelman will march for reproductive rights.

Julie O’Beirne will march for equal pay and universal, single-payer health insurance.

Rachel Tobin-Smith will march for an end to violence against women, equal pay and women’s health.

They are among hundreds of northeast Indiana residents who will participate Saturday in the Women’s March on Washington. About 200,000 people are expected to be at the National Mall from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to raise awareness of women’s issues and voice their opposition to any efforts by Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican-controlled Congress to curtail women’s rights.

Tobin-Smith said she does not think the variety of women’s causes that will fuel the march, which might include progressive stances on climate change, immigration, gun violence and criminal justice, will dilute the overall message.

“If we strengthen any issue for women, we’re strengthening all women. And I think that that’s what’s happening here,” said Tobin-Smith, 63, who retired recently after 31 years as the executive director of the nonprofit SCAN (Stop Childhood Abuse and Neglect).

Although the Women’s March will happen the day after Trump is inaugurated, and the event was hatched in November on Facebook by a Hawaiian woman as Election Night returns showed Trump defeating Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, organizers have told news media it will not be an expressly anti-Trump demonstration. But it is for a Fort Wayne resident who will be there.

“I’ve always worked to advocate for women’s rights, and this particular incoming president is the opposite of anything I’ve worked for my entire career,” said social worker MaryClare Akers, 35.

Akers said Trump “devalues women” with his long record of misogynistic comments, including a 2005 video in which Trump remarked that he “could do anything” to women, including grabbing their genitals, because he is “a star.”

“We are more than half the country,” Akers said about the female population in the U.S. “We have more degrees, more working hours than men in the United States, and we still are getting pushed down and told that it’s OK to say that they can grab you by the privates and that that’s OK because it’s just something that boys do.”

Akers said she hopes Saturday’s march will encourage congressional Democrats to do whatever they can to prevent Trump’s GOP from diminishing women’s rights and advancements.

“I hope they will fight the fight that we need them to fight in office, and we’ll keep doing the work on the ground,” she said.

“I appreciate that change can happen,” Akers said. “I’m not real optimistic right now. We just went backwards, like, 40 years, in thought pro­cesses that I care about” because of Trump’s election.

Trump won 42 percent of the women’s vote in last year’s presidential election, according to exit polling data. He received 62 percent of the ballots cast by white women without college degrees.

Bostelman and O’Beirne said they want lawmakers of both parties to pay attention to the Women’s March.

“I hope the march brings to light to our legislators that we’re watching, that we need to work together, that we do not want to go backwards,” O’Beirne said.

Bostelman plans to distribute lists of federal legislators’ names, phone numbers, mailing addresses and email addresses to marchers.

“Of course we can’t make (lawmakers) do anything, but we want them to know we’re here and we’re watching what they’re doing,” she said.

Bostelman, 70, operated a Fort Wayne insurance agency for 40 years and helped found the Women’s Bureau, whose mission is empowering women. She said she took part in a march in Chicago on Mother’s Day 1980 to press for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Although the constitutional amendment failed, Bostelman said women have made gains since then that she worries could be undermined by Trump.

“I’m seeing that all fall apart,” she said. “It’s very scary for me as a woman looking back on all that we’ve had to do and sacrifice to get to this point. And so I just want to be vocal and visual, to at least let the powers that be know that there are those of us who have the history who want to keep this positive environment for young women.”

Bostelman said she will carry a sign at the march that states “Our Bodies, Our Choice” in support of reproductive rights. She also favors the preservation of mandatory insurance coverage for contraceptives and continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

She and O’Beirne, 55, will sit together on a charter bus that leaves Fort Wayne this evening and returns to town early Sunday morning – one of at least five buses that will carry more than 250 women from Fort Wayne, North Manchester and Elkhart to the march. Bostelman and O’Beirne didn’t know each other until the event was being organized.

O’Beirne lives outside Decatur and works in commercial site development. She estimates that since 1990, she has earned $500,000 less than men who have the same job in her field.

O’Beirne said she appreciates that Bostelman and others marched for women’s rights decades ago.

“Now I just feel like it’s my turn,” she said. “Those people provided me with opportunity I wouldn’t have. What I do for a living wasn’t even available to women” in the 1970s.

Tobin-Smith will attend the march with her 30-year-old daughter, Gabriel, who lives in Philadelphia. Tobin-Smith stressed that she is not going to Washington to protest Trump, although she does regard Trump’s election as a catalyst for greater activism by women.

“I believe that some of the issues that came up during the election really helped us realize that women needed to come together and work together,” she said.

“It’s just created a movement like I haven’t seen before,” Tobin-Smith said. “It’s exciting to have women together with a voice, even if the voices have different issues.”

bfrancisco@jg.net