Marching back to Bowling Green: WKU and the women’s march

This story is the first in a series about WKU students who participated in the Women’s March on Washington. 

A twelve-hour bus ride. Over one million marchers in Washington, D.C. A group of 26 WKU students joining their ranks.

And it was all the weekend before the start of the spring semester.

The Center for Citizenship and Social Justice led the WKU students on a trip, at no cost to the students, to Washington, D.C., so they could add their voices directly to the Women’s March on Saturday.

Gallatin, Tennessee sophomore Annalicia Carlson was one of these students. She said the experience was incredible.

“Me, standing around over a million people, I’m telling you right now, it was peaceful, and it was love, and it was not anything of hatred being spoken out of our mouths, and we were not standing up for anything other than what we rightfully deserve,” Carlson said. “What we were doing can’t even really be described as fighting, because there was no hate being preached whatsoever, so please do not believe what you will see and that you will continue to see about the march.”

The Women’s March on Washington was “a grassroots effort comprised of dozens of independent coordinators at the state level,” according to its website. The march featured a wide range of speakers and performers. Protesters held signs with different messages that declared what they were marching for. One on a pink background said, “Girls just want to have fun-damental rights.” Another bright red sign with bold text said, “Working women of the world unite!”

After the official march ended, the marchers continued to fill the streets of D.C. in countless offshoot protests. Following a protest in front of a hotel owned by Donald Trump, signs were left on the ground.

Leah Ashwill, director of the Center for Citizenship and Social Justice, said the WKU students decided to attend the march for a number of reasons.

“Where should I start?” she said. “Well, it’s actually much larger than women’s rights. That’s one thing that was interesting about this march … women were marching for many of the things that, perhaps, marginalized groups could have felt threatened by in this change in administration.”

Carlson said she marched because of the way she interacted with her family and resisted being put into a box.

“From a very young age, I was brought up to be a very traditionalistic [sic] woman, and that’s just not what I was,” Carlson said. “So from a very young age, I started resisting that … I march for that, too, because I, myself, I’ve experienced that oppression in some way, shape or form. And then other women have experienced it way, way more than I have, to an extent where I can’t even fathom.”

Ashwill said CCSJ had clear goals in mind for the organization of the trip.

“I think what I’m most excited about in regard to this trip is that it was really a great opportunity to identify and support a collective group of students across campus who are passionate and encouraged and looking forward to taking some next steps to work on issues that are important to them and in line with why they marched,” she said.

Returning to Bowling Green, the 26 students intended to take the experiences of the march and transform them into practical changes in the community on and around campus. The students have plans to meet to share ideas for activism and positive change.

According to the Women’s March website, organizers encourage participants to take 10 actions over the next 100 days to continue the activism they showed in D.C.

Des Moines, Iowa junior Murphy Burke said she wanted to follow this 10-step action plan. To her, bringing lessons and ideas back to Bowling Green from the march involves her in “an ongoing movement.”

Burke said she and other marchers from WKU plan to meet and take these steps together.

“So just once a month, maybe over the next couple of months, we gather and we do whatever action is supported as millions of Americans do the same,” Burke said. “This month, it’s write a postcard to your elected representatives.”

Burke is the president of the Coalition for Social Justice, and she said she plans to use that position for the fulfillment of the activism the march has sparked.

The CCSJ plans to help the group of students as they participate in these actions. With the ability to provide funding to students who have community service projects in mind, the center can help students shape and grow their activism. The meetings that students plan to hold will be supervised and facilitated by members of CCSJ.

Ashwill said this is the purpose of the center.

“There is such a plethora of issues that might ignite passion in any one person,” she said. “And so our job as a center and as a staff and as the faculty of these departments [is] to really help students not feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of need and issues and public problems that exist, but to really help and support and empower them to decide how they want to make a difference.”

One request CCSJ made of the students was that they interview three marchers outside of their group in Washington, D.C. Their questions had to include where the marchers were from, why they marched and what they would bring home with them from the march.

Des Moines, Iowa junior Lily Nellans spoke to marchers from Maryland and Virginia.

“One student I talked to in particular was a health major,” Nellans said. “And [she] said that the movement inspired her to think about how her major in health sciences connected to issues of social justice.”

Carlson interviewed with a California marcher whose reason for marching was, “Why not?”

“Like, of course, like, why wouldn’t you?” Carlson said. “I just kind of feel like that sums up why everyone did. Like, why wouldn’t you go fight for that?”