Story by Cristina Cala. Portraits by Whitney Tressel and Megan Raney Aarons.
So far since the Women’s March on Washington, I have watched the video of Sophie Cruz giving the speech that brought the world to their knees, once a week, usually alone, always crying.
Sometimes, I can cry just thinking about her. All it takes is one image of the 6-year-old activist “making a chain of love” to protect American families, filled with love and “tenders,” and I just know it: The future is female. But I promise that’s not all I’ve been doing since the attending the Women’s March. No. I’ve been going through dozens and dozens of photos, audio interviews, video footage, and iPhone notes to pull together stories about the amazing women I met there for an initiative called The Why Women Project. It started as two of us, a writer and a photojournalist who wanted to capture some stories and a few portraits of other women who made the trip to D.C. Soon it was three of us, then four. I told friends I was heading to Washington with a few creative ladies and some cameras, and it became an all-female crew of seven women in media following on the trail of women who were mobilizing en masse.
More than a month later, Women's History Month could not be a more powerful moment to remember—and celebrate—why we marched. Going through all the footage, I’m reminded of what I knew when we started the project a few short days before the one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history: that what we need to move forward is to listen and hear the stories of other women. So set the feels aside (because co-chairs of the Women’s March remind us we can’t afford to get depressed!), and let these faces inspire you to change the course of history, and do what women do best. Rally. Rise. Resist.
Fatima Younis, 16, Frederick, Maryland
First of all, how can you not be inspired by this face. That may seem like it was supposed to be a question, but rest assured, it is a statement. Pop quiz: Is it even possible look at Fatima and not be motivated to get through your day? Correct response: Look. At. Her. Eyes. She has more resolve than a roomful of men signing pieces of paper about body parts they don’t even have. What’s even better, Fatima Younis is only 16 years old, and she’s already more politically aware than most kids I remember hanging out with. While my friends and I were leafing through the CD jacket liner notes of our boy-band album collections and tearing out Spice Girls interviews from Rolling Stone and plastering them inside our Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, Fatima was still years from becoming an early-stage-planner fighting against the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipeline in 2017. (Those were her first action items in response to executive orders immediately following the Women's March.) Plus, we asked her what she’s doing next, and she said this: “I think that right now, it's more important than ever to recognize that there are so many different and diverse groups of people in this country, yet what unites us is our passion for restoring justice and our love towards each other.”
Afua Anokwa, 35, Indianapolis
This is Afua. And she’s not backing down. Are you good at physics, and symbolism? Because if you are, you’ll understand the spatial and figurative value of Afua’s power stance in a crowd of half a million people. Do you have any idea how hard it was to find space in the crowd to get these shots, but more importantly, for Afua to stand her ground there in the name of social justice? (But also it was kind of easy, too, because everyone was so respectful and harmonious that I have no instances to report of anyone being rude or grumpy if you stepped on their toe.)
Now that she’s feeling the political power, Afua says she’s taking steps and encouraging others to move forward with her, in their own communities with action items like signing up for group initiatives, lending talents, and speaking out calling and writing representatives.
If that doesn’t motivate you, get a second cup of coffee and read this nugget of wisdom from Afua: “Never forget that there will be another big election in two years. My eyes are on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. On that day, we all have a chance to shape true change and I intend to let my vote count,” she says.
Tess Kim, 32, Brooklyn
Tess Kim wins. This shot focuses on her amazing look up close (she’s a makeup artist based in Brooklyn), but I encourage you to check out her whole outfit on The Why Women Project’s Instagram when you’re done reading about how hard she killed it at the march. Not only did she infuse her sense of style as a personal expression of the issues she cares about, she had the signage to match. (The block-letter font was dripping in green slime on the front of her sign, and read, simply, “NAH” in all CAPS on the back.) “I am not even close to the most marginalized, and I already feel like my rights have been [threatened],” she shared at the march. Tess and her parents moved to the U.S. from South Korea when she was in 3rd grade, and even though Tess was granted citizenship at 18, her parents are undocumented. She told us her parents try not to think about it, but she is terrified. When we caught up with her the week following, she was thinking of ways to activate on more of her key issues. She’s participating in the Women’s March 100 Actions campaign, counteracting at protests against Planned Parenthood, staying awake and aware, and donating.
Tess’s final action item is something that has characterized many eras of change: Make art. She and her friends have been throwing out ideas like starting a magazine or a podcast as a method of processing policy changes and amplifying a message to an audience. We’re with her.
Hester Sunshine, 32, Brooklyn
And then there’s Hester. She’s an accessories designer. I saw her at the march and got excited because I thought the actual Spice Girls were there. (Side convo, that would have been cool to see them perform but there’s always the next rally. I know they’re British and stuff. But still. Girl power.) Let’s talk about Hester Sunshine’s name for a second. OK, next topic. Her Instagram alone has the power to bring multicolored rays of light to your life, and in person her optimism is so beyond that I almost forgot that the body-policing Trump administration triggered a 900% increase in the demand for IUDs at Planned Parenthood. When we met her she told us she was marching for her wife and their right to be legally married and that she’d designed custom pussy hats just for the march. When I followed up with her, we had a thoughtful conversation about what the hat meant to her and her plans in response to the criticism of the symbolism.
Hester said she’d approached the design with the intention to reclaim the color pink as a response to Trump’s comments about grabbing women by the genitalia, but is super serious about addressing groups like trans women and women of color who felt excluded by the symbolism. For the new design, she’ll be donating proceeds to a cause like #blacklivesmatter or a group that needs immediate support based on policy changes happening in real time. She’s going to be changing the phrase “pussy power” on her design to a new statement with more inclusive language, and changing the color of the hat, possibly to purple (the color of inclusivity), so that more people feel they’re being represented.
Now, she says, she’s going to show up for groups of women outside of her experience, including attending immigration-solidarity protests with her partner, who is Iranian. “I understand where my privilege is and have accepted it, and I just hope to have learned from that and to use it to help as many people as possible.”
Tulaine Montgomery, 45, Washington D.C.
Tulaine Montgomery, a managing partner at a bipartisan venture philanthropy firm, wants to promote equity for education, access to healthy food and access to healthy living environments.
Tulaine makes me want to be a better person.
Her plan of action is twofold: being vocal—and voting. As a first step to a balanced share of equity for all, she is taking inventory. “Where can I be less timid and more vocal about recognizing injustice and imbalance and promoting opportunities?” she asked when we followed up with her after the march. (Correct answer according to Tulaine includes but is not limited to education and health.)
So if you need motivation, think of Tulaine, and don’t forget to start preparing now for the mid-term elections in 2018. She’s gearing up by supporting organizations that focus on helping orient and train diverse candidates to run for office.
Elena Kanagy-Loux, 30, Brooklyn
When we caught up with Elena after the march, she was feeling reflective. And Elena got something right that anyone with any level of privilege needs to confront.
“I think for me the biggest action is actually listening,” she told us. “Sitting back and listening to women’s whose voices who are more marginalized than mine and trying to improve myself and my own activism and make sure that in the future that everything that I do is always inclusive to everyone and that I don’t drown out anyone’s voice.”
There’s no reason to shy from this truth: The march sparked a conversation that white women needed to have. Elena came to it through simply listening. White women, privilege is not something we can control but we must acknowledge. Let’s listen. Let’s discuss. Let’s not erase identity markers to assume that identity is defined by gender. Identifying as women unites us; acknowledging that the playing field is not level for every woman within that female identity makes us intersectional feminists.
Anita Gibson, 48, Tacoma Park, Maryland
As a program director in the health sector, Anita has dedicated her career to ensuring women and children all over the world have access to quality maternal and child care. She plans to continue her work, regardless of globally reaching policy restrictions.
What’s so inspiring about Anita is that the work she does advocates for women and families far and wide. She reminds us that policy around reproductive healthcare in the U.S. is not just a domestic issue. If you’re outside of her industry, that means Trump's global gag rule on abortion affects the developing world including care programs for HIV/AIDS treatment.
“I think part of the next challenge for me will be how to engage in constructive dialogue with non-like minded people,” she says of her next steps. “As a brown woman, I recognize some will judge me before I even open my mouth. Mutual respect seems to be a prerequisite to achieving some level of mutual understanding, so finding the right entry points will be important."
Adoree Eubanks, 29, Washington, D.C.
The trouble for Adoree is deciding where to focus her energy. It’s something that we heard from several people we interviewed at the march. They felt the urgency to activate on, as Adoree puts it, “everything.” But what next? If you wake up feeling overwhelmed by the broad span of policy issues under fire, first, you’re not alone. The lesson Adoree’s predicament lends is that because there are so many causes that need support right now, we need all the energy—all the bodies—we can get to take action and spread the resources we have to touch on every last one.
Now she’s charging ahead, narrowing her causes to immigration activism, Planned Parenthood and accessibility for disabled people. The takeaway: Research areas that need the most relief and the moment you identify one, make moves. Here’s a list of organizations that need volunteers and donations to get you started.
Meaghan Delmonico, 43, Millburn, New Jersey
At the march we met the woman wearing the Shepard Fairey-print dress. She was Meaghan Delmonico, and she was marching for her son, Julius. When I followed up to see what steps Meaghan was taking after the march, she told me the story of how she lost her husband in 2013 after he was in an accident while riding his bike. She says that once you have experienced the thing that you fear the most, there’s nothing else that scares you. Once you’re able to move forward, you can survive anything. For Meaghan, the Trump presidency has been a lesson of resilience. It’s happened, and now, we go forward and do the work that compels us, she told me over the phone. With that thought, we ended the call. And then my phone rang again. She’d called back to add that she would be re-launching This Day, her idea for a non-profit foundation that provides grants for the care of brain trauma patients. The foundation was inspired by the simple question, “What good shall I do this day?”
And that is the resilience that makes us feel like this:
The Why Women Project is a group of women in media following the stories of women who mobilize. Follow us @thewhywomenproject.
Kerry Girvin contributed reporting for this story. Multimedia editing by Claire Bangser.
Editor, The Why Women Project