Saturday morning in downtown Asheville was cloudy and calm. As 10 a.m. rolled around, pedestrians with signs began slowly flooding the sidewalks. By 11 a.m., these signs filled Pack Square. The sea of colorful rhetoric represented the hopes and fears of participants joining the Women’s March on Asheville. Organizers of the march claim a total attendance of around 10,000 participants.
Described as a Sister March to the Women’s March on Washington, Asheville’s march encompassed many concerns, issues and themes related to the current political climate. One woman participating in the march, 88-year-old Mary-Lou Hunley, voiced her support and reasons for marching.
“In my time, ‘queen bees’ didn’t necessarily help other women,” Hunley, said. “I’m very much for women helping women.” A resident of Givens Estates Retirement Community, Hunley said she originally grew up in South Carolina, then moved to North Carolina when she became “progressive.” She claimed to be a late-bloomer when it came to the women’s movement.
“I didn’t get into it until I was 35 because I had a very good, supportive family, so I really wasn’t aware that women were neglected until I saw things out in the job world,” Hunley said.
Like Hunley, many other participants said they had very personal reasons for marching. Idania Garcia, a social worker from Burnsville, said she feared for what will happen to public services.
“Our new president-elect is going to set us back decades,” Garcia said. “He is threatening to get rid of too many services that affect the community widely.” Her main concerns involved the potential dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and how that will affect those who are insured by the program. She said the march is to get a point across.
“Those of us that were not heard as the majority voters for this election are now being heard in a different way,” Garcia said. “It’s not only being heard here in the United States, it’s worldwide.”
As the crowd grew, chants of, “Forward, together. Not one step back,” could be heard among the multitude of eager marchers. But before the march started, speakers from the community brought messages of hope and empowerment, love and civil disobedience. Buncombe County Commissioner Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara urged the crowd to empathize with one another’s struggles and promised to continue fighting for equal rights.
“We will resist with our bodies, we will resist with our words, we will organize, we will march in the streets,” Rev. Beach-Ferrara said.
Finally, as the last words were spoken, the increasingly restless crowd began to spill out slowly onto North Market Street. Chants of “Love trumps hate,” and “Judge less, care more,” could be heard among marchers. Police officers stood by blocked off intersections to ensure marchers moved along the route safely and were met with several “thank you’s” from participants. Business owners stood outside to cheer on the crowd while couples, younger and older, held hands and signs together.
“I’m out here to support these women,” Jim Waters, a retired teacher from Burnsville said while he marched with his wife.” “I think women have really taken a hit in this election, and it’s time to stand up.”
While the marchers moved along their downtown route, a small group of protesters stood quietly on the corner of South Market Street with signs. One man, John Stephenson, a retired carpenter from Asheville, said he was there for ethical reasons. “I’m here particularly to oppose the notion that Planned Parenthood is a helpful outlet,” Stephenson said. “They could be if they wanted to, if they wanted to just attend to women’s health issues, but it’s the providing of abortion that is of course the problem, not the other services they perform.”
Stephenson said he, along with his group of friends, wanted to let marchers know their opposition was based on ethical fundamentals.
“All human life deserves respect and if the very minimum respect you can show human beings is not to kill them, then that’s a good threshold,” Stephenson said. “You don’t have to like other people, or want to adopt children, or want to do all these other things, but just don’t kill living human beings. That’s pretty much a fundamental, basic aspect of any notion of ethics of any religion or any ethical organization.”
The peaceful clash of beliefs and ideals came to an end around 1:30 p.m., just before rain began to fall. But before the rain could end everything, marchers held an impromptu dance party in Pack Square, moving to music celebrating women’s empowerment.
Smaller, more quiet chants could be heard scattered around downtown. “Forward, together. Not one step back,”