Local marchers support women

About 150 people turned out for the Blair County March for Women in Hollidaysburg on Saturday morning. Photo for the Mirror by Matt Callan

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Despite the threat of a major winter storm, a large group of men, women and children turned out Saturday for a local march to support women.

The third annual Blair County March for Women attracted about 150 people, which is almost half of the crowd of 300 that came out last year, organizers said. The event started at the Blair County Courthouse and wound its way to American Legion Park, where speakers, music and food rounded out the program.

The event, which was a sister march to the national Women’s March held in Washington, D.C., was co-sponsored by the Blair County Federation of Democratic Women and Indivisible Blair County. The organizers said they got nervous when they heard the dire weather forecast and wondered if they should cancel the march, which was to start at 1 p.m.

Instead, they decided to move it to late morning and shorten the schedule.

Beth Seymour, vice president of Indivisible, said she was thrilled by the large turnout, especially after Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency Friday due to the expected weather.

“I mean, I understand why he had to do it, but when he did that, I really wasn’t sure what kind of a turnout we would have,” she said.

Seymour said Indivisible’s mission is to promote more voter education and participation at all levels, especially at a grassroots level. She said the group fights gerrymandering, which is the practice of drawing legislative districts to favor one party.

The group, which has members from both major political parties plus Independents, decided to co-sponsor the local march because that’s one way to help the public know more about it.

“We have hosted candidate forums and other events,” she said. “We just felt it was important to help with the march today because women’s issues are really everyone’s issues.”

Fellow Indivisible member Bill Fairer, one of several men on the march, agreed.

“It could be my mother who is discriminated against, my niece who is the one person disrespected,” he said.

As the marchers made their way along the sidewalks of Hollidaysburg, they carried homemade signs with slogans like, “I am a snowflake and together we are an avalanche.” One child carried a sign she’d made that read, “Build kindness, not walls.”

Jody Wallace, who frequently used a bullhorn to call out chants, had the phrase, “I really do care, don’t you?” written on the back of her coat.

Wallace is a retired credentialed environmentalist better known as the “Creature Teacher” who would tour area schools to educate youth first-hand about animals and the environment. A long-time area activist and registered Democrat, Wallace said she thinks President Donald Trump has had and will continue to have a detrimental effect on the environment.

But she thinks he will have a unifying effect on the country, in a kind of boomerang way.

“He is so awful that I think he will actually unite the country,” she said.

But sometimes that thinking doesn’t always pan out, said A.C. Stickel, former head of the local county GOP party. Republicans thought both former President Barack Obama and on a state level, Gov. Tom Wolf, both Democrats, were disliked enough that they would be swept out of office by the end of their first term but they won re-election, he said.

“Trump still appeals to a lot of people, both Republican and Democrat,” Stickel said. “When was the last time you have heard of somebody so criticized for doing exactly as they said they would do. He has kept his promises.”

He added that he believed several of the environmental regulations changed by the Trump administration were excessive. He also said Trump and other mainstream GOP members recognize a moderate form of the climate change doctrine, just not all of the components proposed by the previous administration.

As with the women’s marches nationwide, the election of Trump prompted an anti-Trump sentiment that spurred the first local women’s march. But the purpose has broadened to fighting to women’s issues, said Donna Cohen, president of the county’s Federation of Democratic Women.

“It’s about equal pay, getting more women into government, health care, a variety of issues affecting women,” she said.

Gillian Kratzer, chairwoman of the county’s Democratic Committee, said the issues cross party boundaries, adding that some registered Republicans had joined the marchers, too.

That’s a concept embraced by the singer invited to participate at the event.

Elmira-Hope, 19, of Irvona, sang and played her guitar at the American Legion Hall after the marchers arrived following their mile-long walk from the courthouse. A freshman majoring in political science at West Chester University, she said she doesn’t think women’s issues should be politicized.

“I don’t think social justice issues should be Democratic or Republican,” she said. “I think they should be human rights issues.”

She also said she plays and sings at different types of venues but she feels “super blessed to play at things she believes in.”

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