NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Fifty Years Down The Road, Sisterhood Is Still Powerful

The signs were hopeful, positive, even sometimes funny — “Love Trumps Hate.” “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights.” “Girls Just Wanna Have FUN-damental Rights.”

But, for me, one bright green placard seemed to say it all: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this crap.”

Yet there I was, along with perhaps 3,000 of my new best friends, at the awkwardly named “Women’s March on Washington in Fargo” … demonstrating for equal rights all over again. We milled around a downtown parking lot, chilled but remarkably cheerful, waiting to begin a short but exhilarating six-block stroll up and down Broadway.

Many of our number wore bright pink, hand-knitted “pussyhats” complete with ears, a silly yet hopeful emblem of simultaneous rallies in Washington, D.C., and in 370 spots around the world … including Fargo.

Shades of 50 years ago! I was in my teens back when the seeds of this demonstration were planted — a girl among women galvanized by the inequalities we faced because of our gender.

My own grandmothers had been little older than I was then when they cast their first votes back in 1920. Women’s suffrage didn’t come easy. In a country whose constitution proclaims, “All men are created equal,” it took determined females too many years to convince male Americans that “men” meant all humanity. They organized, they marched, they proclaimed and too many of them paid the price — harassed, ridiculed, beaten, arrested and worse. The first women’s march in Washington, D.C., took place in 1913. Six years later, the 38th state ratified the 19th Amendment.

Our own contribution, 50 years later, was supposed to be the Equal Rights Amendment. My peers marched with our elders in the late ’60s and 1970s. In 1973 we converged in Bismarck with high hopes as the Legislature had its first chance to ratify the amendment. Though huge numbers of women testified in its favor, representing virtually every group from the League of Women Voters to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, it came up a single vote short. One legislator wasn’t on hand to say “yea” or “nay”; he had a dentist appointment.

We were more determined than ever in 1975, and this time, North Dakota became the 34th state to ratify. But the ultra-right, led by notorious woman-hater Phyllis Schafly, had had more than enough time to train its troops. Only one more state legislature ratified over the next seven years, while a handful tried to find a way to rescind. The deadline for reaching the goal of 38 came and went, and our dream died. It was a crushing disappointment. Still, the struggle was carried on, and slowly, year by contentious year, many of the ERA’s objectives were singly addressed.

Yet here I was again on Saturday morning, building up steam among so many familiar faces. No longer young, now just another grandma among so many of my kind, I flexed creaky knees and read the signs, like my favorite: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this crap.”

We — women and the men who made up perhaps a quarter of the crowd — were surrounded by the generations we ourselves have raised, child and grandchild and great-grand. From the very young and medium-aged to middling-old and ancient, we represented the entire living spectrum of hopes, memories and aspirations.

After all the protests of all those years and all the progress … how could we still need to come together as advocates for equality? The dream of full civil rights remains incomplete — not only for women, but for people of all colors, all religions, all sexual preferences, all abilities. Even more, today’s urgency lies in the sight of hard-won advances being rolled back by a few strokes of the new president’s pen, an ominous prospect begun that very morning that’s gathered frightening momentum in ensuing days.

Why protest, indeed? What can marching accomplish? Why don fuzzy pink hats as a half-ironic, half-ferocious response to the First Misogynist’s casual approval of sexual harassment and assault? Why not sit back placidly and appreciate what we have, instead of demanding more? Why not — the critics asked — “wait and see”?

There are probably as many personal answers to that question as there were pairs of feet pounding the pavement. Here’s mine.

I’m out there for my students and all the other confident young women who are convinced that our cause has become a trivial footnote to history because our issues have all been mended. They assume the barriers have been broken down and wide-open opportunity awaits them, theirs for the taking by dint of individual talent and drive. Once I, too, believed one’s personal gifts, plus a goodly share of pluck, would guarantee a fair and equal outcome. Surely energy, education and sheer conviction would be enough to somehow shrink the mountains down to size.

Wrong then. Wrong now.

My college students have never attended schools where all sports were played by boys, or where girls were routinely shuffled into domestic science. They haven’t perused employment ads divided between “help wanted — women” and “help wanted — men.” They haven’t seen their own baby’s birth announcement published in the local paper under only its father’s name. They haven’t been guided solely toward those majors deemed more appropriate for their gender, as they were teased about attending college to earn that precious “MRS” degree.

And young people today can’t even imagine a time when women couldn’t legally buy beer.

The great majority of my fellow marchers — of every age — would affirm that their concern goes far beyond themselves. Most of us, we do have good lives. Cloaked for life in our pale pinkish-tan majority privilege, we’re personally insulated from many of the challenges that too many others must face every single day. That doesn’t mean, though, that the battle is theirs alone. We are fighting, together, for all of us.

Many, too many, still feel they struggle alone. That includes, first and foremost, women and men of color. People with disabilities who struggle to get a fair shake. Victims of sexual assault and domestic brutality. Those whose human rights are limited by which gender they love. And, finally, our newest fellow Americans whose first sight of this Land of the Free is far, far fresher than our own. We march for the women, men and children who too clearly remember the hardships and fears that drove them from their homelands. For the lucky local majority, all but the Natives who also come from immigrant roots, those painful memories and motives have faded so far into the distance that we can believe this land has somehow always been our own.

We forget how we obtained the gifts we enjoy today. We choose not to remember.

The Women’s March on Washington in Fargo (that name again!) was a day of hope, a day of celebration. Not only that — it was an amazing payoff for 10 days of frantic planning by the intrepid volunteers who put it all together. As for me, I knitted nearly a dozen of those silly pink pussyhats within the same limited timeframe … trivial, perhaps, but something of a personal best.

Since Saturday’s high, we’ve heard plenty from scathing regressives about the mother march in Washington — attended by an impressive roster of my friends and colleagues, who flew or bused or drove to stand their ground — and the 370 sister marches like ours in St. Paul and Duluth, Bismarck and Grand Forks and locales with sunnier skies and more temperate climates.

Most male critics merely mock. An unduly prideful Indiana senator tweeted, “In one day, Trump got more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama did in eight years.” Har har har. (He soon deleted it.)

Female skeptics took the march much more personally. Some moaned that they felt marginalized by their decision to stay home. They’ve taken to social media now with the hashtag #notmymarch. Their perspective is rather different: “Why bother? Life is a lot better here than in some Third World hellhole. I’ve never felt like a second-class citizen. I don’t feel disrespected. What’s with all the whining? If you feel differently, why, it’s your own fault … and marching down the street for a couple of hours won’t fix it, anyway.”

No, a march alone won’t do it — but it’s a start. After Saturday, thousands of people from right here in the neighborhood trust anew that we need not fight alone. That’s honestly thrilling to us who live where conformity is strictly enforced … where we’re raised to politely mind everything we say and do in front of the neighbors.

One conservative national commentator has been complaining loudly about the politically charged timing of the march. These issues aren’t new, after all: “So why are they marching now?”

Good grief, man! This march began more than 100 years ago. Yet we still can’t see the finish line. Pay attention!

I can’t believe we still have to protest this crap.

2 thoughts on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Fifty Years Down The Road, Sisterhood Is Still Powerful”

  • Thomas A. Davies January 25, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Like fine wine, your just get better and better with your stories

  • Kate Cole January 25, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Nancy, this a stirring, thoughtful, weary yet energized article. Bless each and everyone of my sisters and all of our crusading men who marched. This March was such an important stand that demonstrated the strength, unity and compassion for ALL who live in America. You gave voice to those who don’t have one. Hope for all of us, especially all those who the braggart has set his sights on. America needs devoted citizens like you and all those who marched. Especially now, when we have such a dangerous man sitting in the Oval Office. Yes, I agree, women shouldn’t still have to be still fighting a 50 year old battle. But it is paramount for us, especially for future generations.
    Thank you, Nancy! For your wisdom and especially for your great heart, that has taken a licking, but keeps on ticking.


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