By Celeste Kanpurwala
Attending the third annual women’s march in Washington DC on January 19, 2019, I didn’t know what to expect. I had not attended the last two due to illnesses in my family, and I heard that this year’s march was going to be much smaller. While it may have been smaller than the previous two marches, protesting our President and his administration, it still drew a crowd of about 100,000 people, taking about one hour to walk four blocks.
During these four blocks, I met three new friends. The first was a woman named Valerie Simutis from Chicago, IL. She saw my Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America t-shirt across the crowd and yelled out, “Moms!” I quickly joined Simutis and her group for the march since I came by myself. Simutis is a lead volunteer for Moms Demand Action in Illinois, who joined in February 2018. When I asked her if she joined after the Parkland shooting when Moms Demand Action numbers surged and meetings grew by ten-fold, she responded that she joined not as a result of that mass shooting but because she felt it was time for her to speak up against the everyday gun violence that plagues her hometown of Chicago, as well as cities throughout America.
Simutis was proud to speak about the red flag law that was passed in Illinois last July, which allows relatives to report individuals who are mentally ill or exhibit dangerous behavior to be examined and subsequently have their guns removed if deemed necessary. Also just this past Thursday, January 17, Illinois Governor Pritzker signed a bill that requires gun stores to get state licenses. These bills are the beginning of a great start that need to happen nationwide.
Simutis actually came into DC on Thursday after attending the hearing to pass the gun dealer license bill in Illinois, making sure to arrive in time to meet with legislators on Friday. She participated in a lobby day, advocating for those who rely on Medicare to pay their bills. Her husband is a two-time brain cancer survivor, and while her family is very fortunate to have private insurance coverage, she knows that many do not. The Lobby Day was organized by the Center for Popular Democracy, as well as the Women’s March. While Simutis mentioned that legislators were not in their offices, she was at least able to meet with their staffers, giving them important notes about why Medicare and the Affordable Care Act are needed.
The second friend I met is named Fran Schindler, a self-proclaimed “disobedient nasty woman” from Chapel Hill, NC who has been arrested 11 times while protesting for what she believes in. Simutis and Schindler actually met while sleeping on air mattresses on the floor of St. Stephen Church in DC while protesting the Brett Kavanaugh nomination last year, both women staying for multiple days or even weeks.
Schindler is turning 80 next month and she is going to be celebrating! She actually grew up in Detroit at Plymouth and Chicago Roads near Dearborn, where she attended grade school and high school. Schindler had a double mastectomy after battling breast cancer and supports Medicare for everyone as well. She is a retired psychiatric nurse and spent some years dressing in drag, using the name “Misdiagnosed.” She left her marriage after 24 years because her “soul was going to die.”
Now Schindler obtains her strength from like-minded people at marches and rallies. She says, “Because of all of these people, I am even more in love with myself.” Attending her first Women’s March in 2017 and becoming “woke,” she has been so politically active that her 11 arrests over the past two years have required multiple hours of community service, something that does not seem to faze Schindler at all.
Zoe Gluck is my third new friend, who was helping Schindler throughout the march, holding her sign for her and pointing to her when people stopped to take pictures of it. At first I thought that Gluck was her granddaughter or relative, but she just responded that Schindler is awesome and needs to be taken care of to make sure she is alright. I can certainly agree.
Gluck knows all too well what it is like to take care of someone, as her own mother began suffering from major illnesses about 10 years ago. It started with a hip replacement, and she has since been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Sjogren’s syndrome. She has to take a chemo drug for lupus once a week, which causes tremors and fever for one day afterward; she has been doing this for two years now. Sometimes Gluck’s mother’s legs don’t even work properly, but that does not stop her from being outspoken and protesting herself at times; she blocks doorways and makes it difficult for anyone to pass through without seeing her and what she represents. Gluck says that if it were not for the Affordable Care Act, her mother would have to pay four thousand dollars a month. Her mother has been applying for disability in Washington state, but unfortunately according to Gluck, the average amount of time it takes to be approved is SEVEN years. Gluck even mentions that often the first three applications for disability don’t even go through the system in her home-state.
Gluck moved to DC with her boyfriend in August 2017, after growing up in Seattle and attending her first two years of college in Portland at Lewis & Clark College. Once Gluck realized that she wanted to go into International Affairs, she decided to move to DC to attend American University. Now her apartment overlooks the Russian Embassy, and she and her boyfriend can actually see into the building; she is convinced that America is being spied on by Russia.
Gluck has admirably decided to use her voice of white privilege to stand up for injustices, running the online page for American University’s National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project (NIWAP) and working part-time for the organization which currently employs 12 people.
This new organization “addresses the needs of immigrant women, immigrant children and immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes by advocating for reforms in law, policy and practice.” They do not work directly with immigrants but provide support to the people who do work with them. NIWAP lobbies at Congress and provides media outreach for immigrants. Gluck mentions a sad statistic that 60% of women immigrating from South America are raped at some point during their journey, and one of the first things offered to them upon arriving is a pregnancy test.
During the four block trek, I was so honored to hear these three inspiring stories while chanting things like, “Immigrants are welcome here – say it loud, say it clear!,” “My Body, My Choice!,” “Hey hey ho ho, white supremacy’s got to go!,” and “Lock him up!”
The crowd also got revved up every time we passed anti-protestors wearing Donald Trump hats, yelling “Shame! Shame!” over and over.
Overall, even though it may have been a smaller event than the past two years, it was nevertheless powerful. We still made history.