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'We Are An Unstoppable Group': Participants Prepare For Women's March


Tomorrow, here in Washington, there will be a response to today's inauguration of Donald Trump. It's called the Women's March on Washington. Organizers are expecting a couple hundred thousand people. Our co-host Audie Cornish has more.

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: Not all those who want to march are women, and not all are marching primarily for women's rights. We spoke with three people who plan to take to the streets of D.C. tomorrow - Katherine George from Phoenix Arizona, Lee Johnson - he lives in Wisconsin. And we begin with Arij Mikati from Chicago.

ARIJ MIKATI: I think - for me, I really believe fundamentally in the notion that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Some of our greatest American heroes were also great dissenters, if not most of them.

So for me, I believe that because I love this country so much and the people in it even more, that it was really important for me to stand alongside all marginalized groups that don't fit into the dominant culture. So I wanted to make sure that I was a part of that and showed solidarity with all of those people to empower them and to amplify their voices.

CORNISH: You guys are talking about dissent. And I think your critics are calling it whining, right? They're saying like, oh, quote, unquote, "we didn't do this when Obama was inaugurated," right? And, Lee, what's your response to that?

LEE JOHNSON: I do not think it's whining at all. If we expect there to be some sort of electrical, concrete change that happens after this march, that's just dreaming. I'm old enough to remember marches for civil rights and against the war in the 1960s.

At the beginning, those people were reviled. Most of the country just said, we don't need this right now; we have other things to think about. And it took a while for people to begin to see the truth of what those marches and what those protests were about.

And so that's what I think we're beginning now. As time passes and as some of the things that President Trump wants to do - and his people - begin to bite, I think that people will begin to see this was less whining than opening a door for you to come along with us so that we can make progress against the things that I fear will be attacking us.

CORNISH: Lee, you're coming from a place of someone who - as you said, you've gone to other marches in your life - right? - like the first Gulf War. You were protesting against that (laughter). You were protesting against nuclear war in the '80s.

But for Katherine, do you see this as the beginning of your political life - like, real activism? Like, can we call you in two years and see what you've been up to (laughter)?

KATHERINE GEORGE: Oh, my gosh, Audie, I hope so. You know, I think the marches are not what they used to be. In the '60s and in the '70s when people flooded out to the street to march, I think that that said maybe all that needed to be said. But we're not there anymore. We're in a different time, and we're in a different place.

And I think that for any movement like this to become a true mass movement for social change, the march can only be the beginning. We all have to come back home after that march on Sunday, on Monday and dig our heels in and do the real work on a local, grassroots level.

CORNISH: Arij Mikati, do you believe that, like, as someone who is - you know, works for a nonprofit? You work for an education nonprofit and are active. I mean does it feel like the beginning of something?

MCCATIE: I fundamentally believe that. I think that the most successful thing we can have happen at this march is if everyone that attends that march, which - they're saying 200,000 people. If they feel that that's an activating event for them - to come back and sit in school board meetings, local school council meetings...

CORNISH: But didn't people think that about President Obama, right? Wasn't that like, oh, this is the beginning of a movement, a whole new generation of people? I mean there were movements born but not the ones people thought.

MCCATIE: That is true of that. Although I do believe that now there's a fundamental difference in that I think people feel - even if it's not true, they feel that they have nothing left to lose. And what I mean by that is a lot of people are feeling in imminent danger right now.

And I think that unfortunately is a fact but hopefully will create an urgency that perhaps we didn't feel before. I think there was maybe a complacency prior to this, when now - I'm a Muslim Middle-Eastern immigrant to this country that has been told that I am not welcome here by our president during his campaign season. That creates an urgency in a lot of people that may not have felt it before. So I'm hopeful that this activates that kind of mobilization in a way that hasn't been activated before.

GEORGE: This is Katherine. I just wanted to step in really quick and say that I completely agree with that. And I think a lot of the misunderstanding with Obama's presidency - I think a lot of people saw him come in as our first black president, and you know, maybe more progressive people thought, oh, this is great; I can kind of kick back. And we've won. And you know, we're in post-racial America and all of that. And as we see, none of that's true.

I mean I feel like one of the positives of this whole situation and Trump becoming president is that white, privileged, middle-class America has kind of seen the rug pulled back and see this generational festering of racism and misogyny and anti-inclusion and anti-religious freedom that has been in the underbelly of America for so long. But now that those things have been brought to light, you can't say that they're not out there and it's not present in our country.

CORNISH: This incoming president has been kind of active. How have you felt, Lee Johnson, of, like, kind of how - the direction things are headed now that he's actually out there talking?

JOHNSON: I think they're headed in the exact direction that I felt since Election Day - absolutely the wrong way. I don't know what he is, and I don't know what he's actually going to do. He's just all about himself. And I would like to think that there's a rational person in there. Perhaps there is. I cannot assume that. The notion that he was just saying things to win his people over or to get elected - that's just dangerous. We have to take him at face value.

CORNISH: Arij, I want to ask you something just to follow up because Lee has mentioned this twice where he said, like, policies that could burn, policies that bite. For you, Arij, is there an element of this that feels high-stakes because you are an immigrant, because you identify as a Muslim woman? Like, what's driving you in this march?

MCCATIE: Well, I think the presence is incredibly important. I'm ready to go out there and make my voice heard and make sure that I'm seen as an ally by other groups that I fundamentally believe I need to stand with.

I want to make sure that Black Lives Matter know I support them. I want to make sure that the LGBTQ community knows I support them and stand with their rights. I want to make sure that undocumented folks know that. And it's much easier for us to make change if we all stand together. We are an unstoppable group together.

CORNISH: Well, thank you so much for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED today, and best of luck with the march this weekend.

MCCATIE: Thank you, Audie. It's an honor.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

GEORGE: Thank you so much, Audie.

CORNISH: That was Arij Mikati, Lee Johnson and Katherine George. All plan to participate in tomorrow's Women's March on Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHASTITY BELT SONG, "BLACK SAIL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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