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'If I Have To Go To 100 Marches, I Will Do That': Women's Activism, 2 Years Later


The first Women's March was two years ago, the day after President Trump was inaugurated. It proved to be one of the biggest protest days in U.S. history. Since then, we've seen some stops and lots of starts in the push for more equitable treatment for women - Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose - but also silence breakers as TIME's Person of the Year and a record number of women elected to the U.S. Congress. We'll hear about the mood on the streets today as women gather, once again, elsewhere on this program. But for the next few minutes, a step back with two women who've marched before. Jenny Mills lives in western New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

JENNY MILLS: Thank you.

SIMON: And Vanessa De Leon is from Worcester, Mass. Thank you very much for being with us.

VANESSA DE LEON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Jenny Mills, you've just moved to New York from Alaska. You organized the local march for your city of Nome, Alaska. You're not going to be affiliated with the national march today, I gather.

MILLS: I made the decision to distance myself from the national organization because of the issues that have come up regarding the leadership's link with Louis Farrakhan and the failure to fully repudiate or denounce his anti-Semitism, homophobia and misogyny.

SIMON: Vanessa De Leon, how do these allegations, these charges about anti-Semitism and other charges against some organizers and some sentiments of the - against original organizers of the Women's March - how do they affect you?

DE LEON: My experience at the Women's March in Boston was amazing. And, I mean, there was a lot of diversity, a lot of unity and people from all walks of life and men and kids, all religions, all ethnicities. So from my personal experience, it was incredible. I would like to learn more about these allegations in order to be able to give you an educated opinion, I guess.

SIMON: Two years ago, we had the election of Donald Trump, following what was heard on the "Access Hollywood" tape where he talked about - well, I think we all remember what he talked about and other remarks that were made during the campaign quite publicly and quite openly. That seemed to provide a lot of energy and focus. What do you feel has happened over the past couple of years?

MILLS: I think we've expanded the discussion about what's going on with women in this country, talking about various different issues that have come to the forefront - wage discrimination and wage inequality for working women, issues with access to health care - reproductive health care. Obviously, the #MeToo movement exploded over the past couple of years. So we're talking a lot more about sexual violence towards women, sexual harassment. So I think the landscape has really opened up to have a lot of really important conversations. And I work in the field of sexual violence against children. I am a forensic interviewer. So that's kind of what I deal with on a daily basis. And just being able to see people talk about this in public and have the ongoing dialogue has been really outstanding.

SIMON: Vanessa De Leon.

DE LEON: I am a victim of domestic violence so this - the Women's March, you know - and when I heard everything that the president said, you know, it touched me so deep. And I'm like, wow. I mean, this is not right. This cannot be normal. This cannot be how things are going to be, you know, in the country. So if I have to go to a hundred march - you know, marches - I will do that because it is not OK.

SIMON: And what about activities other than marching? Are those kinds of avenues open, too?

MILLS: Absolutely. I mean, letter writing campaigns, calling your senators, calling your representatives - there are so many different activist routes that we can take. But the Women's March just happens to kind of get the most attention because it is such a large event. But there are so many things just on a daily basis that activists are continuing to do.

SIMON: Well, I have to ask. Are there people who confuse tweeting with activism in this day and age?

DE LEON: Yes. But it also gets the word out. I mean - and you're, you know, you're right. Some people do confuse, you know, tweeting with activism. But, you know, social media has become a great tool, you know. A lot of people - that's all they do, you know. They - many people stop watching the news, watching TV, and they just go on social media. That's where they get their information - not always accurate information. But it is a good tool, you know, to use and take advantage of.

SIMON: Jenny Mills and Vanessa De Leon, thanks so much for being with us.

DE LEON: Thank you for having us.

MILLS: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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