Sarah Pearson’s life changed on Jan. 20, 2017.
The day Donald Trump was inaugurated as America’s 45th president, Pearson boarded a plane from Milwaukee to New York and then took an overnight bus to Washington, D.C., where she joined hundreds of thousands of people for the Women’s March.
The spur of the moment decision for the Milwaukee restaurant manager inspired her to quit her job, return to college and help start the Wisconsin chapter of Women’s March, which is organizing rallies in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Eau Claire on Saturday while marches are held in many other cities this weekend across the U.S.
Pearson is part of a groundswell of women whose anger over the election of Trump has spurred them to get involved in politics and community activism.
Emily’s List, the largest national organization devoted to electing female candidates, has seen a surge in the number of women running for elective office at every level. And the “Me Too” movement has resulted in a flood of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men.
“It’s not just being anti-Trump,” said Pearson, who attended an Emily’s List class last year. “What the resistance is harnessing is our power to create transformative social change. Change that will hopefully outlive a Trump presidency.”
Pearson learned of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., through Facebook and bought a plane ticket with her sister at the last minute. They arrived in the nation’s capital on the morning after the inauguration and started following the crowd of mostly women, many wearing pink knitted hats, heading to the Mall.
At first, she worried the group might be belligerent or angry but Pearson said she was soon struck by the kindness and cordiality of everyone.
“Maybe that was the reverse Trump effect. It was like that day people were compensating for all the Trump nastiness,” said Pearson.
Pearson came home to Milwaukee with a new focus and enrolled at Alverno College to study global international studies and politics. She returned to Washington, D.C., last summer to march 18 miles from the National Rifle Association in Arlington, Va., to the Department of Justice in a demonstration organized by the national Women’s March leaders.
In November, she helped form the state Women’s March chapter. This week, she was busy organizing a rally for Saturday outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse, 901 N. 9th St., from 10 to 11 a.m. The rally will be followed by a march to the Wisconsin Center, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave., for fundraising, food and workshops until 3 p.m.
Speakers will include state Sen. Lena Taylor; Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis; Milwaukee County Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson; Nancy Yarbrough, founder of Fresh Start Learning; Sharlen Moore, co-founder and director of Urban Underground; Lisa Jones, organizer at Uplifting Black Liberation and Community (UBLAC); indigenous women’s rights activist Colleen Kennedy and a DACA recipient.
Rallies will also be held Saturday in:
- Green Bay, at the YWCA, 230 S. Madison St., from 10 to 11 a.m., followed by a march on Main St. from 11 a.m. to noon, and workshops, fundraising and lunch at the YWCA until 6 p.m.
- Eau Claire, at Phoenix Park, 330 Riverfront Terrace, from 10 to 11 a.m., with a march to Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 421 S. Farwell St., from 11 a.m. to noon, and workshops, voter registration and fundraising at the congregation until 5 p.m.
- Janesville, in front of post office, 1818 Milton Ave., 1 p.m.
- Wausau, 401 3rd St., noon.
- Minocqua, at St Matthias Episcopal Church, 403 E. Chicago Ave., 11 a.m.
- Walworth, at Walworth Square, 1969 E. Lakeshore Drive, 10:30 a.m.
Organizers don’t know how many people will turn out for the rallies though Pearson is hopeful that with a weather forecast of partly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 30s, more than 1,000 will show up in Milwaukee.
When asked if she anticipates any protesters at the Wisconsin rallies, Pearson said it’s possible but the ACLU is providing legal observers and bystander intervention training will be given to volunteers.
After Saturday’s events, Women’s March Wisconsin plans to organize voter registration drives and rally against voter suppression efforts, said Pearson. It’s part of a national effort by Women’s March targeting swing states to register new voters including a “Power to the Polls” event Sunday in Las Vegas.