By MARINA WATERS
As Main Street opened back up following the Women’s March in front of the courthouse in Jonesborough, a big blue truck rolled through the historic district with the sound of President Donald Trump’s words filling the sidewalk: “This is your country,” the radio proclaimed.
Those words echoed a belief that more than 500 women and men who were in attendance at the Tri-Cities Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 21, came together to support.
But the president’s words were also a rallying cry that partially sparked the movement, beginning as a march on Washington D.C. during the weekend of President Trump’s inauguration.
The movement has spread to over 600 countries and even touched down in Tennessee’s oldest town where pink hats, along with female-positive and anti-Trump slogans, were displayed throughout the street.
For Jonesborough resident Jenny DeWeese, it was also the perfect opportunity to educate her daughters.
“I want them to know that they have a voice and that they have a right to have equal rights also,” DeWeese said, looking at her three young daughters. “That they can be what they want to be.”
“They just talked about Martin Luther King Jr. in school so I’m also trying to teach them to do this in a peaceful way just like he did,” DeWeese said. “She (one of her daughters) related to it at school. She said, ‘He walked down the road and sang songs?’ And I said, ‘Yeah that’s all it is. You just go and stand in a peaceful way and show that we’re not going to be quiet. We have a voice also.’ ”
For many of the women at Saturday’s march, taking their beliefs to the streets wasn’t always a first inclination; for East Tennessee State University student Rana Elgazzar, it took time to grow into someone who became involved in events like the Women’s March.
“In the recent climate I felt more of an imperative to be more vocal and be more involved,” Elgazzar said. “Previously I think I kept more to myself and even when I saw problems, I had a more difficult time taking a stand or standing up. So now I feel motivated as a student so I’m very involved on campus and I hope I can continue that sort of work as I graduate. And be a voice for young people like myself.”
Elgazzar was born in Egypt and was granted her American citizenship in 2014. But she didn’t just come to downtown Jonesborough in support of women; she also came in support of the diversity she is grateful to have experienced in the United States.
“I became a U.S. citizen a few years ago and to me one of the biggest privileges is that I do get to live among people who are different from myself. So I want to maintain that privilege for all people that I’ve experienced. That’s really been a gift to me.”
The event wasn’t just for women; men also showed up in support for the women involved in the movement. Women’s March participant William White stood beside Washington County Commissioner Katie Baker as she described her admiration for Hillary Clinton, who lost the recent election. Considering both Baker and Clinton, White described his reason for attending the event.
“I totally support everything they stand for,” William White said. “Her tagline is the future is female. And I don’t have a problem with that.”
For Baker, her hope for the event was to encourage women as well as support them as the lone woman holding a spot on the county commission.
“I serve in an elected office among 24 men,” Baker said. “I hope (today) brings more women into elected office. I hope it generates interest in young women, in retired women, in mothers in becoming more active in the community in whatever way they feel is appropriate for them.
Running for office is not for everyone, but I think today’s event provided lists of the opportunities and resources for women to jump into based on their preference.”
People in support of this kind of women empowerment shuffled down the sidewalk snapping pictures of one another’s signs while Elgazzar stood in a headscarf alongside a plethora of people filling the courthouse steps—she also stood in downtown Jonesborough as a testament to her identity.
“So I am also Muslim, so I think for me a lot of growing up was becoming comfortable in my identity and not feeling like one part of my identity was disjoint from being American,” Elgazzar explained. “I think that through the years in college as I’ve learned more about myself, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin and it had a lot do with finding supportive environments where I can be authentic in who I am.
“I feel more empowered, actually.”