Utah Women See Some Progress, A Year After Women's March
Ellie Brownstein is a pediatrician in Salt Lake, so she keeps a fairly busy schedule. But in her spare time, you might find her carrying around a fat pink ball of yarn.
Her knitting needles can be heard clicking and clacking with impressive speed as she talks about the hobby that’s kept her busy since Jan. 20 of last year.
I am a knitter and have been for years, and now I have been knitting lots of pink hats - and still get requests for them all the time.
“I am a knitter and have been for years, and now I have been knitting lots of pink hats — and still get requests for them all the time,” she said.
Those are the knitted hats with cat ears, she’s referring to. You know, pussyhats. They’ve become ubiquitous among progressive women and others who oppose President Donald Trump.
This weekend will mark one year since President Trump’s inauguration. It’s also the anniversary of the largest single-day protest in U.S. history, when millions of people swarmed Washington, D.C. and cities across the country for the Women’s March — many of them in pink hats — the day after Trump was sworn in.
Brownstein made her first hat before she flew to D.C. last year for the flagship Women’s March, which drew close to half a million people to the National Mall. She figures she’s knitted 30 or so over the last year for friends and family.
But that’s not all she’s been doing.
“I have called several times every week, if not nearly daily, to my senators and Congressional representative,” she said. “I’ve been back to D.C. as a pediatrician to talk about CHIP and have visited offices, have written letters and emails, and have encouraged others around me to participate.”
Brownstein is a registered Democrat. And she’s always considered herself engaged in the process, but never on the scale of what she’s doing now. It’s a story repeated by women across Utah who did not vote for Trump and who strongly oppose most of his agenda.
In Utah, marches and rallies have become a nearly monthly occurrence since the election. On the first day of the 2017 Utah Legislature, the state capitol recorded its biggest ever protest. There were nearly 6,000 people crammed into the Statehouse’s marble halls.
Many more marches are planned this year to mark the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March. The rallies signal that this renewed feminist wave is not losing steam anytime soon.
“What’s been so interesting in the last year, year and a half, is that there’s been new groups pop up that really relate to women," said Susan Madsen, a professor and researcher at Utah Valley University, who directs their Women in Leadership project.
She said the marches and subsequent organizing have had real ripple effects locally.
“I think the march and just the pushback to politics and things that have happened nationally have really helped women say, ‘We’ve got to stand up and do something and get more involved in the community. We’ve really seen that in Utah.”
Madsen and her team are still collecting data on the number of women who ran for office in 2017.
“But anecdotally, and what it feels like, there were a lot more women in races, particularly at the local levels," she said. "So you know we have some more women mayors — and city councils have women who ran for office, too.”
Places like Provo and Hildale elected their first female mayors last year, and Salt Lake County tapped its first woman chair.
Madsen sees strains of this type of mobilization manifesting itself in the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged women from all walks of life to share their experiences with workplace harassment and sexual assault.
Amy Wicks is a former city councilwoman in Ogden who organized a women’s march in Northern Utah last year. She wasn’t planning on doing another one, but changed her mind after watching the news last week. Headlines were dominated by coverage of Trump’s derogatory comments about people from Haiti and Africa.
“You know, I just thought, ‘I think it’s time for another one,'" she said. "And there were people asking, 'Hey, are we going to do women’s march?' I think a lot of people in our community left that feeling energized and invigorated, and really the value in that is the connection with people in your community.”
Wicks said the momentum is still there, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Voting numbers are still kind of dismal to me,” she said. “The voting box is the place where you have your power, and sometimes it seems like you just have status quo candidates.”
That will be a big focus of marches planned this year. Registering voters and getting them to the polls come November. The march in Ogden is happening Saturday at noon.
And in Park City, where actors and filmmakers are already gathering for Sundance, they’ll hold a Respect Rally on Saturday morning at 10 a.m.
As for Ellie Brownstein, furiously knitting more pink hats, she’ll be driving to Las Vegas for the Power to the Polls rally on Sunday. It’s being organized by the same group who staged the national D.C. march.
She said she’s pretty much ready to keep marching every year until the next presidential election.
“I do it because it says, ‘We’re still here, we still care, our voices matter, and we need to be listened to,'" she said.
Brownstein will bring her daughter with her this time, too, since she couldn’t last year. She’s even started thinking more seriously about running for local office one day.
After all, she said, women make up half the population, so it makes sense that one day they might get to half the representation.