Pivoting for peace: On the anniversary of last year's Women’s March, the focus shifts to the midterms

It's less about marching and more about getting sh*t done.

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Women's Day of Action — St. Petersburg.

Sunday, Jan. 21. 12:30-4:30 p.m. Williams Park, 330 2nd Ave. N. St. Petersburg.

Free Admission. Tickets available at Eventbrite.com

click to enlarge STRIDE WITH PRIDE: At the St. Pete Women's March 2017. - Nick Cardello
Nick Cardello
STRIDE WITH PRIDE: At the St. Pete Women's March 2017.

On Saturday, January 21, 2017, Lakeisha Black said she showed up to the St. Pete Women’s March alone. Being from Tampa, she even had trouble finding a parking space. She wound up walking from her car to the event with an older couple and their grandchildren. Barely 24 hours after Donald Trump was sworn into office, she said it was comforting to chat with strangers who shared her views.

“We hung out for the entire march and they were just so reassuring that I wasn’t losing my mind,” Black said. “It was amazing.”

She’s now the captain of the Tampa Women’s March.

She and her counterparts in St. Petersburg and at the state level have spent the last few months planning the second edition of the the event, which was wildly — and unexpectedly — successful last year. Yet this year’s is smaller and they’re calling it a “Day of Action.”

“We spent 2017 marching,” Black said. “Year 2018 is about utilizing that power that we had during the marches and turning it into actual action.”

Last year, the local event drew about 25,000 people, people who were angry and scared for the future. It mirrored staggering turnouts at similar events across the globe.

“I was not prepared for the mass of people,” said Amy Weintraub, who was on the steering committee for the St. Pete event in 2017. “If we’d really known, we would have gotten a better sound system.”

In many ways, the event offered aspiring activists an “in.” After the event, membership in groups like the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area and the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee ballooned. Activists — some of them who had prior to 2017 not been able to tell the difference between a county commissioner and a state senator — were now writing letters and making phone calls weekly, if not daily. They gathered weekly outside Sen. Marco Rubio’s now-defunct Tampa satellite office. Or outside the courthouse in downtown St. Pete.

Weintraub, a member of the Pinellas DEC, said a meeting got so crowded that they had to move it to a large ballroom at the hotel where it usually takes place. The local chapter of LWV’s membership, meanwhile, nearly tripled; it’s now the organization’s fourth largest chapter in the nation.

Weintraub said she thinks the Women’s March and subsequent activism have shown concrete outcomes at the polls, both in terms of who’s running and for whom the electorate votes.

“I believe that we had a much more engaged electorate for our city elections,” she said. “And we saw two women elected, first-time candidates, first-time female candidates elected in two hotly contested city council races. We saw a progressive mayor... reelected despite the amount of money his opponent raised.”

Black said that before 2017, she wasn’t too involved; she’d vote in presidential elections, but couldn’t really tell you who represented her on city council or county commission. But Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March inspired her.

Yet neither she nor any other organizer is expecting the same turnout numbers as last year. A Facebook page for the event shows 1,800 people “going” and 4,500 “interested.”

The hope is to inspire more activism in an off year, when Democratic turnout tends to lag in Florida, but when factors like Trumpism and #MeToo may be igniting interest in the midterms — and the event’s organizers hope to harness that energy through November, when Democrats see potential for winning back the U.S. House (and, though not as likely, the U.S. Senate) and even gaining ground in the GOP-dominated state legislature.

“We called our senators and we protested [in 2017], but what we’re trying to do is get our people focused on how to build that political power,” Black said.

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