By Vivion Vinson

Organizers for the Women’s March on Washington and the Women’s March on Philadelphia, both to occur the day after the inauguration, held an information meeting at the Arch Street Methodist Church in Center City on Saturday.  According to CBS Philly, over 1000 protesters attended, packing the pews.

State Representative Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia) spoke first at the event, called the “Always Forward, Never Back” forum, recounting her personal history of political engagement and her family’s reaction to the recent election results, and winding up with a message of hope.  She started with her introduction to activism when, in her usual suit and heels, she staged a sit-in in high school to get a sewage backup problem fixed in the gym.  It was a long road to her current position representing the 195th Legislative District.  Before the election, she said, “I thought we were a color-blind, politically correct society,” but on the day after she realized, “the cloak of political correctness was being pulled away.”  She described not having an answer for her children when they asked her, “Mommy, you tell us not to use those words, but he does?  Why?”

Video of the Women’s March Information Meeting from Samantha Robinson on Vimeo.

Mary Donahue from Planned Parenthood also spoke during the session, and outlined the impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  956,000 people stand to lose insurance coverage in Pennsylvania if that happens, she informed the crowd.  She was careful to note that there is no specific budget item in the federal budget for Planned Parenthood.  Rather, federal funding for the agency comes primarily from Medicaid reimbursement for family planning services.  No federal money goes to abortion.  The proposed cuts are instead, “an attack on our most vulnerable communities, and will disproportionately affect people of color and LGBTQ communities,” Donahue explained.  “Nearly half of our patients at Planned Parenthood in Southeast Pennsylvania are on Medicaid,” she said.  “We’ve already seen increases in STDs and self-induced abortions in states who have defunded Planned Parenthood.” On a positive note, Donahue described an outpouring of support since the election, with 400 volunteer inquiries.  “We need more patient advocates!”  There will be a post-election strategy session on January 25th, location pending.

Next, Zack Lewis of ADAPT and Dynah Haubert, Esq. spoke about the impact of the election and the pending repeal of the ACA on people with disabilities.  “A lot of our community depends on government programs that are the only forms of home care that can keep us out of nursing homes,” explained Haubert.  “One of the biggest concerns is our LIVES.  These services we have to fight for, to keep us alive, and keep us home, where we want to be.  To have no idea if these things will even be options in the future is really terrifying.”  Haubert went on to describe how advocates and activists can work more effectively with the disabled community as allies by planning accessible events with reserved seating for the disabled, accessible bathrooms, and having sign interpreters available.  She will be working on a how-to document.

Mary Catherine Roper from the ACLU gave a brief primer on first amendment rights.  First she distinguished between direct action and civil disobedience.  The former is meant to disrupt, and is not always legal.  The latter occurs when one breaks the law with the intention of getting caught in order to make a point.  She emphasized that the first amendment does not constrain employers or individuals.  She reviewed the importance of researching whether permits are required for an event, and explained that in Philadelphia, no permits are needed for fewer than 75 people if they are not stopping traffic.  She encouraged people to ask questions by going to www.aclupa.org and clicking on “To file a complaint.”

The session wrapped up with veteran activist Dian Williams giving practical tips for protesters at the marches.  She discouraged backpacks due to possible pickpockets, and suggested clothing with a lot of pockets filled with small snacks.  “It’s very usual for cell phone access to be shut off,” she said, and told the audience to “assume your cell phone will not work.”  If someone wants to film something, she suggested bringing a small digital camera.  Also important:  buy a metro transit pass in advance, or be prepared to walk two miles or more to the march site.

Various handouts with tips for marching and sustaining a movement, among others, along with a videotape of the entire event are available at the associated Facebook page.

Always Forward, Never Back