Locals march to protest erosion of women’s, universal issues

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski About 85 people march Saturday from Franklin Park to the Shawano County Courthouse as part of the second annual Women’s March. This was the first year a local march was held in concert with the national protest.

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Georgia Stapleton, a retired nurse from Shawano, stands on the steps of the Shawano County Courthouse on Saturday as part of the community’s Women’s March and speaks to a crowd of 85 people about many issues she feels are not being addressed at the state and federal levels.

Women nationwide got out and marched over the weekend on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, seeking to bring light to women’s issues and topics affecting all people.

Nationally, millions of people took to the streets with signs and chants. A little closer to home, about 85 people took part Saturday in Shawano’s march, which went from Franklin Park to the Shawano County Courthouse and back again.

Marchers on the local route carried signs urging folks to get out and vote, demand equal pay for men and women, show love and tolerance, and seek health care for all.

That last issue is a particular sticking point for Georgia Stapleton, a retired nurse who participated in last year’s Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Stapleton has been involved in the health care profession for 50 years, she said, starting out as a certified nursing assistant.

“I’m very enthused about saving our health care; that’s why I marched in D.C.,” Stapleton said.

Stapleton showed the sign she carried in last year’s march. The name of Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price was crossed off, but Price wasn’t off Stapleton’s mind. She let the crowd know her displeasure of his brief tenure in Trump’s administration.

“He hated the Affordable Care Act. He hated Medicaid. He hated Medicare, but guess what?” Stapleton said. “He spent a million dollars on private planes, and he got the boot.”

Stapleton’s criticism of the administration did not stop at Price, as she pointed out that Betsy DeVos, education secretary, doesn’t have a college degree in education. When she mentioned the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, boos rippled through the crowd.

“Seven hundred people from that organization have left” the EPA, Stapleton said, including “200 scientists.”

Even though the marches have been labeled as women’s marches, men and children were part of the local march. Stapleton noted the same was true in Washington, where 500,000 people took part.

“I saw young men holding their babies (and) marching,” Stapleton said. “I saw older men pushing their wives in their wheelchairs.”

Fast forward one year later, and the Women’s March dawned on the first day of a federal government shutdown. Stapleton felt it was disgraceful.

“When our leaders hold disabled children hostage and their families hostage to sending a budget … we’re not going to stand for that,” Stapleton said as the audience burst into applause. “When our legislators tell us that we should not have the Affordable Care Act, no! We will not stand for that. We will never stand for that.”

Despite seeing trouble over the last year, Stapleton also saw hope — noting that Democrats won special elections at the state and national levels in recent months. However, the work is far from over, she said.

“I’ve been to New York many, many times, and I’ve flown over the Statue of Liberty. I don’t know what she must be thinking right now,” Stapleton said. “It breaks my heart, but I think it gives us more unity. I believe we’re more united than before.”

The theme for this year’s Women’s March was “Power to the Polls.” It’s more important than ever to get people to the polls, Stapleton said, as the midterm elections could impact the makeup of the state and federal legislative branches.

“Run for office,” Stapleton said to the crowd. “We need more women candidates; sorry, guys.”

Among those in the crowd were Shawano Community High School students who were part of a group called “Be the Change.” Cedar Fernandez, a sophomore and founding member, said she had started thinking about forming the group in eighth grade.

“I was starting to notice things happening around me,” Fernandez said. “Our group is about spreading kindness and love, and making sure everybody feels like they’re being treated equally.”

Shawano resident Dave Block told the crowd it was important for those in office to be aware that most of their constituents have values, and much of what is happening at the federal level goes against many of those values. Block cited as examples wisdom, bravery, fortitude — and, particularly, generosity.

“We have it in our hearts to help our fellow man, our fellow woman, anyone who is in need,” Block said. “When people in Washington take away those things which we feel are helpful to the least of those in our country, that is when we can stand up and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.”

Muffy Culhane, one of the driving forces behind SAM’s House, said the local march came together in less than a week.

“It warms my heart to see so many people that are caring and loving and want to work on things in a positive way to make things better — not only for our community, but for our country and for our world,” Culhane said. “The plan for this started Monday morning, and here we are on Saturday.”