A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER
While I have been involved in politics for most of my life, my first foray into women’s rights activism began early last year thanks to the state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound legislation in the Virginia General Assembly. The ultrasound bill ultimately passed, but the word “transvaginal” was removed from the language because the revival of grassroots political activism in Virginia proved to be a strong force.
My initial leadership role in women’s rights was through a fortuitous series of events. Attendance was higher than expected at a demonstration, a march that was to begin and end at the Virginia State Capitol on March 3, 2012, that was organized to demonstrate the widespread opposition to the transvaginal ultrasound bill. Because I happened to be standing with the organizers at the moment that they realized more people were in attendance than could be handled by their group, they invited me to help them manage the crowd and briefed me on all of the details.
About halfway through the march, the organizers were detained to sort out a crosswalk issue. The march had stopped moving for several minutes, and the protestors were getting antsy. Having been briefed about the route and the plan from the organizers, I made a snap decision to get the show moving again. I marched right up to the front of the group and ended up leading the entire crowd of over a thousand protesters for several blocks through the streets of downtown Richmond until the organizers reconciled the traffic issues, regrouped at the head of the line and led us up the steep hill onto Virginia State Capitol steps.
Despite the peaceful protesting of a group of calm women and men wearing windbreakers and mom jeans, Capitol Police troopers dressed in full riot gear were called to clear us from the steps. Arrests were made of those who refused to leave the stairs, and early iconic photographs were taken of what was only just then being commonly deemed the War on Woman. On that day, a national movement was born.
An exorbitant amount of media coverage ensued after the protest at the Virginia Capitol. (In fact, a film documenting the struggle for women’s rights in Virginia last year, Political Bodies, was just named best documentary at the Austin Film Festival!) News of the arrests incensed people and added momentum to the fight against the barrage of anti-women legislation being proposed all over the country. Protests popped up everywhere. Women organized at local and national levels, and new organizations were formed. I went from showing up at a protest where I knew very few people to being the Vice President of Outreach and Public Relations for UniteWomen.org, a national 501 (c)(3) women’s advocacy organization, within a matter of thirteen months – all because more people than expected showed up at the Capitol on March 3, 2012.
The work of a women’s rights activist, most of whom volunteer their time (as I do), is extremely rewarding when we see the fruits of our labor. As election day looms for the Virginia Gubernatorial race, the candidate who stands strongly with women leads his opponent by 20 points with women in the polls. I can’t help but feel glee at the extent of the public awareness that has been raised by my fellow Virginia women’s rights activists and I within just 18 months. (Update 11/5/13: the candidate supporting women’s rights, Terry McAuliffe, won the election, defeating the Tea Party candidate, Ken Cuccinelli.)
Virginia has led the nation in activism and in spirit. Activists, advocates and voters have an important message to legislators who would try to enact laws that serve women poorly: a woman’s work is never done.
Also posted on the Daily Kos and Blue Virginia: