The Woman Behind the Movement

The woman who started an international movement of more than six million participants around the globe visited Molokai last week. Teresa Shook, founder of The Women’s March on Washington, led a community discussion last Tuesday that drew a small crowd eager hear about how the retired attorney and grandmother of Hana, Maui, had found herself in the position of organizing the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history, on Jan. 21.

“Over 6 million people in the world stood in solidarity with us,” Shook told the group. “I still, daily, hear from people all over the world who reach out to me to tell me how their life was changed. My life was definitely changed. I still get chicken skin when I think about the crowd. I tell people I’ve run out of synonyms about how profoundly moving it was.”

Shook grew up in a small, conservative midwestern town in Indiana and shared her experiences as a young wife and mother, who later divorced and put herself through law school while raising her sons. She spoke about the struggles she faced as a female attorney in the 80s in Indiana, where 80 to 90 percent of lawyers were men, and treated women in law with a “misogynistic attitude.”

Shook eventually relocated to Santa Cruz, where she also had her own law practice. After visiting a friend on Maui, Shook “fell in love and felt drawn” to Hana, began living there part-time, and has lived there permanently since 2003.

Though she said she had never considered herself “political,” as the election cycle of 2016 shaped up, Shook said she found herself deeply dismayed by the tone of the Trump campaign. She said the “intolerance… made me really angry.”

The day after the election, she said she woke up feeling depressed, frustrated and powerless.

“I refused to believe that that’s the country I live in,” she said. “It woke this thing up. That, ‘I love my country. I love the people who live in my country!’ And I believed that there were a whole lot of people who thought like that.”

So she started chatting with people on Facebook, suggesting that women should march on Washington.

“To me, it was like, it’s not enough to just say this on Facebook or social media,” she explained. “We need skin in the game. We need to show up… to show [Trump] ‘We are not who you say we are. And we will not be quiet. And we will stand up. And we will change this.’”

That night, she created a private Facebook event page, chose a date and a route, and wrote down the mission goals of the march. She sent it to about 70 friends. When she woke up in the morning, she had 10,000 attendees, 10,000 interested, and her inbox flooded with friend requests and messages.

Within that week, she had connected with several other women across the country who had had the same idea, and had formed a multi-cultural organizing committee with representative volunteers in each state. Eight weeks later, a massive crowd of marchers, estimated between 500,000 and 1.2 million by crowd scientists, descended on the Washington Mall, displaying signs and shouting chants expressing their disdain.

National leaders of the march have were quick to clarify that it was not solely an “anti-Trump” march but a show of solidarity amidst what they saw as a period of social and civil unrest and the intentional marginalization and demonization of minority groups, including, Muslims, immigrants, refugees and women. In addition to the marchers in Washington D.C., the Women’s March also held “sister marches” in hundreds of cities, in every U.S. state, as well as in several other countries throughout the world.

The talk story event, held at Kalele Bookstore in Kaunakakai, was organized by Emillia Noordhoek, one of the Women’s March Hawaii leaders, and Rick Ornelis, a teacher at Molokai High.

Molokai High School students Kalei Cummings, Sharnelle Kaili and Maria Engst launched the evening discussion by giving brief presentations about powerful and inspiring women, including Rosa Parks, Queen Liliuokalani and Malala Yousafzai.

Though the Women’s March event was last January, the momentum continues. Each state has their own chapter operating under the banner of Women’s March to keep people involved with continued advocacy and encouraging women to run for office.

Shook, who will be receiving an American Spirit Award through The Common Good Forum in May, is now primarily working with Women’s March Hawaii and is preparing to travel throughout the mainland and the world doing “grassroots town halls” and speaking events.

Attendees discussed holding future meetings to continue the conversation and promote civic engagement, as well as organizing a Molokai March for Science and Climate Change on April 29, at 9 a.m., starting at the bookstore. The next meeting was scheduled for Thursday, May 25 at 5 pm.

“I’ve learned tonight that you can’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe and that one idea can spread like wildfire and you never know how many millions of people are out there just waiting to help you,” said Kaili.

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