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Chester County Press

On the bus: Kennett Area Democrats to lend support, voices at Women's March

12/18/2018 01:38PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

On the early morning of Jan. 21, 2017, one day after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States, nearly 200 people boarded four buses in Kennett Square, that had been chartered by the Kennett Area Democrats.

A few hours later, they arrived in Washington, D.C., and entered into a wall-to-wall sea of humanity that covered our nation's capitol like a pink tarpaulin.

It was the first Women's March on Washington, and it became the largest, single-day protest of its kind in U.S. history. Estimates put the throng between 500,000 and 1 million, and its impact reverberated around the world; an additional 5 million participated in similar marches in American cities and towns, – including Kennett Square -- and in every continent.

“There was a lot camaraderie between people on those buses, and then when we got to D.C., we saw people who had come from Maine and Florida and seemingly everywhere else,” said LeeAnne Held of the Kennett Area Democrats (KAD). “We had just taken a two-hour bus ride, but other people had traveled 8, 10, 12 hours to get there. It was absolutely thrilling to be a part of the moment.”

For Kennett Area Democrats Chairman Wayne Braffman and his wife, Sally, getting to the march involved boarding a commuter train from Arlington, Va. After waiting an hour to board, the Braffmnan's arrived in the nation's capitol to what Braffman called “a sea of people.”

“We had no idea where anything was,” he said. “We just went with the flow of the crowd. People were moving, so we just moved with them, but it turned out that it was a march to nowhere. There were thousands and thousands of people.”

Braffman said he began to feel the heartbeat of the movement as early as the organization's first meeting that year, held in early January 2017, two months after the 2016 presidential election, and just weeks before the first Women's March.

“The place was packed,” he said. “It wasn't just our committee people, but residents had come. They kept asking us, 'What can I do?' They were all hungry to do something. The march became something we could focus on. Now at least there was something we could do to exercise our right to assembly. We started with one bus and just kept adding buses.”

On Jan. 19, 2019, the Kennett Area Democrats will be again be sponsoring four more buses to participate in the third annual Women's March in Washington, D.C., which will begin at 10 a.m. on the National Mall between 12th and 3rd Street. The subsequent rally will take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The buses have rolled out of Kennett Square before; in 2018, the KAD took several busloads to the Women's March in Philadelphia, and this past March, the group coordinated a bus trip to the “March For Our Lives” protest in Washington, D.C., to demand action against gun violence.

For many, the inaugural Women’s March in 2017 served as a forum of ignition that galvanized women around the world to force change, not only in the areas of women's rights, but for immigration reform; rights for the LGBTQ community; climate change; racial injustice; and sexual assault on campuses and the workplace.

While many in the women's movement still protest family separations at the U.S. border and the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps the clearest evidence that their voices have been heard occurred last month, when 117 women were elected to national office, including 96 women to the House, 12 to the Senate, and 9 to governor seats.

Braffman said that while he predicts less of a fever pitch at the third Women's March, it will still serve as a call to further action.

“The question at the first march stemmed from people asking, 'What can I do?'” he said. “In the ensuing two years, people have discovered what they can do. People have now found productive means to get their voice heard. They know what post cards are all about, and canvassing, and phone calls.”

As the KAD prepared for the November mid-term elections, a record number of volunteers folded, addressed and helped mail 14,000 pieces of campaign literature in support of the elections of Gov. Tom Wolf; Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman; Sen. Bob Casey; Chrissy Houlahan, a candidate for the U.S. House; and Christina Sappey and Anton Andrew, candidates for the Pennsylvania State House.

The KAD's efforts were also boosted by a record $60,000 in contributions, some of which went to pay data available through social media, in an effort not only to connect with liberals and moderate Democrats but moderate Republicans throughout the 10 municipalities the group reaches in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“We were able to target our message to people based on various scores and ratings that are included in Facebook's data base, so it allowed us to reach people who are ideologically attuned to our message, and when we included them, it increased out target base by about one-third,” Braffman said. “We did direct mail. We sent them a direct letter telling them about our candidates. We did phone banking. We canvassed them multiple times. We knocked on doors. We printed sample ballots. We did an enormous amount of work to reach them.”

Of the many take-away memories Braffman has of the first Women's March, one moment shines above the rest, one that he feels crystallizes the mission of the march, and the power of assembly. At one point during the march, he heard a chant in the crowd that kept gaining volume and momentum.

“It was, 'Tell me what democracy looks like...This is what democracy looks like,'” he said. “I don't remember where I was, but I just started crying, because as I looked around, I thought, 'This really is democracy,' and everyone here was playing their little role in it. It affirmed that we can do something, and that we can participate.”

To reserve a seat on one of the four buses the KAD is reserving for the Women's March in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19, 2019, visit www.kennettareademocrats.com.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.





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