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After the Women’s March on St. Louis, organizers redirect efforts into the community

A crowd packs Luther Ely Smith Square after the St. Louis Women's March, Jan.21, 2017.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
A crowd packs Luther Ely Smith Square after the St. Louis Women's March In January.

Organizers of last month's Women’s March on St. Louis are encouraging its thousands of participants to channel their energy into activism.

They hope to keep the momentum going through community meetings planned for March that will include strategy sessions on education, criminal justice, access to reproductive health care and other issues. The topics will be chosen from threads on a Facebook page for the marchers called DefendHERS. It shares its name with the non-partisan organization started by the women behind the march.

Valerie Brinkman, a founding member, said the Facebook group aims to lead people to existing resources.

“We want it to be community driven and community lead — almost like the march," Brinkman said. "We’re in charge of logistics, we’re facilitating, but we want it to be about you.”

Anyone interested in DefendHERS or the march, can access a list of organizations already working on many of the issues that inspired the march.

Among them is Diversity Awareness Partnership. The organization facilitates tough conversations about race, identity and inclusion for businesses and schools. Executive Director Reena Hajat Carroll, who attended the march with colleague, said they hope its participants won’t stop there.

“Part of the way that you sustain that momentum is by having conversations with people who are different than you,” Carroll said. “This can’t be a trend. This can’t be, 'We’re going to do this now — and then we don’t see you again after six months.' This is a long-term issue and it’s going to take a really long-term commitment.”

Both Carroll and Brinkman said a central problem they hope to tackle is a lack of understanding between groups of people in St. Louis and in the nation at large.

“We don’t understand people’s lived experiences that are different than our own,” Carroll said. “And when you don’t understand someone’s lived experience, you can’t empathize with them, and you can’t design policies that will help them and benefit the larger community.”

Brinkman said DefendHERS is not planning any marches in the near future, as organizers hope to support other marches, protests and actions already being organized. There are some plans to host a St. Louis Women’s March conference sometime in late summer, though it is still in the planning stages. That said, they hope to make the march an annual event every January.  

“I feel like our country is so divided,” Brinkman said. “And it’s become more important than ever to be vocal about these issues. I try to keep myself very educated about these things — but I am constantly learning. There’s just so much out there to know.”

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn