Josette Belant has never planned a protest before. Much less one that might draw thousands of people to the streets of her hometown.
Belant, a scheduler at a primary care clinic, was eager to lend a hand when her friend invited 15 people to a women's march in their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, on Jan. 21, in solidarity with the larger women's march in Washington, D.C. She joined the steering committee along with two other friends, and buzz swiftly, unexpectedly spread far beyond the tight-knit group.
As of January 11, over 6,400 people have indicated they're going to the Madison rally.
"We were angry. I mean that’s what a lot of it comes down to — is being done with it. Needing to do something is a very powerful feeling," Belant says.
While thousands of Americans are marching in Washington, D.C., thousands more are planning to attend "sister marches" in their home states across America.
Many of the sister marches are being helmed by first-time organizers.
Women's march organizers state that nearly 300 solidarity rallies will take place around the world on the 21st.
"I’ve never really been political or an activist really up until this past year," says Billie Mays, an organizer with Women's March Cincinnati. When one of her fellow organizers created a Facebook event to send a local delegation to Washington, D.C., she was the first one to volunteer help. The committee, which was soon joined by half a dozen others, came up with the idea to hold a local rally in addition — which they planned over four 18-hour days between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2.
The weekend was a crash course in event planning for Mays — figuring out how to secure permits, raise money, and acquire insurance, among other tasks.
"So many people feel like this, and they’re fearful, and they’re scared of what’s going to happen to themselves, their families, their friends, their coworkers. And it’s just been a growing movement," she says.
Mays, an administrative assistant, explains that she was disturbed by a campaign dominated by hateful, racially divisive language and was motivated to push back in person — after a series of frustrating experiences trying to do so with friends and family on social media.
Many say they're looking to the platform that was recently released by organizers of the D.C. march as a guide to what they're protesting for.
The platform is a wide-ranging document that calls for equal pay and an end to sexual violence, as well as criminal justice reform, a renewed push for union organizing, and an elevation of domestic care work, which is frequently performed by women of color.
Still, for many of the local organizers, the motivation to get involved in planning these rallies is personal.
Sheli Weis, a member of the planning committee for the Tucson, Arizona, march, doesn't know if she'll be able to join in person. As a disabled woman who suffers from extreme allergies and often has difficulty leaving home, Weis sees her role on the planning committee as a chance to make her voice heard from behind the scenes.
"A lot of what causes me problems and many people problems is the environment," Weis says. "It’s the cars, and the manufacturing, and the damaging of the soil and the air and the food, and we have to do something. I can’t lay in bed and do nothing. I have to go. I have to do something."
Many involved in the sister marches are especially eager to make sure the message of the march reaches their local politicians.
"It’s a little bit different, potentially, for Scott Walker to sit in the capitol and see a bunch of Wisconsin men and women marching in D.C. than it is to have all of us show up on his front door," Belant says of the Madison march.
"Our lovely state government was just trying to pass a six-week heartbeat abortion bill," Mays explains. Though Ohio Governor John Kasich vetoed that bill, the state went on to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
Beyond providing a platform for those who can't afford to travel to D.C., organizers said the local marches provide an opportunity to start discussing ways to affect change from the ground up — and to let like-minded locals know they're not alone.
“It’s important for us not always to look toward Washington," Weis says. "Not that we aren’t supporting the march, but it should also be in our town. It should also be between our neighbors. We should also be able to stand together as a community and help one another."
More importantly, these freshmen organizers see their marches as a beginning, rather than an end.
The Madison march is set to travel nine-tenths of a mile from Library Mall to the state capitol building, but Belant hopes it — and the other marches — won't end there.
"They’re a kicking-off point," Belant says. "They’re saying, 'Here are all these people who agree with you, who also see that things need to change and need to be different.'"
For these organizers, whose lives have taken on a surprising new dimension in recent weeks, the thousands planning to swarm the streets of Madison, Cincinnati, Tucson, and dozens of other cities across the country aren't just proof of their newfound skills. They're vital allies for what comes next.
On Jan. 21, they'll finally make contact.