Women’s March Maui ’19 persists despite fractures
KAHULUI — Despite a fractured national movement and march cancellations around the country, including on Oahu, the Women’s March on Maui moved forward Saturday morning.
The third annual march drew fewer participants than in previous years, organizers said. The first local march, sparked with a Hana woman’s Facebook inauguration post that ignited about 600 rallies worldwide, drew about 5,000 in 2017. Approximately 3,500 showed up in 2018, and this year, event speaker and clinical psychologist Virgina Cantorna estimated around 2,000.
“It’s less than I would’ve hoped,” said Robin Pilus, one of Maui’s organizers. “I think people are discouraged over the division. At the very beginning, we felt we could make a difference; it seemed like we could sprint, with all that energy. Now we realized it will be a long-distance run.”
Still, hundreds of residents and visitors, along with three counterprotesters, set up base camp on University of Hawaii Maui College campus with an array of colorful signs, clothes and language. With a prayer by Hawaiian spiritual leader Lei’ohu Ryder and an opening speech emphasizing “aloha for all” by Cantorna, marchers took to the street.
“I’m marching because I want my granddaughter to see strong women who can march for our rights,” said Nancy Sulenta of Pukalani, who pointed to Bryn Rodrigues, 15, a Kamehameha Schools Maui student. “Maui is unique, in that, we have a strong community of strong women.”
Maui County Council Member Kelly King said she is marching for her third year because of the need for female leaders.
“It’s not that there aren’t women who are all about power and control, but my general experience is that we need more female leaders because we need the nurturing and civility in government,” said King, who chairs a council where for the first time in Maui’s history women have the majority, 6-3.
“It’s about making a difference wherever you are, making a difference at a community scale and keeping it grassroots,” she said. “It’s not necessarily about what’s going on at a national level.”
Maui’s event coincided with marches held across the country Saturday, including the largest rally in Washington, D.C. However, in recent months other marches were canceled or never planned, including ones in California, Chicago, New Orleans and Oahu, citing the division over the movement’s ideology, the poor weather or even concerns about being “overwhelmingly white,” according to organizers of a march planned for Northern California that was canceled.
In November, Teresa Shook, a Hana resident and retired lawyer widely regarded as Women’s March founder, accused the national march organization’s four main leaders of anti-Semitism and called for them to step down. The focus was mainly on leaders Linda Sarsour, who has criticized Israeli policy, and Tamika Mallory, who has maintained an association with Louis Farrakhan, leader of Nation of Islam, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group.
In a Facebook post, Shook claimed Sarsour and Mallory, along with fellow organizers Bob Bland and Carmen Perez, had “steered the Movement away from its true course” and called for all four to step down. Shook, though, encouraged sister marches at grassroots levels to continue their efforts.
The four have denied the charge, but Sarsour has publicly expressed regret that they were not “faster and clearer in helping people understand our values.”
The Maui march Saturday focused on ways to “empower people to band together to positively change our world” while separating from national affiliation.
“Women’s March Maui does not share leaders, structure or funding with the national organization and does not have any input on their leadership or decision-making,” a release said. “Maui’s organizers believe that diversity makes us stronger and does not tolerate anti-Semitism, hate speech, bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, or any other form of hatred.”
Maui marchers were met with the same trio of counterprotesters from last year’s rally who denounced abortion, feminism, liberalism and homosexuality via loudspeaker. A handful of women’s marchers climbed a UH-MC wall to block the exchange between groups before a security officer asked them to come down. Other marchers responded with profanity, and some offered peace signs and messages on love.
Sponsored by UH-MC’s chancellor’s office, the 2019 Women’s March was organized by Maui residents Pilus, Sara Patton, Caron Barrett and Deborah Viel and was emceed by Kathy Collins. At the close of the event, Patton and Pilus said they were happy with the turnout despite controversy at a national level.
“We chose as a sister march to focus on our Maui island and the original heartbeat and spirit of the movement,” Pilus said. “Maui is a special place. We have our own vibe and our own energy. We see our march as leading the way for ‘aloha for all.’ And we are not going to be discouraged.”
Patton said organizers will continue to encourage others.
“Stay vigilant, stay involved and don’t lose hope,” she said.
* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.