Remember the Woman’s March a few weeks back? Millions of people around the world stood up for the rights of all humans and in opposition to the just-inaugurated POTUS. It was the largest one-day protest in US history and it was monumental. But before the pink pussy hats and the think pieces about said hats, it was an idea. Teresa Shook’s idea.
Teresa, a retired attorney from a small town in Hawaii, created a “March on Washington” Facebook event the night after the 2016 election. She sent it to some friends, went to bed and woke up to more than 20,000 people interested in attending. Things snowballed and before long, Teresa was onstage in Washington on January 21st—alongside Gloria Steinem, Ashley Judd, Madonna—thanking half a million people for coming. This past week, she was officially recognized by the island of Maui for her role as “The Firestarter” in launching the Women’s March.
We checked in with Teresa to see how she was feeling and what she believes about the power of protest.
What was it like seeing your Facebook event turn into the biggest protest in American history? And to speak to the entire world from that stage?
The morning I had over 20,000 people “interested and coming” to my event… it was surreal. I could not wrap my head around it. I kept saying, “Oh my god, oh my god!” out loud to no one. Then I got busy trying to harness the momentum and get a ton of people on board. I will never forget that moment: Sipping my coffee, opening my Facebook page and being stunned.
Speaking was an adrenaline rush. I was so pumped from the energy of the crowd. The positivity, solidarity and love from the crowd was palpable. I had just scrambled my way through that crowd so I was really psyched. Because of a snafu with my car pickup, I had to be dropped off some distance from the stage and I was blocked by the crowd. I realized I was never going to get through. So I said, “I’m the woman who started this all. I’m supposed to be on stage soon.” A tall young man said, “Are you kidding, grab my waist!” He made way for me through the crowd up to the stage. We had so many important guests, I had been given only one minute to speak. There were so many things I wanted to say, but I got to say the most important, which was, “Thank you for making this possible. Thank you for standing up.” I wish I had also said, “You are the heart and soul of this movement. Never give up.”
How are you feeling, two weeks out from the March? Obviously, there’s been a bunch of shit coming down from the new administration. How do we process that after such a historic and reaffirming show of protest? What are your biggest fears about where the country’s headed?
We are in a much better place to “process” than the day after the election. We are organized now. We can mobilize. There is so much crap coming at us that I tell women to stay focused on our mission. We want a fair, just and inclusive nation. We aren’t going to get it with this administration. So that’s our focus. We have action plans on the national and state levels. Individuals can also have plans, a daily action towards that objective. [See below for some ideas.]
What role do you think activism plays in shaping a democracy? Are marches and protests like this effective in changing policy or the decisions of elected officials? Does the time and effort it take to plan and host a march like this worth the ROI?
This was a grassroots, bottom-up movement that was accomplished in two-and-a-half months. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears from many people, but it’s the biggest protest in the history of recorded protests. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Does it make a difference? Absolutely. Historically, marches and protests have shaped policy: women’s right to vote, the civil rights movement (still much to be done, but progress was made), the Vietnam War, etc. Putting skin in the game is important. It isn’t enough to [just be] on social media.
There were scuffles over intersectionalism as this March was being organized. What did you experience and how do you think we can consolidate the sometimes fractious Left without leaving behind the valid concerns of minorities and the marginalized?
I understand the intersectionality issue and it’s important. Two of my granddaughters are of Asian American ancestry. As a white woman, if had a hardship in my life, I still had a privilege that a WOC who may have faced the same hardship did not. I can empathize, but I haven’t walked a mile in her shoes. On the same hand, no individual can truly understand the specific hardships other people face. For instance, I almost lost my eyesight due to a rare eye disease. The doctor said I would be blind in six weeks. My eyesight deteriorated to the point that I had a major lifestyle change. To other people, it looked like I could see. No one knew what devastation I was feeling, how hard my life was. Luckily, I found a stem cell treatment that restored much of my vision. Before that, when my vision was poor, people treated me like I was stupid or socially inept because I missed social cues. They didn’t understand and it made me angry. But they didn’t know. The point is, everyone has a path and maybe a different cause or issue that is important to them based on their race, gender, religion, etc. Right now, we need to focus on what we have in common and how much more power we have when we come together with the goal of keeping America a democracy—and out of the hands of an administration with no regard for human rights of any kind. Our individual causes do not suffer for that fight.
Along the same lines, are we liberals just too nice? The Nasty Women movement is fantastic but I sometimes worry we’re not nasty enough. Not when we’re up against what we’re up against. Going high when they go low… does that work?
I think we are seeing steely determination come forth. I have fierceness in me—I’ve always had it when there was a cause to fight—and I won’t be “nice.” I’ve heard many, many people say this. I think the liberals are going to hang tough. The Dems filibustered over DeVos. Good on ’em. It might work the next time. Fierce love is what is called for right now.
I kept reading how you’re the “Hawaiian grandmother” who started the March. I pictured this little old lady with her grey hair in a bun— a “grandmother”—and then I saw you and I was laughing because you’re a flame-haired Jerry Hall! What was it like for you to see these grandma headlines? I couldn’t help thinking it was slyly sexist and ageist. Instead of saying “a former Hawaiian attorney,” it goes straight to the role of grandmother. But what a way to shake up the idea of a grandma!
Yes, it’s been amusing to see me categorized as a “grandmother” or “retiree” as if somehow that is the limit of my existence. Lol. But it’s ok. I am a grandmother and I was inspired by a strong desire to see my granddaughters not have to face the same misogynistic bullshit I had to as a woman working in a “man’s world.” (When I was coming up as a lawyer, most of the lawyers were men.) If people want to underestimate me based on that label, so be it. Being underestimated gives me an edge against unsuspecting foes! And it does knock the hell out of the image of what a “grandma” is. I have never lived a traditional mother or grandmother life. I never walked a traditional path and have always been a risk-taker. It’s not going to stop just because I got older and became a grandma.
Have there been any negative consequences to being in the public eye as the originator of the March? If so, how do you cope?
I’m coping the best I can right now. I live in a quiet, remote town of 1500 people. My way of life has been upended for sure. But I’m honored to have been the catalyst for something so extraordinary. So I’ll take this as part of the package—although I never expected this in my wildest dreams.
Going forward, what do you see for yourself personally in terms of the Resistance?
I’m still sorting that out for myself. I am working with my Hawaii team of state organizers for Women’s March on Washington (WMW), which aligns with the National movement. We have added the logistical issue of being an island state and separated by water. We have been communicating all along and we have our first meeting in a week. My personal goals are the same: To see we retain a fair, just and inclusive America and work towards derailing threats to what this great country has achieved.
If you want to take action, here are a few ways:
Ten Actions, 100 Days: Action steps from The Women’s March Movement
The Resistance Calendar: Events and actions taking place worldwide (though mainly US-based)
Action Calendar For Americans Of Conscience: A weekly checklist with clear actions to take, reading lists on the big issues and good news, too
5 Things To Do (Post-Election): A list of organizations to donate to, books for kids, ideas for self-care