Participants in the Women March in Seneca Falls hold up signs during the on event Jan. 18.

Participants in the Women March in Seneca Falls hold up signs during the on event Jan. 18. 

 

For the estimated 2,000 who turned out on a snowy Saturday afternoon for Women March in Seneca Falls Jan. 18, it was an opportunity to show unity around a clear message: We can do better.

Susan Scheuerman, one of the event’s organizers, said that moving the march and rally from a single-day event to three days showcased the importance of this year’s iteration. 

“The mission of Women March in Seneca Falls was and continues to be the spirit of uplifting the status of women,” Scheuerman said. “And so because it falls in the year 2020, a convergent year of several big events, we have called it an ‘epic’ event in Seneca Falls.”

Scheuerman said the weekend events, which started on Friday in Auburn and moved to Seneca Falls for the march and rally, were part of a national conversation. Organizers hope the weekend was an opportunity for that conversation to start and grow. 

The weekend events were organized by a core group of approximately 15 women. “We’ve banded together for the last four years,” Scheuerman explained. “When we convened in January [2019] to talk about this year’s event, it all started flowing pretty quickly,” she recounted. “It was pretty easy because we did designate Seneca Falls as the epic epicenter of all the national celebrations of the 100th anniversary of our right to vote.”

Coline Jenkins, the great-great granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, spoke about her ancestral ties to the fight that she continues today. She spoke in Seneca Falls about the work and the support that has allowed for so much progress over the last 100 years. Speaking to the crowd on Saturday, Jenkins said that her great-grandmother was certainly with those marching. 

“She is with us. Over there she had the audacity to demand elected franchise. What does that mean: the vote,” Jenkins said. 

Civic engagement was a crucial part of the message being delivered on Saturday, whether that meant mobilizing throughout the 2020 presidential election cycle or simply getting more women into elected office. Speakers, marchers, and organizers agreed that more progress can be achieved.

For Scheuerman, 2019 was the year she ran for elected office and lost. It still had a huge impact on her. “There were two women running, which was great,” she recalled. “Still, a loss is a loss. I didn’t like losing. And I learned a lot though by running for office, and the kinds of skills you need to engage your voters.”

She said 2020 can be a pivotal year for women running for elected office; however, she simultaneously hoped that this year wouldn’t discourage other women from running. 

“I think our schools need to make sure that 16 and 17 year olds in New York state can now be registered to vote at 18. I hope that our schools will jump in and make sure that that happens,” Scheuerman said. “I think it has to be a national crusade to make sure that we’ve done everything we can to help get elected the person or persons who we think are qualified to do the job. And that’s an important responsibility.”

Scheuerman admitted that the push for more women in elected office is a fairly recent development. She said women struggle with the idea that they can be leaders, and they have other forces pulling at them in society. “I think the message we give to our our boys and then our men is that it’s a clear path for them to go from A to Z and run for office. There’s nothing in between,” she explained. “For women, there are a lot of opportunities to not run for office. There are other things that can get in the way because we are not and have not been conditioned to think that we are leaders.”

She says it is changing. 

“There are courses you can take. There’s curriculums being designed and developed to be used in our schools that allow girls to think about themselves in leadership positions early on in life rather than later on in life,” she said. “All of these things will take a little bit of time. But I see where they are being encouraged, women are being encouraged, and girls, to think of themselves in leadership roles.”

National Organization for Women (NOW) President Toni Van Pelt delivered the march keynote address. Organizers were excited about her presence at the historic march. 

“Today we are just as determined, just as resolute and on course for transformational change as the women in Seneca Falls all those long years ago did,” Pelt said. “Remember this: when we take action, we win.”

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