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300 Buffalonians bound for Women's March on Washington

Maureen Milligan is going to the march because she believes in the power of peaceful protest.

Ramona Santa Maria is going to make sure the voices of women, people of color and people with disabilities are heard.

Roseanne Cullis is taking her daughters so they can witness history.

Late Friday night and into the early morning hours, more than 300 people across the Buffalo area will board buses for a nearly 400-mile drive to the nation’s capital. There, on the day after Donald J. Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the U.S., they will gather en mass against him, his words and his policies and the divisiveness and rancor they feel he has incited in the country.

“We are people that feel strongly about the future and need to march and show that if there’s going to be action taken, there will be consequences. There will be outcry,” said Milligan, who with her friend Lisa Jo Schaeffer, chartered a bus to take protesters from Buffalo to the Women’s March on Washington.

More than 200,000 people are expected to rally beginning at 10 a.m. and march at 1:15 p.m. Saturday in Washington, according to the march's Facebook page. About 1,200 buses have registered to park at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium Saturday, according to D.C. district police and there are reports that another 800 buses are bringing protesters to the march. The Women’s March website shows that there are more than 400 buses from New York State alone headed to D.C. for Saturday’s event. There’s even one coming from Alaska. It left Saturday.

The idea for the march began the day after Election Day, according to the organizers. Teresa Shook, a retired lawyer and grandmother in Hawaii, suggested to some friends that they should plan a march in Washington. The idea was posted to the Facebook group “Pantsuit Nation” and evolved into the women’s march.

In addition to the massive rally in Washington, there are also more than 380 sister marches planned in cities throughout the U.S. and around the world.

In Buffalo, a weekend of “resistance” has been scheduled to coincide with the presidential inauguration. At 4:30 p.m. Friday, the Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition is holding a “No Trump! No KKK! No Racist USA!” march which starts at Lafayette Square. Then on Saturday, a sister march to the D.C. event – “No Hate, No Mandate” begins at 12:30 p.m. from outside Babeville, 341 Delaware Ave., and goes down Delaware to Niagara Square.

Also Saturday, there’s a rally and march in Seneca Falls at the First Amendment Declaration Park of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and three more sister marches just over the border in Ontario in St. Catharines, Hamilton and Toronto.

Of course, not all women or Buffalo-area residents will be protesting against Trump. Many of them voted for him. Nationally, women supported Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump by 54 percent to 42 percent, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of national exit polls. Barack Obama and his Republican opponents in 2012 and 2008 had about the same split among women voters.

In Erie County, Clinton won 50 percent of the vote, a 6 percent margin of victory over Trump.

Schaeffer and Milligan were determined to go to the march. As they called around and searched the internet for buses headed to D.C., they found they were all booked up or too expensive. So they decided they’d get one their own. They secured a charter bus for 56 passengers last Thursday.

“Within three days, we filled our bus,” Schaeffer said.

Tuesday afternoon, Schaeffer, a semi-retired social worker, stopped at a couple of dollar stores to pick up poster board and stickers to make signs to take to the march. At one of the stores, she saw a woman holding a baby girl. “I’m marching for this little girl right here,” she said she told them.

In the living room of her house in University Heights, she scrolled through her smart phone looking for ideas for her signs. “I like ‘Make America Think Again,’ ” she said, picking up a thick blue marker and a piece of red paper.

Schaeffer is going to the march, she said, not out of anger but rather to fight for “the common man.” Having been an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, she said she gets Trump supporters' frustrations about the government and economy.

“We need change in the U.S. and that we can all agree on,” Schaeffer said.

For Milligan, marching on the capital isn’t just a symbolic act.

In the 1980s, she was active in the fight against apartheid, South Africa’s system of institutionalized segregation and discrimination. She participated in numerous protests in the U.S. against apartheid and saw how international pressure played a key role in the system being abolished. “Voting is one piece of democracy. So is peaceful protest. I know it works because I’ve seen it work,” she said.

As a Daughter of the American Revolution – her grandfather nine generations ago carried a flag as an ensign during the Revolutionary War – she feels a special calling to make her voice heard.
“I need to be with people to feel some hope,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Santa Maria got her tickets on the “Rally Bus” from Buffalo to D.C. within just a few weeks of the election.

“I had reserved my ticket as soon as I could,” said Santa Maria, who lives in Kenmore and is a computer information systems professor at SUNY Buffalo State. She is on one of four buses organized through an Uber-like ride-sharing program for private buses called rallybus.net.

She has been vocal about her opposition to Trump through social media but also wanted to be in D.C. in person to be part of the mass protest. “I think it’s important for Trump to understand and look at all these women assembling saying, ‘We don’t support you,’ ” she said.

She is going to the march, she said, to show her six-year-old son the importance of standing up for what you believe in. She’s going for her students, too. “My students can’t afford to go,” she said.
Bus tickets range from $100 to more than $200 per person. “Students of color were so hurt and outraged by everything that Trump was saying pre-election. They were really in a sense of despair for, I would say, a month after the election,” Santa Maria said.

Cullis, a Buffalo special education teacher and mother of two biracial daughters, is going to the march to protest the kinds of remarks Trump and his supporters have made about women, minorities and the disabled that have angered many people.

“I don’t want them to think it’s acceptable – the discrimination,” she said. “We have to unite as women for future generations.”

She is headed to the demonstration with her daughters and stepdaughter. She’s especially excited about taking her daughter, Ricarda Warner, who is studying communications at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. She is planning to make a documentary about her experience as a 14-year-old at the march.

“I truly believe it’s going to be historical,” Cullis said. “It’s going to be invigorating and empowering. I don’t want to sit still and close my eyes to the discrimination that’s happening. I want to act. That’s why I’m going.”

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