Carly Wilkinson turned frustration into hope when she got over 1,100 Bristolians to march in three days. She’s never going to doubt herself or other women again (but she might still bring her megaphone)
What Carly Wilkinson did last week makes me want to sing and shout: “There is hope! If she can do it, we all can!” You see, Carly got hundreds of people to go to a women’s march in Bristol just three days after she decided there should be one. On Wednesday, nothing was planned but on Saturday, hundreds were shouting: “Love Trumps Hate!” as smiling policemen helped us pass safely through the city traffic. The biggest thing she had organised before this was an office holiday. Now, she has hundreds of women keen to keep up the momentum.
Last Wednesday night Carly was sitting at home feeling angry and sad at the state of the world, particularly about what was coming out of Washington, DC, as the inauguration loomed. Like a lot of us were. But unlike a lot of us, she decided to get off the sofa and do something about it. So she made sure that there was a women’s march where she lives.
“I thought, ‘I can’t be the only one who feels like this.’” Carly says, “’But if it’s just me, it’s just me. I’m going to do it.’” So she organised a march.
But it definitely wasn’t just her. On Saturday, over 1,100 women, children and men marched through the city centre, shouting words of welcome to people of all genders, ages, ethnicities, nationalities, faiths, sexual orientations and physical abilities. In fact, the number of people who turned up at such short notice was overwhelming and so reassuring – why had we ever doubted our sisters? Like the millions of others who marched worldwide, they too were fed up of the growing politics of fear and divisiveness, of the casual sexualisation and discrimination against women, and they weren’t keeping quiet any longer.
Luckily, Carly’s husband bought her a megaphone online so she could just about be heard over the crowd. “I didn’t think I’d need it, but he insisted: ‘You’ve got such a little voice, nobody will hear you otherwise.’ And he was right”. A small voice she may have, but her words to the crowd brought many to tears as we cheered and sang and realised the enormity of each other’s passion and determination to fight the spread of xenophobia. By being there we made unspoken promises that we weren’t going to be victims; we were going to stand up for each other, and for our children, partners, friends, family, colleagues and neighbours, because that’s what women do – ‘nasty’ or not.
Speaking to Carly, I was blown away by how much organising the Bristol women’s march has changed her. “I’m someone who has struggled hugely in the past with self-confidence,” she admits, “But now I’m never going to doubt myself again.”
And so she shouldn’t. For those of us who marched, Carly and the women like her who started these events helped us to turn our frustration into something positive and hopeful. We realised how strong women can be when we unite. We were witty, friendly, caring, respectful and passionate. Carly says: “It was amazing that women brought their kids along. I guess the fact that it was a women’s march meant it felt like a safe space.”
Organising the march wasn’t easy. Carly researched what to do beyond creating the Facebook event, and initially she told the police she was expecting a couple of hundred people to come. They agreed to help and gave her rules to pass on to ensure the march was peaceful and lawful. Once Bristol was added onto the global Women’s March website as an official sister march, the number of people registered to attend reached over 1,000. Carly was nervous to tell the police the new number, and to be personally responsible for such a large crowd of strangers.
“My mother-in-law came down from Lancashire to support me. When the numbers got so big I told her ‘I’m really worried this could go wrong, what if I’m arrested?’ and she just said: ‘Then I’ll be arrested too.’” Another amazing woman.
People who marched have agreed that the day was “inspiring” and “empowering” and that it felt amazing to actually get out and do something. Hundreds have signed up to a mailing list so that Carly can “harness that energy and power to do more together,” with the next event taking place on Wednesday – two weeks after the march was born. Women are also talking about taking part in the 10 Actions in 100 Days campaign led by the Global Women’s March.
If you’re fed up of feeling cross, go out and find something that’ll create a change. Sign up for things and “look for local ways to actually make a difference,” as Carly says. If there’s a cause that you feel passionately about but there’s nobody in your area to champion that cause, think about whether you could be that person. The chances are, if you feel strongly about it then others will too. And we’re stronger together. “Make it positive, roll your sleeves up and just do something! It’s an amazing way to prove you can do it.”