- Special Projects
Editor’s Note: Today we welcome our newest columnist, Tad Bartimus, a veteran journalist and author who has made Hana her home for many years. She is the founder of the Talk Story, Write Story mentorship program, which has helped more than 250 students from Hawaii and Alaska get college scholarships including the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholars. She’s been all around the world as a longtime special correspondent for the Associated Press but in this column Tad will shine her journalistic spotlight much closer to home, focusing on Maui as Civil Beat expands its coverage to neighbor islands.
HANA, Maui — When a million women talk at once, it’s hard to remember who started the conversation.
For the record, with an online click, Teresa Shook of Hana launched the upcoming Women’s March on Washington and sister marches and rallies in every state and 26 countries on Jan. 21.
Living five time zones west of Trump Tower, Shook went to bed late Nov. 8, disconsolate that Donald Trump would become the nation’s 45th president. The next morning, coffee in hand, she logged onto the invitation-only Pantsuit Nation website “and all these women were freaking out, asking each other, ‘What can we do? What can we do?’” Shook said.
“I typed in, ‘I think we should march.’ As the page kept scrolling up I kept repeating every few lines ‘I think we should march on Washington.’ ‘I think we need to show the power of us coming together.’ ‘We need to send a message to the incoming administration, welcome to your first day in office, we are not going away.’”
A woman named Jamie responded with “I’m in.”
That was the impetus for the woman now known in the movement as “The Firestarter” to create a Facebook event page for what she initially called the Million Women March. Inviting others to join, she suggested replicating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 march from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol.
“When I logged off that night I had 40 women ‘going’ and 40 ‘interested,'” Shook said. “The next morning I had 10,000 in each category. My private Facebook inbox was so overloaded I didn’t get out of my pajamas for five hours. It was absolutely nuts.”
“I am proud to be known as the spark that lit the fire. I also accept that it takes many others to fan the flames.” — Teresa Shook
As thousands more women (and men) signed up, Facebook temporarily shut down Shook’s page because of the logjam. With her simple idea “becoming a runaway train” she accepted online help from strangers, including several who became page co-hosts and helped her link her private page to a new public page. But signup confusion continued, so the co-hosts asked Shook to shut down her personal site.
“Before I could, they deleted it,” she said. “They apologized later and said they could get it back from Facebook but nobody has. I don’t even have a screenshot to prove I created history.”
Controversy then flared over the name. The Million Woman March also was the name of a 1997 event organized by African-American women in Philadelphia. Shook, who is white, was unaware of the conflict until “all this really awful discussion involving the name took over the Facebook page.”
“I went online to explain that my idea was spontaneous, the response was grassroots, and I didn’t know I’d made a mistake about the name,” Shook said. “I wrote that I wanted us to just all be together in solidarity and lift each other up regardless of our differences.
“I had been on Facebook for five years so I could keep up with my grandkids. Facebook became my happy place, my social life. I used it for only good things.
“While trying to explain myself I got such awful, mean, ugly pushback, I decided to step back.”
Four East Coast professional activists now oversee the Washington event, its spinoffs in every state and marches and rallies planned in more than 26 countries. The savvy veteran demonstrators changed the march’s name, revised its route, secured a rally permit from the National Park Service, and established a coordinated chain of command.
Shook, meanwhile, is home in Hana counting down the days until she flies to Washington. She hopes she will get to be in the front row of the march. She says she probably will be on the rally platform, “but I don’t think I’ll be asked to speak.”
She keeps up with her creation through the internet, TV and radio reports while fielding calls from media outlets who find her via a headquarters public relations specialist. She also speaks daily with women organizing in other states and supporters asking for her help to get to Washington.
Shook was dubbed “The Firestarter” by Facebook friend Evvie Harmon, a Greenville, South Carolina yoga teacher and an original march co-host who is now its global coordinator.
“I am proud to be known as the spark that lit the fire,” Shook said of her nickname. “I also accept that it takes many others to fan the flames.
“The media likes to identify me as ‘a grandmother of four’ or a ‘mother of two’ or a ‘retiree.’ Yes, I am those things. But I am so much more.”
Coming Thursday: Long before she inspired the March on Washington, Teresa Shook overcame many challenges, including breast cancer and a disease that threatened her vision.