by Jeremy Morrison
As celebrations around the globe marked International Women’s Day Wednesday (March 8), locals joined in with a gathering in Pensacola’s Lee Square. In the shadow of a Confederate memorial overlooking downtown, participants focused on matters such as equal pay and domestic abuse, while also getting into issues like healthcare and immigration.
“For the future of women everywhere, we must stand up and demand that women have a seat at the table,” Sarah Coutu, chair of the Santa Rosa Democratic Party and head of Florida Panhandle Progressives, addressed attendees through a red-and-white megaphone.
Annually, International Women’s Day serves to commemorate the struggle for women’s rights. This year, particularly stateside, the day also served to highlight areas of heightened concern since the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency: issues like healthcare and immigration, as well as the environment and civil rights.
“We are the voices of those that cannot speak for themselves and they are counting on us,” Coutu said.
Renea Clowdsley, a nurse practitioner, addressed the event about issues, primarily women issues, pertaining to healthcare. She stressed the importance of access to contraception and cancer screenings. She warned against the proposed healthcare bill recently put on the tables by Republicans.
“This is a lot, it’s a lot of information,” Clowdsley concluded her comments, urging attendees to fight against an agenda painted as regressive. “What are you going to leave here wanting to do about these things?”
Cecilia Jacomet-Newman, who is from Chile, spoke to the rally regarding immigration issues. She spoke of the generational-spanning “spirit” of immigrants seeking refuge or better prospects in America, and how that spirit remains the same today.
“The spirit is part of us, it is part of who we are, it is who we are,” she said.
Jacomet-Newman described the dangers that immigrants endure during their journeys to the United States — “I have heard so many first-person accounts of survival” — and said such people deserved a place in this country.
“They have more than earned a place in a country that calls itself the home of the brave,” she said.
Jacomet-Newman called the new immigration policies being put forth by the Trump Administration unnecessary, arguing that they are rooted in ignorance.
“These policies are not only inhumane and unAmerican, they make absolutely no sense,” she said.
Kathy Jensen, who spent 10 active-duty years in the Marines, also addressed the crowd, with her remarks pertaining largely to gay rights, particularly within the U.S. military. She joked about how members of the LGBTQ community only recently began serving in the military.
“We just didn’t start serving four years ago, after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ended,” Jensen laughed. “ — we’ve actually been serving since the Revolutionary War.”
Jensen, a lesbian, discussed how she met her wife — a Navy helicopter pilot — while serving overseas. She detailed the stresses of being in such a relationship during the days of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
“We both went through the fear of being found out as lesbian, losing our careers, losing our retirement,” she said.
The veteran also lauded the progress made within the ranks of the military. Not only on the gay-rights front, but also where women’s rights are concerned.
“As of last summer, every job in the U.S. military is open to women,” she said. “Qualification now is based on ability and not gender.”
In closing, Jensen cautioned attendees against becoming mired in partisan political fights. She suggested reaching out to people who voted for Trump — “I know it’s hard” — in an effort to find common ground.
“We need to give them the same compassion that we would like to receive,” Jensen said. “We must listen and have empathy and find that common ground. If we can’t find that common ground and build that bridge, we’re going to be at this same place in eight years.”
As the rally wrapped up, one of the event’s organizers, Alison Smith, of Progressives of Northwest Florida, palled around with a cardboard cutout of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and urged everyone to participate in a March 15 letter-writing campaign called Ides of Trump. Afterwards, she took a moment to muse about the meaning of the annual observance and the importance of women’s rights.
Smith talked in holistic terms. A world in which women are more valued and respected, she explained, would be an overall better place.
“What’s good for women is good for everyone,” Smith smiled.