This year, columnist Nicole Brodeur sat out the second annual Women’s March on Seattle with one of the organizers of its first iteration. Instead of marching, they discussed what people can do to create real change.

Share story

A mile from where we sat, thousands were gathering at Cal Anderson Park, preparing for the second annual Women’s March on Seattle.

But Charmaine Slye was happy to be sitting it all out at Roy Street Coffee & Tea, even though she was one of the 21 people who organized last year’s Womxn’s March on Seattle and, well, it didn’t make much sense.

“I’m fine. I’m good with it,” she told me. “Last year we marched; this year we act. Some people said, ‘I didn’t get to march last year.’ Like it’s a parade? Or they say, ‘I don’t know what else to do.’ Really? Have you watched the news?”

To be sure, last year’s marches marked a Moment in the lives of American women; a one-day event that set off a series of cultural, political and gender shifts.

Most Read Life Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

In the time since, some 25,000 women have contacted EMILY’s List about running for office; and 8,000 have signed up to help them do it. The #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements have toppled some of the most powerful and egregious sexual abusers in the country and unlocked decades of secrets, freeing women to demand the opportunities and respect they deserve.

And yet, too many think that just being in a crowd wearing a pussyhat and carrying a sign is enough, Slye said. Something gets lost when the crowds get that big.

“I think it made a difference in that it did get people woke,” she said. “But it was also a lot of ‘What do you mean I can’t have the president that I want?’ ”

Yes, marches embolden and galvanize people, and this year’s surely reinvigorated what was started last year. But even the best intentions can get watered down and ambiguous.

“What about the nonprofits in the community?” Slye asked. “Have you talked to your neighbors, ever? We don’t dialogue with each other. They go to the march and scream out their crazy slogans, put on their pussyhats …”

To be fair, I told her, I have friends who, in the wake of the election, have organized regular “civic club” meetings, seeking to learn about and act on issues like homelessness and voter education. Two friends have “adopted” a Syrian family and are helping with housing, education and language classes. Another cooks and delivers hot meals to homeless people every Sunday.

Slye was impressed.

But then, as if on cue, we both looked out the window to see a woman in a pussyhat, headed in the opposite direction from where the march was starting, and into a spa.

“Oh, she’s going to get her brows done,” Slye said. “The pussies are that way.”

As if she heard herself, Slye softened.

“People are where they need to be,” she said, “but it’s really hard not to have judgment. I just wish the energy was focused in a more constructive way.”

To that end, organizers put together Seattle Womxn Marching Forward, a partnership with Seattle Indivisible and Indivisible Eastside that presented a series of events the day after the march for those who wanted to keep moving.

There were talks. Voter-registration and food drives. Panels and screenings, even a talk for men about boundaries and consent.

On Sunday, Slye sent me marching up to the Metropolitan Market on Queen Anne, where I found the Damsels in Progress, a group of girls ages 9 to 11 who were collecting canned food for Food Lifeline.

Laurence Martel, 11, marched last year, “But I wanted to do something more than that.”

The girls started a monthly book club focused on inspiring women who then inspired service projects.

After reading about tennis great Billie Jean King, for example, the Damsels organized a community soccer game and bake sale that raised $300 for YUWA, which supports girls soccer teams in rural India. After reading about rocker Patti Smith, they held a garage sale to benefit KEXP.

“We’re showing we want to do something, and that it’s important,” said Noemi Weinsheimer, 9.

Jewel Martin, 11, marched on Saturday, but peeled off to go to the YWCA to cook and serve food, then packed “compassion bags” of toiletries and handwarmers for the homeless.

I understood how Slye felt — and so did Missy Igel, who with Michelle Gale leads the girls along.

“We have to keep moving,” Igel said. “This helps me sleep at night, knowing that these girls are moving things forward, taking an action, doing it together and sharing of themselves.”

Said Maddie Gale, 10: “We found a way to march, but also a way to help.”

And that, I think, is the quickest route to change.