By Anne H. Oman
October 18, 2020
Masked and socially distancing, more than a hundred women, men, children – and a few dogs – marched from Central Park to downtown Saturday morning to support reproductive rights, LGBTQ equality, the Affordable Care Act and other issues and to protest racism and the appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
“We are calling this the Women’s March 2.0,” said organizer Sheila Cocchi. “The first one was on January 21, 2017. (Click here for previous article.) RBG’s death has made people aware of the issues before the Supreme Court.”
The Fernandina event was one of more than 400 ”sister marches” across the country Saturday, just 17 days before Election Day.
Although many of the local participants wore dark blue Biden-Harris tee shirts and/or masks and carried Biden campaign signs, organizer Cocchi stressed that this wasn’t a march for the Biden ticket per se, “but we support his ideas and principles.” She welcomed the crowd and thanked participants “for risking your personal health and safety by coming here.” Speaking to a reporter, she attributed the relatively small size of the crowd compared to the 2017 march both to the pandemic and to the fact that the event was not widely publicized.
“We didn’t want agitators,” she explained.
There were none, and two police cars cleared the way for the marchers.
“We are lucky here in Fernandina Beach to have a good police department that carries body cameras,” Ms. Cocchi told participants. “You can support the police and still stand against police brutality and abuse.”
The signs – most of them hand-lettered—carried by the marchers spoke of a wide range of issues. “History is Watching – Be on the Right Side of It,” “Take Up Space”, “I’m Talking,” “My Favorite season is the FALL of the Patriarchy”, “Black Lives Matter,” “Racism is Not Welcome in Fernandina,” “Separation of Church and State, Says the Constitution, and a catchall,’ “No Sign is Big Enough to List All the Reasons I’m Here.”
“It seems like we marched for all these things before,” said Marion Zingle, who participated in a wheelchair pushed by her husband, Robert, who said he was marching for his daughter and granddaughter.
Local resident David Nagy carried a simple but subtle sign: “ACB, then an equal sign with a slash through it, RBG, highlighting the differences between the late Justice Ginsburg and her proposed successor.
To honor the late liberal Justice, many of the participants wore faux lace collars, Justice Ginsburg’s signature adornment to her black robe. And much of the negative energy of the event was directed at nominee Barrett. Joyce Frank, a retired nurse who addressed the crowd on health care warned that the Affordable Care Act would be in danger if Judge Barrett is confirmed. She also took the nominee to task for claiming to be an originalist.
“Under originalism, I would be 3/5 of a person,” said Ms. Frank, who is African-American.
Some of the most colorfully-clad participants were half a dozen members of the Fernandina Beach High School Gender Sexuality Alliance, who sported flowing rainbow-hued capes.
“We’re marching for change and equality,” said Nicholas Browning, one of the group.
Speaker Connor Fasel also stressed the importance of equal rights for LGBTQ people.
“This is my first ever women’s march,” he said. “I’m a single-issue voter –that single issue is my life.”
“It’s so wonderful to be part of a great cause,” said Sabrina Friday, a young African-American woman who stood at the back of the crowd displaying her hand made masks depicting such feminist icons as Justice Ginsburg and former First Lady Michele Obama.
Most of the marchers were local, but one mother-daughter duo had come down from St. Simon’s with their dog, Sassy, who was leashed to the mother’s wheelchair.
“Mother is immuno-compromised,” explained the daughter. “We didn’t want to go to the march in Savannah because we thought there would be too much of a crowd.”
Mary Libby, a prominent local artist, wore a shirt commemorating the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on January 21, 2017.
“Yes, I survived that,” she recalled. “We took a bus from Jacksonville. We couldn’t use the bathrooms because they had put extra seats on the bus. We drove through the night, stopping every two hours.”
She summed up her reasons for marching again: “We are marching for equality, women’s rights, to stop racism and spread kindness and love.”
St. Augustine resident Kelly Brock-Sanchez (“I have a hyphenated name – I’m a liberated woman.”) wove through the crowd, passing out small cards with a drawing of a big blue mailbox and the words, “This machine kills facism.”
Another marcher waved a sign with an oblique reference to the Access Hollywood tapes: “Grab Him by the Ballot.”
A show of hands indicated that most participants had already voted, but just in case, Shirley Phillips, Secretary of the local Democratic Executive Committee, was on hand to help people obtain mail-in ballots.
“Since the first of the year, we’ve more than doubled the number of Democrats requesting mail-in ballots,” she told the Observer.
After a final word from Rev. Anthony Daniel of the Historic Macedonia AME Church, who asked “What’s happening in our country if our future is beginning to look like our past? …. Let us not accept the world as it is – let us fight to make it better,” the group, preceded by the police cars, set off down Ash Street.
A little girl rode a pink bike. A dachshund rode in another bike basket. Toddlers rode on parents’ shoulders.
“Fired Up, Ready to Go,” they chanted. And “When I Say Black Lives, You Say Matter.”
Rounding Second Street, the march continued up Centre Street, drawing curious glances from tourists and strollers as well as scattered applause. A line of stopped cars faced the marchers as they proceeded back to Central Park, drawing stares from drivers waiting patiently, or not so patiently, and just a few honks of approval.