Julia Alexandra grew up like lots of other women in West Virginia, surrounded by a loving family and kind community members.
She’s a Parkersburg native and moved to Morgantown 10 years ago. She’s proud of her state, her heritage and especially her coal-mining grandfather.
But in 2017, she’s different from most other women in West Virginia: She didn’t vote for Donald Trump, and doesn’t support his presidency.
And that definitely puts her in the minority.
In November, two out of every three West Virginian voters voted for President-elect Trump—a higher percentage than any other state.
Trump easily cruised to victory here by promising to return coal jobs, as West Virginians overlooked controversies that irked more liberal-minded voters on the coasts.
But Alexandra said she was troubled by a “toxic” campaign cycle and what it meant for the state.
As Monongalia County Schools’ extended day director, she works with students daily. Before the election, a young Libyan student of hers asked if Trump was going to make her family leave.
“I can’t express how sharply I felt my heart split when she asked me that,” Alexandra said. “But I was not raised to be silent about things that matter.”
Political by nature, Alexandra has vowed to keep a close eye as the Trump administration gets underway. And she isn’t alone.
On Saturday she and an estimated 1,500 other West Virginians will be part of the national Women’s March on Washington, D.C.
The post-inauguration protest is expected to draw thousands from across the country.
National organizers said the goal is to “send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”
Harpers Ferry resident and volunteer Kate Savidan is West Virginia’s state co-organizer along with Kim Krapf.
“After the election, both Kim and I were feeling a little bit lost and disheartened. So we took a little time to grieve, and then we went online separately to figure out what we could do. We stumbled upon some events being organized in Washington, and soon knew we wanted to help rally West Virginia,” she said.
Savidan said she’d been “surprised by the amount of hate I heard from people and that was really upsetting. But most of the people I know who voted for this administration are good people who were just looking for a change.”
They’ve recruited participants and coordinated necessary logistics. Individuals can sponsor a marcher who couldn’t otherwise afford to participate.
A Dissent and Nonviolence Training session was presented Wednesday night in Shepherdstown by the American Civil Liberties Union West Virginia and the American Friends of Service Community. The purpose was to “teach people about their right to dissent and engage in protest activity, and how to do so safely and effectively,” she said.
They say it’s the beginning of an ongoing movement.
Retiree Suzanne Malesic of Charles Town knows there is going to be a lot of walking, but she’s determined to go even if it means taking a cane for support.
“I am scared about my limits, but I want to add the strength of my body count to fight what every fiber in me screams is wrong. I am even more scared because the country and culture are changing in ways that will hurt the weak and unknowing,” she said.
Martinsburg resident and retired teacher Kathy Bost has spent the last several nights crocheting and knitting “pussyhats” for family friends who’ll be marching in Washington.
Project organizers hope the National Mall will become a “sea of bright pink” Saturday. Bost saw the idea on social media and took a screenshot of the pattern.
“I like it because it is a way to send a part of yourself,” she said. She’ll be including a little note with each hat listing her concerns about womens’ issues including equal pay for equal work, pro-choice, Planned Parenthood and gender equity.
She chose to use “petal pink” yarn which is a brighter shade, but has also heard about others using different hues such as rose so there will be a “rainbow of pink” as marchers move along the route.
Although she’s been working steadily, Bost is willing to buy some more yarn to make a couple more if someone really wants one.Rather than being tossed after the event, she’s hoping the hats will be given to homeless individuals.
A “Sister March” will also be held concurrently in Charleston on Saturday. West Virginia Citizen Action Group, WV FREE and ACLU are organizing that event.
Organizers say 600 sister marches around the world will attract more than 1 million people.
Jessica Scritchfield Wooten, a medical professional from Ravenswood, will be in Charleston marching alongside her aunt, two young daughters and a good friend. She’s worried about the future.
She’s well educated, but finds it hard to understand how people can accept Trump’s behavior.
“As far as living in a state that is so pro-Trump, it’s confusing and scary. And we need to be clear, it’s not the concern over a state turning Republican. It’s the unabashed support of the man himself,” she said.
“I can’t come to terms with the fact that people I have known my entire life – people who have cared for me and people I have cared for – are ok with his hate speech and bullying. It’s just not the Mountain State I know.”
Decisions made in Washington have a local impact, and that’s especially true regarding efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“This weekend we can march, maybe next weekend we can change the world.”
Business owner Lynne Schwartz-Barker, who lives just north of Charleston in Sissonville, said she’s participating because she’s concerned about the fate of programs like Planned Parenthood, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid, that may be cut or defunded.
But she knows her concerns aren’t common among neighbors.
“The roar here for voting for Trump was loud and clear. He’s going to ‘bring back coal’ and Hillary was going to destroy it as (President Barack) Obama has done. But that’s such a fallacy. Coal has been on the downhill slide for over 50 years, and will never provide prosperity for southern West Virginia again the way it once did,” she said.
Progressives argue increased tourism, sustainable agriculture programs and even the legalization of marijuana could help with the state’s cash flow.
“It feels like the 1960s all over again, and we are going to have to stand up and fight for what we believe in because what we have struggled to gain is being threatened,” she said.