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Women’s March on Washington brings two friends together across racial lines

They hope their show of unity will send a message

For some, the Women’s March on Washington scheduled for Saturday, the day after Donald Trump is sworn in as president of the United States, is evidence of a nation deeply divided. But would-be marchers are hoping the event, predicted to draw tens of thousands of people to the U.S. Capitol, will be evidence of something else. They are hoping for a show of unity and inclusivity across the nation’s fault lines, especially one of its biggest — race.

One small example of that effort is Robyn Bishop and her friend Dede Haas.

Bishop, 57, an African-American tech entrepreneur who heads her own company, is a veteran of protests, rallies and marches. The Washington, D.C., native attended National Organization for Women gatherings in high school and college and marched for abortion rights. She was at the 1981 march in Washington, D.C., with musician Stevie Wonder calling for a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., and on the Bull Run battlefield in Virginia for a “Yes We Can” event in 2008 for Barack Obama. In recent years, Bishop turned her energies to networking events. That’s how she met Haas, 59, a white woman from a Navy family and fellow tech entrepreneur from Falls Church, Virginia.

They bonded over shared experiences — being around the same age and often the only women at tech events. They both own houses outside the beach town of Rehoboth, Delaware, that they rent out. Now, they’ll also be marching together. Trump campaigned on an anti-abortion platform and was heard on tape bragging about grabbing women’s genitals without consent. He still received 53 percent of the white female vote.

Except for the King holiday rally, Bishop said that whenever she’s marched, black women have been in the minority. “However, this time, I think we will be more represented,” she said. There will be younger women, who have been more exposed to diversity. And, with so much on the line, she believes black women will insist on being heard.

A few days after the November election, Bishop and Haas met up at a Panera Bread restaurant to talk business, but ended up talking for five hours about life, and of course, their deep political hurt.

“This was one of these elections where you didn’t anticipate what was about to happen,” Bishop said. “You didn’t think you’d have to really continue the thought process with campaigning or thinking about the issues. That Thursday, I think I came away more angry that it occurred and she was more emotional.”

Haas said she lost a job once, “even though I was the most qualified, to a person who was a big buffoon. The best person to run [for president] was a woman with the best qualifications, who could keep this country going forward, and she lost, not only to somebody who was not experienced, but somebody who was just cruel.”

Haas had never marched or protested, but told Bishop about the Women’s March.

Initially, Bishop, who’d seen postings about it online, was skeptical. The march was originally called the Million Women March, appropriating a name used by black women in Philadelphia decades earlier. The planning seemed sketchy and there was concern about whether organizers could even pull it off. “I kind of let it go to the back burner,” Bishop said.

Then a few weeks ago, she started hearing that the organizational issues had been worked out, and friends on social media said they were going. (The latest controversy has been over whether anti-abortion groups are welcome, since abortion rights is part of the march’s platform. This week, after a great deal of backlash, an anti-abortion group was dropped from the official sponsors. More backlash ensued.)

Haas planned to go with her sister, significant other and another couple of friends, and urged Bishop to join them. Bishop agreed.

“You had a candidate who was completely against everything as a woman you should be concerned about,” Bishop said. “The conversations we [Bishop and Haas] had are conversations I’ve been having with other women I’ve known a lifetime. The same issues are impacting all of us.”

That’s why they have to march, together, Haas said. Her mother drank from the “Negro only” water fountain when they lived in Florida to register her contempt for Jim Crow. What Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had gone through, they’d both gone through, Haas said, but Bishop had more things “to deal with because she’s a woman of color.”

“Unlike Robin, I’m not a veteran of marches,” Haas said. “The kind of activist I am is somebody who sends money to organizations and I vote, in every single election, national, state, local, since I got the right to vote.” She finally wanted to march to find community and strength in like-minded people.

“We’re all affected by this, but there are some groups that have been more affected,” Haas continued, struggling for the right words. “I think it’s really special and really important” for women of color to go and for white women to take the time and meet people who don’t look like them. “I think that when women gather together, they are stronger when it’s all women: gay women, African-American women, Latinas, you name it.”

“When we heard ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” that really did have a racial undertone, Bishop said. “A racial and a sexual undertone.” The reason it’s important for everybody to get out and participate “is because the more types of people who come out, the more we represent this country and what it really looks like.”

The women plan to meet at daybreak Saturday. They will be coming from different parts of the region and bringing different histories. But they are betting that along with tens of thousands of other women, together they will get to where they need to be.

Lonnae O’Neal is a senior writer at Andscape. She’s an author, a former columnist, has a rack of kids and she writes bird by bird.