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Billie Mays, organizer of local Cincinnati Women's March, poses at a friend's home in Cincinnati on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. The local march, one of about 200 in cities across the nation, has collected more than 650 RSVPs and many more expressing interest via Facebook.(Photo: Sam Greene/The Enquirer)

Billie Mays, organizer of local Cincinnati Women's March, poses at a friend's home in Cincinnati on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. The local march, one of about 200 in cities across the nation, has collected more than 650 RSVPs and many more expressing interest via Facebook.(Photo: Sam Greene/The Enquirer)

By Chris Graves , cgraves@enquirer.com

Billie Mays never considered herself a politician. Nor would she have ever called herself an activist.

But then came Nov. 8. And then came the next morning when she awoke to the full realization of the election of Donald Trump as president and decided to start "speaking out and getting involved."

Just a week ago, her offer to help out a Facebook friend with a "sister march" at Cincinnati's Washington Park to coincide with the Women's March on Washington on January 21, catapulted her into the center of both politics and activism. Nearly from the moment the local event page was created on Facebook, it exploded with women – and men – signing up to attend the Cincinnati march and rally. As of Friday, nearly 700 people indicated they plan to attend with another 2,000 saying they are interested in going. It is impossible to know how many will attend.

The response, both in terms of numbers and in comments on the public page, continues to shock Mays: "All I can say, all I keep saying is: Wow. Just wow." It also has left her equally exhilarated and exhausted. But maybe most importantly, she said is that the growing grassroots movement has restored her faith in her community and demonstrated the power of regular people who can do extraordinary things together united for a common cause.

"It's not about politics. It's about our lives and our humanity,'' said Mays, 37. "This is more about people than politics."

Could thousands march here?

The local march is one of about roughly 200 being planned in cities across the nation. Many, planned on social networks, will occur simultaneously with the march in Washington, D.C., which is expected to draw somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people, including several busloads of women from the Cincinnati area. The Cincinnati march, which will start in Washington Park at noon and go to City Hall and then back to the park for a slate of speakers, has broadened well beyond issues affecting women.

But women's rights remain at its core locally and nationally after voters elected Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Clinton was the first female presidential nominee of a major political party and signaled the shattering of the glass ceiling for women. For many Clinton supporters, Trump's election serves not only as a slap in the face to women rights but also to a slate of other liberal causes.

That's precisely why Jessica Hollywood, a 34-year-old computer engineer of mom of six children who lives in a Cincinnati suburb, got involved in several online groups of women organized to support each other after the election. She was quick to join the Ohio movement, organizing the Washington trip. She created a Facebook page for a Cincinnati sister march on Dec. 28 after many people said they couldn't make it to Washington.

Permits, off-duty police and fundraising

But neither she nor Mays anticipated the response, which has since spawned a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay for permits, off-duty police details and insurance policies necessary to pull off the march and rally, she said. That site went live Jan. 4. More than 100 individuals have pledged donations totally $3,400 toward a $5,000 goal.

Mays said she and Hollywood meet in person for the first time a week ago and she spent a couple hours this week with officials at the Cincinnati Police Department to understand the permitting process, to map out the march and to fully understand how to orchestrate a peaceful march. Police Lt. Steven Saunders said the department granted the necessary permits for the event. Usually, the process can take up to 45 days.

While not part of the original plan, Mays said they are arranging speakers as well. Cincinnati City Council member Chris Seelbach said he will march and will be one of a group of speakers. Mays said she hopes representatives from the ACLU, the Amos project, Planned Parenthood, Women Helping Women and Hebrew Union College, will also speak. She, Hollywood and a handful of other volunteers are still trying to get those details hammered out.

Seelbach, a Democrat, said of the march: "Women, particularly, are under attack from the incoming administration and new Congress. These marches are crucial in letting Congress and Trump know that we will not stand for these systematic attacks on women and families."

Mays is more plain-spoken: "What kind of people are we if we don't stand up for everyone's rights."

If January's march goes well, she hopes to immediately begin planning another one for the spring:

"We want this to be the beginning of four years of activism."

For more information

Facebook Event Page: Cincinnati Women's March Washington

Email:Cincinnati.March@gmail.com

Fundraising: GoFundMe page

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