An organizer of the Charleston Women's March describes her first foray into large-scale demonstrations 

Learning from Experience

click to enlarge Courtney O'Leary says that organizing the Charleston women's march was "trial by fire"

Michael Campina

Courtney O'Leary says that organizing the Charleston women's march was "trial by fire"

For Courtney O'Leary, organizing the Charleston Women's March was "trial by fire." A stay-at-home mom, O'Leary says she is actively involved in the community, but she had never organized a grassroots event of this magnitude before. What started as 20 RSVPs to a Facebook group became, within a mere two weeks, an organized protest of approximately 4,000 people.

If she and the small but mighty team of nine other organizers had to do it again, O'Leary says they'd probably start planning a little further in advance, "You don't realize how many people it involves, all the logistics, and all the money it takes. I mean, for example, the Porta Potties were such a high cost that I was not expecting."

And, after the two week planning marathon resulted in Brittle Bank Park being veritably flooded with thousands of sign-holding and -wearing men, women, and children, O'Leary realized you can't underestimate the power of a unifying cause, "I was so surprised by the generosity and how trusting people were ... It was a wonderful lesson to learn — just how capable we are when we come together."

O'Leary says at the first planning meeting for the local march, the five attendees, inadvertently, were all white, heterosexual women. "You have to consider the audience you're reaching," says O'Leary, "and we really wanted to make sure that our group reflected multiple faces; we had to make a conscious effort to go outside of our social circles. We didn't want to be trapped in an echo chamber." From that point, O'Leary says that whoever was added to the group was bringing a different perspective.

click to enlarge MICHAEL CAMPINA
  • Michael Campina

When the team grew to 10 people, nine women and one man, O'Leary says everyone was given a title. One person was in charge of outreach to organizations, like churches and nonprofits; someone was in charge of fundraising; someone was in charge of graphic design; someone was in charge of safety, educating people about what to do in an emergency; someone was in charge of logistics which meant dealing with money, timing, routes, and materials used; someone was in charge of volunteers, corraling them and thanking them; someone was in charge of finding and coordinating with speakers; someone was in charge of T-shirts and social media; someone was in charge of traditional media. And O'Leary was in charge of checking in on all team members, as well as being the point person for permits and making sure everyone was satisfied locally with the efforts to make the event safe and legal.

O'Leary also shared the cost breakdown of putting on the one-day event: $788.30 for personal insurance (because the group did not have time to apply for nonprofit status, O'Leary and the other team members had to take out personal insurance because their names were on all the documents pertaining to the event), $200 for the event permit, $902.44 for porta-potties, $25 for printing, $300 for police, $800 for staging sounds, $271 for the canopy, and $200 for miscellanous supplies. The grand total came out to exactly $3,486.74. That's a lot of out-of-pocket dough, but, O'Leary says, thanks to some anonymous donors as well as Ellevate Charleston, Beads and Brushstrokes, AFFA, and All Creatures Veterinary Clinic, all the team members were fully reimbursed. "Seriously, for so much work to be done in such a short period of time," says O'Leary, "I depended heavily on the hard work, dedication, talent, and kindness of this 10 person team — it's not the jobs, but the people that did them that helped this event come to fruition."


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