WASHINGTON, D.C. — It all happened in a whirl of pink and picket signs.
She’d been feeling discouraged in the days following the presidential election and took to Facebook to invite a few dozen of her friends to demonstrate – not to be political but to stand shoulder to shoulder, to remind themselves of that self-evident truth: All people are created equal.
Teresa Cooper Shook’s idea to bring women to Washington, D.C., for a march for equality spread like wildfire, igniting the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of people who showed up to the nation’s capital last weekend.
Press coverage from across the globe about the Women’s March on Washington – a rally held in D.C. on Jan. 21 following Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States – has credited Shook, a Greenfield native, as being the woman who inspired it all.
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She’s back home in Hawaii now, her bags unpacked, her cellphone finally silent after what seemed like months of ringing, and Shook’s only now getting a chance to appreciate everything that transpired last weekend.
With an innocent click of a mouse, her thought to take to the streets in a sign of solidity went viral, leaving the little town in Hawaii she now calls home and spreading quickly around the world.
But she said she never imagined a throng of more than 500,000 women would descend on Washington, D.C., with hundreds of thousands more gathering in similar marches around the world — in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In Indianapolis, just 20 miles from her hometown. They marched in Paris, London and Sydney, too, according to the The Associated Press.
Shook admits the march was her idea, but she’s hesitant to take full responsibility for the outcome; it was a team of activists from across the country who nurtured the idea and helped it grow, she said. But she’ll proudly wear the title of its matriarch, the figurehead behind it all.
“I still can’t wrap my mind around it,” Shook said. “I’m humble and honored; it’s something I’ll never forgot.”
Shook grew up in Greenfield and graduated from what was then Greenfield High School in 1969. After receiving a bachelor’s degrees in English literature and secondary education, Shook decided to attend law school, became an attorney and practiced law in Indiana for about a decade before moving to California and later Hawaii.
She spent her career providing legal advice to people she felt were underserved members of her communities, particularly domestic violence victims who were seeking help and safety.
It’s most likely that experience, her desire to stand up for the marginalized, that inspired the march, she said.
In the hours after the election, Shook began noticing many of her friends were taking to the Internet to vent frustrations. She wanted to do more, she said; to find a way to help and uplift those who were feeling the most discouraged.
Though Shook didn’t agree with the results of the November presidential election, she respected them, she said; it wasn’t so much Trump’s plans for the country that she disagreed with but the rhetoric he used during the campaigns, particularly the comments about women, minorities and people with disabilities, that had troubled her most.
So, Shook created a Facebook event — a private one that allowed only her friends to invite their friends — asking 40-some friends and colleagues from Hawaii, California, Indiana and other areas of the country to join her in Washington, D.C., the morning following Inauguration Day. She thought, perhaps, if a few dozen felt passionate enough to go, they might bring some attention to their cause.
But by the next morning, 10,000 women had been added to the group, and 10,000 more were waiting for permission to join, Shook said. Her email inbox was flooded with messages, some from woman already thanking her for creating the event and many others offering to lend a hand in the planning if they could.
The page continued to grow in the weeks that followed, and Shook was eventually contacted by professional activists who wanted to help her turn her idea into a rally, a full event with a series of speakers, performers and a social media presence that would help the message spread far and wide.
Shook agreed and willingly signed up to be a member of the national planning committee, while small state committees also formed around the country.
Her role become more akin to motivator-in-chief, she joked. Whenever members of the group began to worry — What if the weather was poor? What if they didn’t receive the proper permits in time? What if no one showed up? No one listened? — Shook stepped in, replying to their comments on the event’s message board with positivity and encouragement, even when she shared the same reservations.
With a plane ticket purchased and a hotel room booked, Shook spent the day before the march traveling the nearly 5,000 miles from Hawaii to Washington, D.C. Her fears that no one would show up on Jan. 21 melted away as she took the stage that morning and looked out over the sea of people gathered — outnumbering the crowd that turned out to see Trump be sworn into office, experts say.
She never could have imagined it would grow so big.
Throughout the hours-long rally and the march that followed, Shook met famed actresses, musicians and politicians, posed for photos with the likes of Gloria Steinem, a feminist activist who gained national recognition in the women’s rights movements of the 60s and 70s. She clasped hands with and accepted hugs from hundreds of women who called her an inspiration, a new generation’s Susan B. Anthony.
Across the globe at satellite marches in every state of the union, even more women were expressing their appreciation for the movement Shook inspired.
In Indianapolis, where Shook was born, thousands of people gathered for a march near the Statehouse. In Hana, the little Hawaiian town she now calls home, about 120 of the city’s 1,000 residents took to the streets, many of them friends of Shook’s who were moved by her message of unity, said Doris Buckley, a friend from the island.
Then, it was over a quickly as it started, the signs put away, the marchers gone home.
But what she started resonated.
Shook’s certain the movement the march’s organizers have promised will be life’s next big adventure for her.
She’s not sure what exactly that adventure will look like, but she’s waiting for it with arms open wide.
Those who knew Shook as a teen say they aren’t surprised the lively girl from the final graduating class at Greenfield High School went on to do great things.
Marciann McClarnon-Miller of Greenfield said she remembers Shook, her former classmate, as an accomplished and hardworking young woman.
Shook often describes herself, even now, as a wanderer, McClarnon-Miller said. As years and miles separated them, McClarnon-Miller said she watched with admiration as Shook continued to follow her dreams, even as they took her far away from her Indiana home and put her in the march’s national spotlight.
“She never stopped herself from going where her heart was leading her,” McClarnon-Miller said, “and her heart certainly led her to this.”