October 15, 2017
Text and photos by Shauna Bittle
On a crisp, sunny fall day, more than fifty women gathered in front of the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Their vivid red stood in stark contrast to the cold gray of the Capitol’s granite steps.
It was an eerie sight: red robes around their shoulders, and white bonnets atop their heads. They were the vision of subservient, fertile servants from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.” A dystopian novel-turned-thrilling-television series, which has taken on new relevance for many women who fear for their rights amid a Donald Trump presidency.
This national event known as 50 Handmaids in 50 States, took place concurrently in every state across the nation at 1 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, Oct. 14. It was organized by the Handmaid Coalition, a movement that uses the vivid imagery of silent handmaids to spark conversation about women’s rights. Saturday’s protest was in response to Trump’s executive orders, which will impact health care subsidies, abortion rights, access to birth control, the right for transgender individuals to serve in the military and more.
It was organized by Indivisible Thurston County, Olympia Indivisible and Thurston County Young Democrats, and attended by many women from smaller, more rural communities. Each was there for their own reasons — from pro-choice agendas to concern for DACA recipients.
“There isn’t some guy up in the White House or in any of these legislative buildings who should be deciding what’s best for women,” said Nina LaBrosse of Centralia, Washington.
Others voiced concern for gender diversity, military de-escalation and hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico. Shannon Spencer from Eatonville, Washington spoke about religious freedoms.
“This administration is tearing down everything that we know to be true in our country and they’re tearing down our right to not be forced into religion,” she said.
Across the lawn from the capitol building, several supporters observed in silent solidarity.
“It’s solemn and it’s profound, and I hope that it explodes from here,” said Marilyn Richer, an Olympia resident.
Lourdes Alvarado (above) protested as a member of the local organization Oly Embrace on Saturday. “The vision of Oly Embrace is to focus on local issues, and local candidates. A lot of organizations are looking at world peace on the national level, but we know that a lot of what changes the narrative is local. Our issues are the environment, but we focus on the Puget Sound. We also tackle transparency, making our state government more accountable, immigration and voting,” she said. “We’re going to make a difference locally.”
Paula Stack of Olympia (second from left) attended 50 Handmaids in 50 States with her mother Susan Stack on Saturday. “I’m a medical assistant in an E.R. and I feel that health care is very important. If we make the changes that have been proposed, then millions will be left without affordable care,” she said. “I feel like if you don’t stand up for what you believe in, then who’s going to stand up for you?”
Shannon Spencer, who lives in Eatonville, helps her roommate Dan McMahon into a red robe and bonnet. “We’re roommates and best friends. We’ve done the Women’s March together. We came out here for the March for Science. The Handmaids give us an opportunity to draw a different kind of attention, because the idea is to be quiet, and draw attention by what we look like,” she said. “If we allow this administration to continue, we will end up in this position where women don’t get to speak, where we’re not heard.”
Boudicca Walsh of Olympia (right) stands in silence on the Capitol steps. “As a trans woman, I’m very much affected by the attempts by our Federal Government to tear us apart. I want to show solidarity with the women here who were born with wombs, who are facing the chance that they may not have access to that kind of healthcare anymore; and I want them to also come and support me when the government tries to take away my access to hormones and to low-income healthcare,” she said. “We all need to stand together.”
Tara Ryan, 12, drove down to Olympia from Tacoma to protest alongside her mother. “It’s hard to not be negative. It’s interesting to watch other people my age react to this. I know people who will do what I did, and come and say something; but then there are people who are just...scared,” she said. “I wish I’d gotten to stand up there for longer.”
Shauna Bittle is a photojournalist and higher education photographer based in Olympia, Washington.