Thousands of women from across the U.S. are expected to march on Washington D.C. the day after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, and international Buddhist monk Venerable Pannavati Bhikkuni is among those women from Western North Carolina who will make the trek to D.C.
Bhikkuni runs the Bhuddist residential retreat Heartwood Refuge in Hendersonville. The bus she's booked for the trip is already half-full, but Bhikkuni expects a full house by this time next week.
“We’re baring witness to the gathering of women who have the courage to stand behind their convictions. We don’t see this as political, so much as the March appears political. We see it as being about human rights and basic dignities. We’re going to bear witness to all of these women and the lovers of women; those who love their mothers, their daughters, their wives, their sisters coming to say women are important to us and are equal to men in this world, and we are deserving of respect and dignity.”
But it’s not just women who will be getting on Bhikkuni’s bus. Malcolm Phipps, who works as a Chef in Hendersonville, will also be joining her.
“I was raised by a single mom in the fifties when it wasn’t quite as popular to be a single mom—a strong, independent woman. I saw what she went through fifty years ago, trying to be a strong woman in the world at that time. I’ve seen a lot of progress in the last fifty years—not near enough—but this is 2017. I’m not going up there to make a political statement against a new president. I hope he makes the right decisions, and I’m very prayerful about those types of decisions and who this president is going to be. But I’m also concerned about things he’s said in the past, and the type of person he has represented himself to be. That concerns me.”
For Heartwood resident Darlena Amacher, the march on Washington is part of something bigger—something that she, Phipps and Bhikkuni experienced last month while attending the protests at Standing Rock, South Dakota.
“It’s all about rights, and what’s there, and looking at people equally. In this century, there has still been a lot of prejudice. I think women are still looked at with prejudice eyes. The indigenous people are looked at with prejudice eyes, and I think this just sums it all up with this march. It’s not only the rights of women, but I think of all of the people that have been oppressed.”
Their experience at Standing Rock left the two with a zeal they now intend to take to the capitol.
“Going to Washington, we’re taking a little bit of that with us there. We know how to stand in a certain way, and the more people that come and learn how to stand in that way, the more progress I think we’re going to make. Standing Rock was the beginning.”
Coming from a more conservative area like Henderson County, Bhikkuni has certainly encountered her share of cynicism for taking such stands. But as she insists, it’s not just a political stand.
“It’s more about dignities and basic respect, as opposed to a person’s right, it’s something soft, and it’s gentle, but powerful. If I can stand for something like that, that’s my purpose for going. Sometimes you don’t understand freedom until you see it, and you can put a face on it. I decided I am going to go, and stand and say that I am somebody.”
Bhikkuni says at first it proved difficult to charter a bus for such an event, because some companies in the mountains weren’t supportive of it, and at least five others were already booked by fellow groups of Marchers—and at fifty passengers per bus, that puts the number of march-goers from the region into the hundreds by this mode of transport alone. But the National Mall won’t be the only location upon which countless women are set to converge—it’s estimated that smaller marches will be held in another 30 cities across the U.S. including Asheville. For WCQS News, I’m Davin Eldridge.