It’s time again for the Women’s March on Walla Walla. In this investigative report, we take a look at challenges faced by this year’s event organizers. We will take a look at the Conservative activists who are organizing efforts to counter protest the third-annual event and look at how they are using social media to spread misinformation and fear.
You can count on Rise News to bring you full coverage of the 3rd Annual Women’s March on Walla Walla after the event.
Who is the Women’s March?
The Women’s March is a national movement of women, with the purpose of harnessing the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change. The first national march took place in Washington, DC in 2017 and in nearly 700 towns across the country. In two years, nearly 7,000,000 people in the United States have participated in one of over 1,000 local events. Walla Walla has participated for the last two years with a combined attendance of nearly 5,000 participants.
Locally, the Women’s March is organized by a diverse group of women volunteers. The 2019 Women’s March on Walla Walla committee is comprised of Nancy Monacelli, Kathy Mulkerin, Emily Tillotson, Erica Munsey, Rachel Elfenbein and Patrice Townsend. The event is a volunteer grassroots effort and receives no support from the national Women’s March organization.
When and where does the march take place?
Saturday, January 19, 2019 at 10am at Crawford Park in downtown Walla Walla.
For the past two years, the event has started and ended in a local church parking lot. As organizers began preparing for this year’s march, they made the decision to switch venues from the parking lot of the local church, to Crawford Park in downtown Walla Walla. Crawford Park is the site of the Walla Walla Downtown Farmer’s Market.
The event will begin at 10am with a brief opening program. Local organizations will staff an information fair where participants can connect with local services or find ways to get involved in the community. The theme for this year’s event is Year of the Woman — celebrating the record number of women elected to public office.
Why do people march?
The simple answer would be to support women.
A more detailed answer comes from the Unity Principles upon which the women’s march movement is based:
We believe that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. We must create a society in which women – including black women, native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women – are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.
The Walla Walla march adheres to these same core beliefs. Participants march to raise awareness to issues that affect women including ending violence, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights and environmental justice.
Is this an anti-Trump march?
This tends to depend on your politics. The event is not organized wholly as an anti-Trump function. The event is aimed at raising awareness about struggles faced by women and to encourage women to engage in the political process. For some in the community, that puts them at odds with the policies and statements of Donald Trump. Those people may express discontent with those policies or remarks during the march.
Others, however, may support universal rights for women like the right to vote and to be free from sexual assault or violence. The march welcomes all people without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, disability or situation of birth.
Manipulate and divide — us vs them.
Efforts have been underway for over a week, by a small group of conservative activists, to manipulate women on both sides of the political spectrums. The efforts hit a boiling point on Thursday, when the activists began using fear to affect the outcome of the overall event.
The effort is being organized within a local Facebook group known for divisive and rancorous behavior. Admins of this group are known for their heavy-handed management style. The group is called “Daily Dose of Walla Walla.”
On January 9th, Sharon Kelly-Marcus created a Facebook event and posted it in the group. The following day, we received an anonymous tip alleging that Kelly-Marcus’ profile was fake and being operated by admins of the group. We reached out to Sharon Kelly-Marcus via Facebook and have received no response to date.
The profile lists the City of Corvallis Parks and Recreation as a past employer. We contacted the City of Corvallis to validate the legitimacy of the individual. Two city officials denied knowledge of any person ever worked for the department with that name. We filed a public information request to get an official response.
“Reviewing our records, we did not find a past employee with the same or similar names to those you provided,” Kris Bagley, a human resources official with the City of Corvallis, said in response to our request.
Over the course of the next few days, Kelly-Marcus became less active in the online discussion behind the “Women for Trump” contingency. One of the group’s main administrators, Melissa Masias, attempted to explain Kelly-Marcus’ absence in a recent post, suggesting that she was the victim of online harassment.
“[Sharon Kelly-Marcus] created the event that was posted on [Daily Dose of Walla Walla]. She recieved [sic] extreme backlash and was constantly getting harrassed, so she choose [sic] to step back and let a couple of us continue building the group,” Masias stated.
Despite claims that the group was organizing to support women’s rights and empowerment, comments on social media among those actively promoting the event, turned toward “triggering” progressives attending the event. It appeared their effort became less about supporting women and more about pushing support for Donald Trump. Masias is even offering professionally printed “Women for Trump” signs for sale.
The “Women for Trump” organizers spoke openly in a Facebook group message about their efforts. One member of that conversation, released screenshots of the topics discussed in it, in protest to Masias making conflicting statements about her position on the overall march. Rise News obtained copies of the conversation:
The screenshots are shown as they were provided to us by our source.
The conversation covers everything from the perceived politics of a local family-owned winery, to discussion of ways to disperse throughout the crowd so that “Women for Trump” signs can be seen in every photo and video of the event.
The conversation suggests that Rise Media Group will “provoke conservatives and film it.” It also refers to the Walla Walla Union Bulletin as a “liberal” media organization. It mentions the name of Women’s March on Walla Walla organizer Patrice Townsend. It also raises the concern that a law enforcement officer may be funneling information about interactions between march organizers and the police, to individuals engaged in organizing counter protests.
The people involved.
Melissa Masias and Brian Fullen manage the Daily Dose of Walla Walla group.
Fullen is a vocal Conservative activist. His father, Mark Fullen, was detained in February 2017 for disorderly conduct, after he interrupted a permitted political event at the Walla Walla County Courthouse. Mark was later convicted by a Walla Walla jury for his behavior and ordered to serve one year of probation.
In court, Mark explained his son (Brian) was with the group of motorcyclists, who used their motorcycle engines to create noise to drown out speakers at the political rally. Brian posted videos he captured of the event with his cell phone to social media. Brian was recently promoted to a “moderator” of the Daily Dose group by Masias.
If nothing else works, use fear.
Over the weekend, a Rise News source notified us that someone from the group would soon raise concerns about out-of-town agitators coming to the march. Our source said they believed this was a planned fear tactic meant to encourage supporters of the Women’s March on Walla Walla to stay home. We reached out to event organizers and they notified the police.
By Thursday afternoon, the following post was made inside the Daily Dose group by another individual named Sharon:
In her post, Littleton raises concern that “some outside of our area radical groups are planning to attend the march and cause chaos and disruption.” Littleton said someone confirmed for her that it was true and not a rumor. She would not verify who those people were, even when asked many times. She warns people to not bring their children to the march.
In no time, group admins began pushing the narrative that ANTIFA (an anti-fascist autonomous left-wing militant group) and Patriot Prayer (a conservative alt-right activist group) were the “radical groups.” Some even suggested in their conversation with police that the police told them they were coming. Even among recent planning meetings with law enforcement, Women’s March on Walla Walla organizers say they were never informed police confirmed attendance by any of these groups.
Both groups, based in the Portland-area, utilize social media to organize and spread awareness about their direct actions. Neither group has made any effort to publicize plans to travel east to Walla Walla to participate in the Women’s March on Walla Walla. It would be abnormal for either group to engage in such an effort and not publicize it on social media.
March organizers have worked closely with police, going as far as to hire additional off duty officers, to address any security issues that may arise. The event has always been a peaceful, law abiding event. Organizers do not expect any less from attendees this year.
Individuals marching with Women for Trump are meeting together at 9:30am in the parking lot of Washington National Bank adjacent to Crawford Park.
Organizers with the Women’s March on Walla Walla have worked extensively to plan for an organized, safe and structured event. From the application process through the planning process, organizers have involved law enforcement and the City in every step.
They’re planning for another successful event. They’ve shortened the public speeches and added an information fair highlighting local organizations. Groups of women (and men) from a variety of community groups, faith communities and political persuasions will come together to peacefully march to celebrate the Year of the Woman.
For more details about the event, see their official Facebook event.
Editorial note: This article previously stated that Mark Fullen was arrested for disturbing the peace, in error. Fullen was detained and later charged with disorderly conduct.