An Interview with the Woman Whose Protest Sign Led to the Resignation of a State Senator

Becky Haines shares her side to the story of how a retweeted photograph led to the resignation of Nebraska State Senator Bill Kintner.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

Becky Haines headed home from the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st with a renewed sense of hope. Hours later, a photograph of her and her sisters carrying signs that read “Not this Pussy” and “Not Mine Either” was tweeted by conservative talk show host Larry Elder, with the caption “Ladies, I think you’re safe.” The tweet gained thousands of likes and was retweeted by Nebraska State Senator Bill Kintner. Many were incensed by Kintner’s endorsement of these remarks, and, amid the controversy, he resigned. Viral news of this nature often ignores the real people involved. We spoke to Becky to hear her side of the story.

How did you decide to attend the Women’s March?

My sister and I, I don’t know who said first, but we were like “Hey, we want to do this.” We invited our third sister to join us and we went together. We haven’t done anything together as sisters in a very long time, it was special in that context alone.

Had you ever marched before?

This was the first time I have ever taken a stand politically. I have never protested or marched or ever really cared about politics until now.

How did you decide on the signs?

My sister Nancy’s husband is an artist and he made us these beautiful hand-painted signs, one said ‘Treat Everyone with Respect. Period.’ and one said ‘United We Stand.’ And we flipped the signs over (laughing) and made our own signs because he refused to paint that for us.

So we actually had very beautiful politically correct signs on one side which we carried maybe 10% of the day and on the other side were more publicized signs that you’ve seen all over the place. And we are all very, we’re sort of reserved people and so that was big for us to carry these signs.

What was the reaction at the march? Did you see similar signs?

There were similar signs. Easily a hundred people asked if they could take our picture. We saw this wall behind one of the museums and said “Let’s get up on that wall.” So we’re above the crowd and not getting jostled but still can see everything that’s going on and be a part of everything. So we’re standing above everybody and people would stop and ask if they could stop and take our picture and yelled that they loved our signs.

How did you feel after the march?

I felt hopeful. I woke up Friday morning feeling depressed and afraid. Saturday after marching with my sisters I found my hope again. There are so many of us that are going to fight for each other. It was arm to arm people, no one shoved, no one said an unkind word. It was beautiful.

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Bill Kintner retweeted Larry Elder’s tweet after the Women’s March. Haines is pictured here, center, with her two sisters.

How did you find out about how your picture was circulating?

Originally a friend here (in PA) had posted it on my Facebook page but it was from a local conservative talk radio DJ and I could not figure out where he got the photo. At that point I had no idea that it had gone viral. And then my niece saw it on a blog and texted it to me in a panic because she didn’t know how to tell her mother. I said we had to tell them before it gets in the mainstream media and so we told both my sisters. I’m perfectly comfortable with it. It brought someone down that shouldn’t be in office. And even though it’s very indirect that I had any contribution to that I feel very proud that my photo helped to take him down. It made it worth the hateful comments.

The timeline was so immediate, he (Kintner) retweeted the photo, there was backlash, and a few days later he resigned. Were you following closely or just hoping the attention would go away?

I was following very closely. When it all came to light, my son posted on Facebook Mr. Kintner’s contact information and asked his friends to call and fax and write to ask for his resignation. He resigned that morning and my phone was blowing up.

I haven’t seen the video of his press conference but I read his response, he didn’t really take responsibility for his actions or ever apologize for what he did.

When you started hearing of the photos circulating were you surprised by the magnitude of it and the people who reached out to you?

Initially I was hearing only from people that I knew, and then I wrote a post to Pantsuit Nation that was published, and that was viewed over 33,000 times and over 2500 hundred comments, 99.9% were supportive and the people who expressed a negative comment were immediately challenged by someone else.

What would you say is the takeaway from this?

I feel like I made a difference. I feel like all of us becoming active, those of us who don’t stand with what the current administration is doing, we can make a difference. One little step at a time, but it gave me hope that we can turn the tide.

Are you going to go to any more protests in the near future?

I am! It’s funny I was just working on my sign, I’m going on Sunday in Harrisburg where I live at the Capitol, against the ban on immigration.

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Becky Haines

What does your sign say?

It’s a picture of the Statue of Liberty with the words at the base, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free.”

We have to remain united, especially women, we have to take care of and support each other. I know that the news this week was that Trump is not going to take away LGBTQ rights. I have a gay son and that’s extremely important to me and my theory is that that’ll change down the road.

So this is personal for you in many ways?

Absolutely. I was in an abusive marriage; the verbal abuse of women is a huge point for me. I’ve had mental health issues which would preclude me, god forbid, from getting insurance if I ever switched employers. They are too numerous to mention the reasons why I’m willing to march out in the snow on Sunday.

Thank you, Becky.

Thank you and keep marching!

 

Seeking Solace After Trump’s Muslim Ban

Trump’s executive order is not just political, it’s personal.

By Saira Khan

It was around 30 degrees on Saturday and the crowd in front of me at John F. Kennedy Airport appeared to be in the thousands. People were packed into a space across Terminal 4 (international arrivals) and more were lined up along the bus stop and taxi stands. Some had already been standing and chanting for nearly five hours. There were people overlooking the crowd on all levels of the parking garage. An upside down American flag hung from the fourth floor, someone had spray painted a peace sign and “no borders” onto it. I made my way in, unsure of what to do. I was alone and didn’t have a sign. I was able to find a spot on the third floor of the garage where I planted myself for the next few hours. I didn’t know what to expect at the protest but I do know I wasn’t expecting what I saw.

***

On Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a sense of dread and anxiety that I haven’t felt since last year, when I learned that my father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Late Friday, Donald Trump signed an executive order fulfilling his campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States. The order temporarily bans travel from seven Muslim-dominated countries for refugees and visa-holders. There are reports that the White House is looking to expand the ban to include Pakistan, which is where I am from, and where my parents currently reside. The order makes an exception for persecuted religious minorities; Trump later clarified that he specifically meant Christians.

My sister texted me early morning, “Baji, this Muslim ban is really scaring me.” I had no words to comfort her. As American citizens, the executive order doesn’t affect us yet but the sense of otherness it is fostering is real and immediate. I was born in Pakistan and have spent most of my life in the United States. My sister was born in the U.S., has spent most of her life in Pakistan, and recently moved to New York. Trump’s executive order is ostensibly about religion, but it feels racial. It’s hard to dismiss this as mere politics; it’s personal.

When, late Saturday morning, I saw a handful of tweets and Facebook posts from activists, American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, and immigration organizations calling on people to gather at Terminal 4 to protest the executive order and stand in solidarity with those being detained, I knew I had to go. I needed to do something to shake the loneliness and helplessness I was feeling.

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I spent the early afternoon speaking with friends who were immediately impacted by Trump’s order: people who have been told by their lawyers to cancel travel plans for the immediate future, people whose families can no longer visit them, people who feel the effect of this ban so deeply that they worry even voicing these concerns publicly will result in retribution.

By the time I made it onto the A train to JFK, around 4:00 p.m., it was full of protesters with signs declaring their support for refugees. “We are all refugees,” read one, “No more hate,” read another. Upon arriving at Terminal 4, I was greeted by four NYPD officers in full riot gear. The protesters were nowhere in sight. Outside, there were dozens of officers and a steady stream of flashing red and blue police lights. Further ahead, I heard the faint chants of protesters. I couldn’t make out what they were saying but as I got closer the size of the crowd became apparent.

A week ago, I had attended the Women’s March in New York City, for which the turnout was approximately 400,000. While it was empowering to march with women for our rights, I did not feel the sense of solidarity and emotion that I felt on Saturday. The crowd at the march appeared to be largely white, and, historically, white feminism hasn’t been sympathetic to people of color (much has been written about this, so if you want to know more I recommend reading this and this.) I felt no bond and no sisterhood  with the strangers marching with me. I expect all the women and men I know to fight for my rights as a woman, but I have lower expectations from people when it comes to fighting for my rights as a Pakistani woman of Muslim-descent. Our struggles, as women of color, aren’t their struggles and thus it’s easier to talk about gender than it is about race.

I was expecting anywhere from two dozen to 100 people at JFK. I’m not much of a crier and I surely don’t cry in public, so when I saw the size of the protest at Terminal 4, which appeared to be over 1,000, and my eyes welled up with tears, I felt naked and vulnerable.

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In the garage, as the temperature continued to drop, my fully-charged phone stopped working and my hands became colder. A young woman handed me a packet of hand-warmers. Another woman handed me a bottle of Gatorade, “to stay hydrated,” she said.

I didn’t chant at the protest. I couldn’t bring myself to. I stood there, mostly in silence, at the top of the parking garage, taking in the crowd, and felt the sense of dread I had woken up with slowly melt away. I saw women in hijabs, men in yarmulkes; there were black people and white people and brown people all around me. This wasn’t a protest for overarching women’s rights. This was a specific protest against an executive order that discriminates against a specific sect of peopleit’s likely that many of those in attendance weren’t directly affected by Trump’s ban. The ones who came out that day had cancelled their plans and stood in the cold with no purpose but to voice their dissent. As a woman of color, macro- and micro-aggressions tinge every aspect of my life. I’ve learned to expect the worst from people. On Saturday, this expectation was challenged.

While I was at the airport, my sister was at Cadman Plaza, in Brooklyn, awaiting Judge Ann Donnelly’s ruling on an emergency challenge to the order by the ACLU. It was shortly before 9:00 p.m. when the stay was granted.

“When I got here there were a few dozen, now there are soooo many,” my sister texted me.

(In all the rejoicing, it’s important to remember that we still have a long battle to fight. The stay blocks only part of the executive action: it prevents the government from deporting people who arrived in the United States during this chaos, or people who were already here. The stay does not state that they must be allowed into the country; another hearing is set for Feb. 21. And we still don’t know what is to come from this administration.)

I made it home around 8:50 p.m. and my sister came home shortly after the ruling was issued.

“How’re you feeling now?” I asked her.

“I cried a lot and I’m still really scared about what’s going to happen. But I feel a lot better. Does that make sense?” she asked.

“Yes, it does.” I said. And I meant it.

 

Scenes from the Women’s March in New York City

On Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. On Saturday, January 21st, a record-breaking amount of people took to the streets on every continent to participate in peaceful protests in solidarity with women’s rights. We joined the hundreds of thousands of women marching through the avenues of our city and felt the hope and momentum to keep fighting, learning, and organizing. Even if you’ve already leafed through plenty of photo galleries over the last few days, what harm is there in taking a look at a few more bad bitches shutting it down? Here are our favorite sights from this historic day, shot by the High-Strung team.

Dear Mr. President, This Is What Resistance Looks Like

An open letter to the 45th president of the United States.

                                                                   Dear Mr. President,

I know, I know, you like to grab us by our pussies. You’ve been trying to deny it but you know how they say actions speak louder than words? Your actions have only echoed your words. You cheated on your first wife with your second (you once described this period of your life as a “bowl of cherries.”) You married your third wife in 2005, which was, incidentally, the same year your infamous Access Hollywood tape was recorded. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss,” you said. Sprinkle in some of the sexual assault and harassment allegations against you and let’s face it: we have a pretty clear picture of how you view us.

You’re a familiar adversary, Mr. President. I have known men like you for my entire life. Several women I know were in abusive marriages, most of my school friends dated controlling, obsessive, and, at times, abusive boys. I grew up around boys—now men—who weren’t looking for companions, they were looking for women to possess.

I’ve been resisting men like you for a long time: Men who believe they can say and do anything to women, who believe that only we should change diapers and that sexual harassment is the woman’s problem. You’re not the first person to have said this, and you surely won’t be the last.

It’s not just your sexism that’s tired. Your Islamophobic rhetoric is old too.

Last year, when you attacked Muslim women, by way of Ghazala Khan, the mother of the late U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, for not speaking as she stood next to her husband, you perpetuated a stereotype about Muslim women that served as the American call to war post-9/11: that Muslim women need saving from their misogynistic counterparts.

You surely can’t have forgotten about Laura Bush’s radio address about the oppression of women and children in Afghanistan or the countless op-eds, articles, and covers dedicated to documenting the plight of Muslim women. Overnight, people went from not knowing where Afghanistan was on a map to advocating for the rights  (they thought) Muslim women should have. Naturally, this savorism manifested itself in Islamophobia. In the years that followed 9/11, globally, we’ve saw the passing of laws banning hijabs (in some cases, men actually ripping them off of women) and an uptick in hate-crimes against Muslims. Remember the response when the Muslim lawyer Saba Ahmed who wore an American flag hijab on Megyn Kelly’s show? And let’s not forget about the language of Brexit.

This language of white saviors reared its ugly head again on Saturday. As millions of women around the country took to the streets to protest your presidency and proposed actions, many of your followers took to Twitter to remind us that we (American women) don’t have it so bad.

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I can’t help but recall that the last time such concern was feigned for Muslim women, Iraqi women ended up with a Constitution that caved to the religious right and guaranteed women equal rights—as long as those rights don’t contradict Islamic law.

The thing is, Mr. President, misogyny knows no borders, no color, no religion. It knows gender and the shape of our bodies. It follows us from our homes to our workplaces, permeating every aspect of our lives. It is on the streets in the form of catcalls, in bars in the form of grabs. Sometimes, it lives deep within the people we love the most and comes out when we least expect it. It bleeds us. It breaks us.

Last week, you saw what our resistance can look like. We protested you on all seven continents. According to experts, nearly 3.3 million men, women, and children across the United States marched to voice their dissent. More people turned out against you on Saturday than in support of you on Friday. And this was just day 1 of your presidency.

So, Mr. President, trust me when I say this: you can eat your cake in the White House for the next four years, but know that we’ll always be standing outside, ready to rain on your parade. We’ll always be marching in the streets. We’ll always be shouting our dissent. We’ll always be asking questions. We’ll always be resisting.

Enjoy the White House while you have it.