02:39 - Source: CNN
College roommates reunite for Washington march

Story highlights

Three women had not seen each other for years -- then the election happened

Shared experiences at college prompted desire to protest

CNN  — 

It’s been 25 years since Jessica, Penny and Lisa marched together in Washington. They were college roommates when they demonstrated for women’s rights in 1992.

Now they are full-time working mothers, living in different cities – and discovering that planning a reunion isn’t as easy as it used to be.

They hadn’t seen each other for more than four years. Then the election happened.

“I keep thinking about some of the incidents that happened in the run up to the election with Donald Trump and some of the footage, and just some of the appalling, appalling ways that we have evidence that he treats women,” said Jessica Sisto. Sitting at her San Francisco kitchen table, Sisto grabs her head in frustration.

In Chicago, Jennifer “Penny” Martinand shares those feelings. “I had to turn off CNN for three days after the election to cleanse. It was pure horror.”

‘It feels important to do something’

Lisa Levine, a mother of two and a financial lawyer living in lower Manhattan, couldn’t agree more.

“The levels of sexism and racism are disheartening – and examples have come out so openly now with incidents like swastikas in schools,” she said. “It feels important to do something.”

And so, between day jobs and play dates, they decided it was time to march again.

“In our 20s you have a bit more hope, but now you’re fighting more for something being taken away from you,” Martinand said. A teacher and mother of a son and two daughters, she feels she’s doing it not just for herself, but for the next generation. “My 15-year-old will be able to vote next time, I have to go and speak out and show a good example,” she added.

“I’m going down there to lead by example, fight for what I believe in and raise good sons,” Levine said.

Sisto, an executive coach and leadership consultant, is flying from the West Coast to see her friends and make her voice heard. She also feels she’s partly marching for her 5-year-old daughter.

“I’ll be really happy that I could tell my daughter someday that I went there, that I felt that passionately about this women’s rights cause that I went.”

The marchers reunite

Back in 1992, the three best friends from Rutgers College, New Jersey, got on a 4 a.m. bus to participate in a women’s rights march in Washington.

The Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey was threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade, challenging Pennsylvania’s statutory provisions regarding abortion.

“Being 22 and unaware, I remember I was inspired seeing parents with strollers, men, women and children and so many people holding signs,” Sisto recalled.

“It didn’t take much planning, we didn’t put much thought to it, just hopped on the bus,” Martinand added.

They mostly remember the crowds and the signs, and feeling “large and small at the same time,” Levine said. “I felt like I’m just one person in a sea of people but at the same time it felt very powerful.”

Protesters gather at the 1992 march for women's rights.

They all agree that the progressive and politically active environment in Rutgers, as well as essays they wrote on gender issues, helped affirm the significance of having a choice over their own body, and prompted them to protest.

The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the basic ruling of Roe v. Wade, and the three women remained good friends, meeting again over the years for weddings and vacations.

Jessica Sisto and Jennifer "Penny" Martinand hug during the 1992 march.

Recreating the past, looking to the future

In their puffy 90s clothes, three young women are smiling timidly in the old photo, the National Museum of Natural History in the background.

Two and a half decades later, they will stand in the exact same pose, and with a big laugh recreate the picture. Except now they are much less hopeful.

“Sadly, I feel that not much has changed in 25 years,” Levine said. “There was a time between then and now where I thought we were making progress but one of the things that was clear to me from the election cycle was that not much has changed.”

Martinand is not sure they’ll achieve anything tangible by marching, but maintains it’s important to fight for equality. “If you stay quiet, it will be harder to change things as it gets more set in,” she said.

“I hope there will be more awareness about the work that is left to do for women’s rights and equality,” Sisto said. “I think there are so many women that don’t even realize that things could be different for them. They just tolerate things like sexual harassment, or assume they just get paid less and that’s just how it is. And it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Nonetheless, the three women hope that the nationwide marches will be “one of many actions of resistance that will bring about change.”