Rachelle Hope Saltzman, "Pussy Hats, Politics, and Public Protest" (UP of Mississippi, 2020)

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On January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, hundreds of cities in the U.S. and across the globe organized Women’s Marches in response to Trump’s misogynistic comments and as a general rebuke of his election. In this collection edited by Dr. Rachelle (Riki) Salzman, established and emerging scholars contribute essays that examine the folkloric aspects of the Women’s Marches. Hear our conversation as we discuss the symbolic elements of these protests.

First, Dr. Saltzman tells me about her start in folklore with her fascinating adventures in documenting the oral histories of Chesapeake watermen on the Eastern Shore in Maryland as a college student and then later curating thousands of World War II letters written by American soldiers who corresponded with a secretary at a Jewish YMCA.

We begin our discussion of Pussyhats, Politics, and Public Protest (University Press of Mississippi, 2020) by talking about the deliberate timing of its release. While the publication focuses on the Women’s Marches that took place at the beginning of Trump’s presidency, the release of the book takes place as his administration wraps up and a new one begins. Dr. Saltzman characterizes the 2017 Women’s Marches as “carnivalesque” where public events have a number of features of the carnival – the turning of the world upside down, poking fun, and critiquing those in power under the license of festivity with the possibility of transformative change. The protests signs were also a significant part of the marches, engaging in humor and puns to critique the status quo but also as a means to understand the community. Similarly, the pussy hats also carry symbolic meaning of community making and we share our stories of receiving our own pussy hats from friends. From there we discuss a queer art studio that created conversation about the protests through its jewelry and the multiple generations that attended the protests.

Dr. Salzman is a folklorist at the High Desert Museum and the Oregon Folklife Network where she was also the former Executive Director. She also teaches at the Oregon State University as a lecturer in the Folklore and Public Culture program.

Nancy Yan received her PhD in folklore from The Ohio State University and taught First Year Writing, Comparative Studies, and Asian American studies for several years before returning to organizing work.

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