In the wake of President Donald Trump’s electoral victory, Alison Désir, the founder of a community running organization in New York City called Harlem Run, turned her frustration into political action.
Désir’s remedy: a four-woman, 240-mile relay, beginning in Harlem, New York City, on Jan. 16 and ending in Washington, D.C., on the day of Trump’s inauguration. The race was designed to raise money and awareness for Planned Parenthood in honor of women. As of Jan. 20, the (Four Women) Run For ALL Women GoFundMe page had raised more than $89,000 ― more than twice their goal ― to give women access to cancer screenings and preventive care, even if Planned Parenthood is defunded this year.
Though Four Women are running specifically in opposition to Trump, they are participating in a legacy of people who run in protest or with advocacy in mind.
Protest and advocacy runs range from sponsored marathons to singular, public displays of support, such as Terry Fox’s famous 143-day marathon for cancer research or the recent 2,000-mile relay run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Désir’s activist relay is part of a larger tradition of running as a form of protest. Women in particular have a history of using long-distance running to call attention to their fight for equality. In fact, just the act of running while female used to be protest enough.
When Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb’s 1966 Boston Marathon entry was rejected by the Boston Athletic Association because women were neither allowed to participate, nor “physiologically able” to compete, she ignored her denial letter.
Instead, she dressed in her brother’s clothing, hid her hair under a hooded sweatshirt, and joined the race without a bib.
Gibb would go on to prove her detractors at the Boston Athletic Association wrong. She finished in the top third of the pack.
“Last week a tidy-looking and pretty 23-year-old blonde [had] a performance that should do much to phase out the old-fashioned notion that a female is too frail for distance running,” Sports Illustrated wrote at the time.
Her protest run also inspired other women to participate, most memorably at that time 20-year-old Kathy Switzer, who officially entered the Boston marathon under the non-gender specific name “K.V. Switzer” the following year. Remarkable though her physical achievement was, race director Jock Semple tried to tackle Switzer and toss her from the race for entering under false pretenses (as seen in the photo above snapped during the assault). As Switzer writes on her website:
A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” Then he swiped down my front, trying to rip off my bib number, just as I leapt backward from him.
The resulting photos transformed Switzer into the face of women’s running and cemented her status as a feminist role model for generations of women.
Six women in New York City built on that activist legacy. When the gun went off at the start of the New York City Marathon in 1972, the women sat down at the starting line and held up signs protesting the Amateur Athletic Union, which required female runners to participate in a “separate but equal” marathon and start the race 10 minutes before the male runners, or on a different starting line.
A photo of the sit-in ran in the New York Times the following Monday.
“It made a huge difference because it happened in New York. After that, the A.A.U. allowed women to run with men,” Nina Kuscsik, one of the protesters, told the Times in 2011. In 1972, Kuscsik became the first woman to officially win the Boston Marathon.
As for Désir, she and the women of (Four Women) Run For ALL Women are carrying what Désir calls the “baton of hope and health” into Washington Friday, then joining the Women’s March on Saturday, in honor of the rights of women everywhere.
In doing so, they’re building on the legacies of Gibb, Switzer and Kucsik.
“There will be four of us running, but we’ll be running for all of us,” Désir wrote on her GoFundMe page.