Spring Grove teen one of 25 speakers at Philly Women's March

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

Spring Grove Area High School senior Amy Gunzelman checked her email shortly after waking up Monday, Jan. 15, to a pleasant surprise at the top of her inbox.

Spring Grove junior Amy Gunzelman addresses the school board regarding behaviors of board member Matt Jansen during public comment at the Spring Grove school board meeting in the Educational Service Center in Spring Grove, Monday, March 6, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Congratulations,” the message read — Gunzelman is going to speak at the Women’s March on Philadelphia, one of the largest women’s march demonstrations occurring around the country this weekend.

“I was freaking out,” she said.

Gunzelman will be one of 25 speakers at the march Saturday, Jan. 20.

She admits she forgot about the application she had submitted a month ago, partly because she thought her chances of being selected to speak were slim.

The form asked applicants to state their beliefs concerning women’s rights, what community work they have done in the past year and what themes they would address if given the opportunity to speak in front of an expected crowd of more than 50,000 people.

The theme of this year’s Women’s March on Philadelphia is “We resist. We persist. We rise.”

Gunzelman focused much of her application on persistence.

She said her activities have included continual protests in front of Republican Rep. Scott Perry’s office, writing about women’s rights in Spring Grove’s student newspaper and her repeated protests and public statements at Spring Grove school board meetings against former board member Matt Jansen.

Public comment regarding board member Matt Jansen during the Spring Grove school board meeting at the Educational Service Center in Spring Grove, Monday, March 6, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Jansen: Jansen left a voicemail message for Dallastown pastor Christopher Rodkey in June 2016 after a church sign at St. Paul's United Church of Christ stated, “Wishing a blessed Ramadan to our Muslim neighbors.”

In the voicemail message to Rodkey, Jansen called the sign “despicable” and called Islam a “godless,” “pagan” religion.

Jansen, a Pennsylvania delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention, was also accused of racism in February 2017 after a message posted on his Twitter account read, “Well than this wetbacks family should be thrown out of the country.”

The message was deleted soon after, and Jansen has maintained that he did not write the message and he was the victim of a hack.

Jansen resigned from the school board in August 2017 after moving out of the district.

Gunzelman said she is glad Jansen is gone from the school board but felt the board could have done more in handling the matter, given the “resistance” from the community in the wake of the allegations, as well as the hate mail and threats she received from her protests.

Beth E. Finn, an organizer with the Women's March on Philadelphia, said upon reading her story organizers were impressed with her body of activism.

"She’s so young, but she was so active in her work," Finn said. "She really showed persistence."

More:Controversial Spring Grove school board member resigning

More:Spring Grove board appoints former teacher to replace Matt Jansen

If Jansen’s departure “hadn’t worked out,” Gunzelman said, “I’d still be there protesting.”

Activism: Gunzelman said she has been involved in women’s rights causes from an early age, when she noticed inequities in the world around her.

Once she could articulate what she had experienced, she became involved in Spring Grove Area High School’s student newspaper, The Star Rocket, in her freshman year.

Her first article was titled “Feminism is not a dirty word,” and despite a rough reception from the student body — she claims students sent her Snapchats of themselves burning her article — she persisted.

Amy Gunzelman, far right, poses with friends and family at the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017.

“As women, we need to speak up because for so many years, we have been silenced,” Gunzelman said.

That’s what she hopes her speech on Jan. 20 — the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration — will be all about.

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A year ago, on Jan. 21, Gunzelman was one of many York County residents who rode on a rally bus to attend the Women’s March on Washington.

Thousands of people gather to participate in the Women's March on Washington, D.C Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Amanda J. Cain photo

Gunzelman took a deep breath in recalling her memory of that day.

“It was life-changing,” she said.

There were scores of people as far as the eye could see, with weary, but hopeful, faces all around.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Gunzelman added.

The first Women’s March in D.C., as well as corresponding protests around the world, was in response to Trump’s ascension to the presidency, she said, “but this year, (the Women’s March is about) everything that has spiraled as part of his presidency.”

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The #MeToo movement, the Time’s Up movement and the dozens of sexual assault accusations that rocked several industries are a few examples Gunzelman gave of women rising up.

Now, she’s ready to get even more women inspired to speak out.

“This is for women who feel powerless to speak up. This is our time,” Gunzelman said.

The March: The Women’s March on Philadelphia will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Saturday, Jan. 20, at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

Click here to register ahead of the event.

Reach education reporter Junior Gonzalez at jgonzalez@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @EducationYD.

Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the updated number of speakers at Saturday's Women's March on Philadelphia.