“We want a justice leader, not a sexist tweeter!”
The chant came from Jan Griesinger, a 75-year-old woman standing at a podium in Baker Ballroom, during Ohio University Women’s Center’s annual International Women’s Day Festival.
Outfitted in a blue, pink, green, and orange-patterned nylon sweatsuit that harkens back to the 80s, Griesinger stood before about 50 people at the annual event, stoically reading passages written by historical feminist women. Then, when she started the chant, the audience broke out into a nervous laughter.
Griesinger has worked on feminist issues for almost 50 years and regularly participates in marches and protests in Athens.
She recalled a recent protest on OU’s campus in response to President Trump’s Muslim ban. Griesinger took a chant from the annual Take Back the Night march, part of a larger national movement to protest and bring awareness to rape and sexual violence.
“The women [at Take Back the Night] have a favorite chant they do there about a hundred times. ‘We’re women, we’re here, we’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us’ and they just repeat it the whole march,” said Griesinger.
She shared her version from the Muslim ban protest:
“We’re refugees. We’re here, we’re fabulous, don’t mess with us. We’re immigrants, we’re here, we’re fabulous, don’t mess with us. We’re Muslims, we’re here, we’re fabulous, don’t mess with us.”
After tirelessly working on feminist issues for almost half a century, Griesinger says she is able to keep hope by singing with the Calliope Feminist Choir she helped form in 1993.
“Singing civil rights songs, singing other songs … ‘we’re going to keep on moving forward, never turning back’ … that is inspiring to me.”
A few of the Calliope Feminist choir members, Athens residents, and students protested OU’s decision to arrest 70 students who were protesting the Muslim ban in Baker Center. The following day, the group of about 20 held a sing-in where they sang songs in solidarity with those arrested.
Griesinger is a part of the history of Athens as a feminist woman. Her resume spans over five pages, and she was a founding member of 16 different social justice groups. She has also served in various roles in a countless number of other organizations. She also helped implement OU’s women's studies program in 1979. There’s no question she has made an impact.
“I belong to the most progressive Christian church, called the United Church of Christ,” said Griesinger. “I knew that at some point in my life when I came out more publicly, which was 1978, that, you know, I wouldn't have any church problems.”
Before Griesinger lived in Athens, she worked on women’s issues in southwestern Ohio.
“I was also involved in starting a group called Dayton Women’s Liberation, feminism was on the agenda very early,” she said. She formed this group in 1969 before graduating from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, along with co-founding Dayton’s Women’s Health Center, and Dayton’s Women’s Center in 1973 and 1975, respectively.
Griesinger and her partner, Mary Morgan, started making feminist waves in southeast Ohio in 1976 when Griesinger accepted a job as director of United Campus Ministries.
“Since [UCM] has a history of activism, they thought somebody who was a feminist should be hired,” she said. She came to UCM in 1976 and worked as the director until 2004 when she retired.
Moving to rural Ohio from Dayton, Morgan wanted to live “out in the country” because she grew up in rural West Virginia.
“She really sort of pushed the idea, researched getting out in the country … because that was something she really wanted to do, was to not be in town, be out in rural Appalachia, so she did a lot more research on land,” said Griesinger.
After finding 150 acres of land in a silent auction, they put in a bid of “about $44,100” and won, said Griesinger.
“We very, very quickly put together a committee of women to say, ‘Okay, how can women use this space? What can we do with it? What name should we give it?” said Griesinger. Together, they planned the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Unrest Home Land Trust, also called SuBAMUH, which sits in the unincorporated town of Millfield, a small Athens County town with a population of 341, according to the 2010 census.
“The Women’s Land Trust was created to have a feminist education center, a rural place for women to camp, hike, swim, and live,” she said.
Griesinger lives in the farmhouse that came with the land. Her home serves as the main meeting area, and there are three other homes and two cabins on the property.
“I come around [to SuBAMUH] once a week for a visit with Jan,” said Heather Conner, a resident of Albany. “I love the land here, I love the feeling of safety here. Jan and the other women here are very nice.”
Conner became friends with Griesinger after meeting her in the Calliope Feminist Choir. She became a SuBAMUH board member in January.
Since the opening of SuBAMUH in 1979, there have been countless educational workshops and feminist discussion potlucks, which occur every second Saturday of the month.
Eight women gathered in Griesinger’s farmhouse at the February potluck to hear and discuss the work of OU Political Science Professor DeLysa Burnier. Dr. Burnier researches gender and public administration, and the development of a care-centered public administration. Griesinger invited Dr. Burnier to be the February speaker after sitting in on her Interest and Politics class.
Griesinger still lives and breathes social justice, even after retiring from UCM in 2004.
Every Monday at 11:30 a.m. she can be seen participating in a “peace vigil,” wearing a sign that says “Honk for Justice, Peace, and the 99 percent” in front of the Athens County Courthouse, at 8 E Washington St, alongside other local activists.