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RISE UP! Women's March on Chicago draws more than 250K
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by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2017-01-21

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History was made Jan. 21 at the Women's March on Chicago.

It was 8 a.m. in the morning at the intersection of Columbus Drive and Jackson Boulevard in downtown Chicago. Through an early, cool mist, the small army of organizers and volunteers for the Women's March on Chicago were completing work on and around the rally stage in preparation for between 40,000 and 50,000 people.

It was part of a coordinated, global statement on equality and justice that began as a Facebook post shortly after the results of the Nov. 8 general election and grew into events taking place in Washington, D.C. and 600 sister cities worldwide.

Early in Chicago, a line of participants had formed a line across the barricades at the South end of Columbus. They were decked out in pink hats and carrying an array of homemade and printed signs decrying 2016 electoral college winner Donald Trump and the homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, hatred and division that were the hallmarks of his campaign now installed in the White House and other high levels of government.

The rally was barely underway when the size of its audience blanketed Columbus Drive, moving south from Jackson. An unabated wave of people was pouring in to join them.

Less than an hour into the line-up of speakers and musicians, Women's March Co-Chairs Jessica Scheller, Ann Scholhamer and Liz Radford spoke on stage, their faces a mixture of shock and elation to announce that the planned march to Federal Plaza had been cancelled because the route and most of the major streets in the Chicago loop were filled with what turned out to be a crowd estimated at 250,000 people.

Chicago had never seen anything like it for a woman-centered protest.

The mist had cleared to a clear, blue sky— just one of the stark contrasts to the dreary, sinister grey-and -white scene and the equally ominous message which played out 24 hours earlier in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., when Trump was inaugurated,.

In Chicago, the rally site and along the length of Michigan Avenue, State Street, Wacker Drive, Wabash and Chicago avenues were packed with a sea of vibrant color. Women, men, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals of every age, racial and economic background cast a massive shadow over Trump's perceived popular ascendancy with a cry of defiant hope encapsulated in the words of speaker and National Rainbow/Push Coalition Rev. Dr. Janette C. Wilson, Esq.

"We are gathered in cities, states all across this nation and even around the world," she said. "We are gathered here not because we have nothing else to do but because we are the first educators of our children. We have the power. We have the influence. We are the majority. We are the ones who can make a difference. We are going to challenge the system. We stand here as women from all over the world."

"We're not just rallying today," Wilson concluded in a fiery tone that resulted in a loud cheer which grew in volume as she directly addressed Trump. "We are assembling and organizing ourselves because, when women fight back, there's no going back. We're going forward. We're not going to let you put 20 million people out of healthcare, we're going to make sure that we have the rights that we fought for; the rights that our ancestors have died for. We're going to vote you out just like you came in. We are the power. We are the people. We are every woman."

Subsequent Chicago Police Department (CPD) announcements that the morning would begin and end with a rally due to the sheer numbers of people who had stopped any possible flow of traffic in the loop turned out to be a vain hope as the march continued anyway. There was no way to tell where it began or ended. Not everyone pulled off to march, but the vast majority tried.

Clearly overwhelmed CPD officers were present only at intersections.

When they tried to divert the surge of people walking North on Michigan Avenue away from the Magnificent Mile to, ironically, past Trump Tower, the marchers circled around and descended on Water Tower Place from the length of Chicago Avenue.

They stayed long into the afternoon and each of their voices robbed Trump and the GOP of the unity which they had been insisting America should show for their agenda and instead put them on notice: if they continue down a path of divisive nationalism, chauvinism and injustice, their days are numbered.

L'Tonya Green and Alice Ocrey attended the rally, according to Green, "for my mother, my grandmother, all the women who didn't get a chance to march."

"I'm here for the rights of all citizens," Ocrey added. "Los Latinos, Black Lives Matter, Women's Lives Matter. I marched in '68 and here I am all these years later still marching for the same rights. Things have to change. This illegitimate administration will find out that we are not just a handful of people you can separate."

The long line-up of speakers and musicians Ocrey and Green came to see was introduced by filmmaker, writer and performer Fawzia Mirza who served as a passionate emcee.

They included Hamilton cast members Ari Afsar, Karen Olivo, Samantha Marie Ware who, along with members of their ensemble sang a haunting rendition of the Beatles "Let It Be."

Black Lives Matter Chicago Lead Organizer Aislinn Pulley also headlined alongside Planned Parenthood of Illinois Vice President of Development Katie Thiede.

Reyna Wences from Organized Communities Against Deportations was joined on stage with Temple Sholom of Chicago Rabbi Shoshanah Conover who, in one particularly telling moment embraced Muslim community activist Eman Hassaballa Aly.

Faith Arnold of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Fight for $15 and Tamar Manasseh of Mothers Against Senseless Killings followed.

National Immigrant Justice Center Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy appeared with asylee from an Mongolia named Mary to present a compelling argument for immigrant rights.

Joining the line-up were Chicago Teachers Union member and community activist Tara Stamps, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization Executive Director Kimberly Wasserman and Mujeres Latinas en Accion President Maria Socorro.

Both U.S. Airforce Master Sergeant (retired) Jean Albright and transgender activist and TransLife Project Manager Channyn Lynne Parker delivered beautifully moving celebrations of inclusion.

Rahnee Patrick of Independent Living at Access Living and Khadine Bennett of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois delivered hope and a pledge to fight Trump whether through making a public stand or in the courts.

Women & Children First bookstore c0founder Ann Christophersen joined with new co-owner Lynn Mooney to introduce introduced the array of elected officials who joined the rally including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, 33rd Ward Ald. Deb Mell, 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith, 10th Ward Ald. Susan Garza and 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell. The last three had introduced the event at the start, and then at the end of the political parade, six high-level elected officials briefly spoke: U.S. Reps Cheri Bustos, Bill Foster and Raja Krishnamoorthi, plus Illinois Attorney Gen. Lisa Madigan, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton of the Hadiya Pendleton Foundation, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health Executive Director Tiffany Pryor, author Sara Paretsky, Chicago Women Take Action co-founder Marilyn Katz, 2nd Wave feminist pioneer Sylvia Fisher, SEIU Healthcare of Illinois Director of External Relations Jaquie Algee, RISE Movement's Eloise Diaz Bahrmasel, Youth For Black Lives (Eva Lewis, Maxine Aguilar, Maxine Wint, and Yahair Tarr) were also featured on the program

Near the end of the program, there was a special Muslim call to prayer.

Musical performances were provided by Opal Staples, Lucy Smith, So Chi Voices, The Full Court Press Jam Band and Lights of Zion.

Both the Illinois delegation to the Women's March on Washington and and the Women's March on Chicago plan to work together on followup events and amplifying of local activism, including through pushing attendance at the annual Volunteer Expo at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Feb. 26.

See womens121marchonchicago.org/ .

Note: Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim was among the lead organizers and champions of the Women's March on Chicago.



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