The first march in Washington, D.C., occurring the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration last year, protested Trump’s sexist rhetoric and policies. The theme of this year’s local march, according to vice chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissions Michelle Deatrick, who is also running for Michigan State Senate in Ann Arbor, is “power to the polls,” to encourage people to get and stay engaged as the November elections approach.
Approximately 4,000 students, faculty and community members assembled on the Diag for the rally. As one of hundreds of women’s marches occurring nationwide, this year’s gathering included voter registration and poster-making tables, as well as outreach stations from organizations such as the University’s chapter of College Democrats, Planned Parenthood, Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, and Progressives at the University of Michigan.
Newly-formed local group Women March on Washtenaw, whose creation was inspired after the Women’s Convention in Detroit, held a sign-making table on the Diag. Volunteers Molly Bickley and Wendy Ascione-Juska, who ran the table, said they hoped the signs would help unite and give a voice to the participants of the march.
“One of the things that we wanted to do is to provide support for this march and to build community with the Ann Arbor and greater Washtenaw area, so we had this sign making table,” Bickley said.
Ascione-Juska added their table received a lot of attention from the marchers.
“It’s been pretty popular,” Ascione-Juska said. “People are coming in and thinking about what to say, and there is a lot to say. People are thinking, ‘What do I choose? Because there are so many things I want to say and I can’t write it all down into one poster board.’”
The march garnered statewide attendance, with travelers such as Detroit resident Lillian Kung, who commuted to Ann Arbor for the day. Kung reflected on what has changed for women’s rights over the past year, saying she is still disappointed with the presidential administration.
“Last year at the women’s march, I was pregnant and was really morning sick so I was throwing up every 20 minutes,” Kung said. “That sensation of sickness really hasn’t gone away with the current administration.”
The main orchestrators of the rally this year were Deatrick and public policy senior Claire Cepuran, who co-founded Progressives at the University. The two also planned last year’s Women’s March, and agreed to organize this year’s event due to popular demand from the community.
Cepuran explained the major difference between the 2017 march and the 2018 march was this year the protest took the form of a rally, done in order to allow people to more easily communicate with activists present at the event.
“It’s only a rally rather than a march because we decided it was more important to allow people in Ann Arbor to connect with the grassroots activists who are here in a way that they really can’t in a march,” Cepuran said.
Deatrick highlighted the #MeToo movement as one of the major shifts in the women’s rights struggle over the past year. She addressed #MeToo’s success in raising national awareness of the injustices women face throughout their lives.
“The #Metoo movement has made all of our country much more aware of misogyny and sexism that women of all ages endure on an ongoing basis,” Deatrick said. “I don’t think a lot of men really understood. I think there’s just much more awareness.”
Several marchers, including LSA sophomore Hannah Chosid, also referenced the importance of the #MeToo movement over the past year. She referred to the movement’s need for continued support as their main motivation for participating in the march.
“I would say that especially with the #MeToo movement that’s been happening it’s so important for women to get together and exercise their right to fight for equality,” Chosid said.
A number of musicians performed on the stairs outside Hatcher Graduate Library, one group singing a rendition of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor with the words changed to fit the theme of women’s resistance and persistence. Following the musicians, 11 speakers addressed and inspired the crowd, including State Senator Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) and spoken-word poet Khadega Mohammed.
Mohammed, a first-year graduate student at Wayne State University, performed her poem titled “Boxes,” discussing the hardships she faces as a Sudanese, Muslim woman being forced by society to fit her many identities into a single box.
“I was asked to unpack my whole life and try to fit in my whole in a single box based on the color of my skin, a box on paper,” Mohammed said.
Attendees focused on small-scale, day-to-day changes that have the power to accomplish more ambitious policy goals. Many younger people emphasized the importance of voting and calling representatives, especially when students feel like they don’t have much voice or power in government.
“My goals for the movement would be to have women lead it and have women decide what needs to be done, and be more equal in society and have what they deserve,” LSA freshman Austin Gardner said.
Warren, the only female Democrat serving in the Michigan senate, discussed the hope she felt by being surrounded by the protesters at the rally today. She said despite her worries about the Trump administration, she remains optimistic, noting achievements such as Hispanic woman Michelle De La Isla winning the mayoral election in Topeka, Kansas and Democrat Doug Jones winning the senator race in Alabama.
“What a difference a year makes,” Warren said. “Standing here with you all day, knowing what you have done with us over the last year, I’m not quite as worried as I was last year. In fact, I’m standing in front of you, incredibly hopeful.”
Deatrick was also optimistic, emphasizing the need for everyone’s continued support.
“I just want to ask everyone to keep resisting,” Deatrick said. “We’re going to win this, but it might by the battle of our lives.”