Nearly 100 protesters gathered in the Diag Saturday night to attend a rally for women’s rights awareness in response to a proposed meet-up of self-proclaimed men’s rights group Return of Kings in downtown Ann Arbor. The protest carried on despite the event’s cancellation late last week.

LSA sophomore Susanna Wang created the rally’s Facebook event protesting ROK’s meet-ups, which turned into a community effort to address women’s rights and issues including reproductive health, sexism on campus and discrimination against sexuality. Both city organizers and students said their aim was to frame the rally positively — as a show of feminism and solidarity — rather than an angry reaction to the proposed meet-up. One of the event’s organizers, Lauren Ashley, a Hazel Park resident, said the interest the event garnered on Facebook moved her to alter its message.

“When we found out over 600 people were interested in coming … we wanted to turn this into something good and focus on the positive,” Ashley said. “Instead of focusing all of our energy and resources on these awful men, we wanted to celebrate women instead.”

ROK gained national attention on social media last week after announcing “international tribal meetups” for members. The group, led by founder Roosh Valizadeh, is infamous for advocating agendas such as the legalization of rape on private property and gender-based subjugation. The University’s Department of Public Safety and Security and the Ann Arbor Police Department said Wednesday they were investigating ROK’s original plan to meet up, but did not release a statement after the cancellation.

AAPD Sergeant Patrick Maguire said though the backlash against the meet-up took place primarily online, AAPD officers still needed to monitor real-life implications. Maguire stood outside Nickel’s Arcade, ROK’s proposed assembly point in Ann Arbor on Saturday night, but said aside from a few protesters inside the arcade, the space was fairly quiet throughout the night.

“We’re just keeping an eye on things tonight,” he said.

A majority of attendees at the rally were local community members and activists. Groups used the rally to promote other women’s rights issues — many carried signs for Planned Parenthood and Students for Choice. Second-year law student Dana Ziegler, member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice, said it was important for her organization to stand united with those at the rally.

“We saw that the undergrads had organized this event, and saw it as a great opportunity to turn it around into an educational and positive event, ” she said. “It’s important not to just talk about this event as a reaction to this group, but as a reaction to the prevalent sexism in our society.”

Multiple protesters also spoke of lending their voices to the cause as individuals. Ann Arbor resident Chris Thomas said it was important for him as a Black man to attend.

“Utilizing the support networks that are built between things like Black Lives Matter and the feminist movement brings about a better place for everyone,” he said. “As we all sort of gain rights, we gain a better world.”

The rally drew protesters from communities as far as Lansing and Detroit, many of whom spoke during the rally’s slate of speakers or as part of an open-mic speakout-style session. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center staffed a debriefing room in the Michigan League for the duration of the event, and organizers repeatedly referred to the rally as a “safe space.”

Though multiple speakers did touch on prevailing issues of violence against women, the occasion ultimately celebrated feminists’ rights and women present at the event. Many speakers ultimately stuck with the focus on celebration of rights.

“Tonight, our kings are in caves, it seems,” one attendee chanted. “We won.”

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