Over 1,200 people gathered in the Diag for the Women March On for Justice early Saturday afternoon. Held the day after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 86th birthday, the theme honored Ginsburg and Women’s History Month. The event featured a rally with several speeches from University of Michigan students and community organizers as well as a march through campus.
The Ann Arbor march was organized by College Democrats and Progressives at the University of Michigan in conjunction with Women's March Ann Arbor and Women March On-Washtenaw, two local volunteer groups unaffiliated with the national and statewide Women’s March organizations.
According to Michelle Deatrick, chair of Women's March Ann Arbor, the theme was chosen to honor Ginsburg and to include speakers with diverse understandings of justice in the march.
“(The event organizers) were thinking about justice more broadly, and the need to uphold and bring a voice to all kinds of justice, (such as) economic, social, racial, gender,” Deatrick said. “And to think about these issues in intersectional ways, so we thought about our choices of speakers in terms of that.”
The event began with the crowd singing “Happy Birthday” to Justice Ginsburg and several chants, including “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” Afterwards, 10 speakers spoke from the steps of Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, discussing a variety of issues, including women’s mental health, inadequate childcare funding and provisions and intersectional feminism.
In her speech, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, talked about issues such as affordable healthcare, and, referencing Friday’s shooting in two New Zealand mosques and other recent mass shootings, urged the crowd to stand up against hatred in their daily lives and online.
“This country is being divided by fear and hatred, and we need to stand up to it,” Dingell said. “And every one of us has a responsibility to stand up to this hatred we see somebody in our community spew. Hatred is a national emergency … We have a responsibility to say to anyone we hear to anyone in our community spouting hate ‘You’re wrong.’”
Several University students spoke at the event. Social Work graduate student Lauren Fine reflected on her grandmother’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor, explaining that her grandmother was assigned to non-Jewish barracks in a concentration camp as punishment for speaking out. The lesbian prisoners there were instructed to physically harm her, but they protected her instead. Fine said her grandmother’s story reminds her of the importance of solidarity among marginalized groups.
“This is a story about anti-Semitism and homophobia, but this is also a story of deep and true solidarity," Fine said. "After watching the tapes (of her grandmother sharing her story), I was struck with the reality that our oppressions are more intertwined than we remember, and that we are more bound together than we know … To me, this serves as a reminder that we are all facing the same incessant evil, one that is seeking to destroy all of us. And yet, here we are.”
LSA sophomore Samara Jackson Tobey also spoke, discussing her Native-American heritage and the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. Other University student speakers included Public Policy junior Arwa Gayar, who read a spoken word poem, and College Democrats chair Ruby Schneider, LSA junior, who talked about the significance of Merriam-Webster’s 2018 Word of the Year, “justice.”
Eastern Michigan University student Sanyu Lukwago also spoke at the march, reminding the crowd the women’s movement must be inclusive of minority women.
“Society is a dialogue that began long before we got here, and one that will continue long after we’ve left the room,” Lukwago said. “Having the opportunity to shape this conversation is something I do not take lightly as a Ugandan woman in a space dominated by white woman here today. With that being said, the Women’s March has been a place of dissonance for me. I recognize that this event can be a source of empowerment for some, but to me, it can be a devastating reminder that mainstream feminism has no investment in loving who I am. So to this crowd, I want to say that feminism can be a joyous and uplifting experience, but do not mistake this work for casual.”
Other speakers included community organizer and Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice co-director Desirae Simmons, Ann Arbor YMCA director Toni Kayumi, Michigan Democratic Party Disability Caucus chair Amy Benchich and community advocate Michelle Elizabeth Brown.
In an interview with The Daily, Schneider expressed that the Women’s March is important in engaging and revitalizing the community.
“Because this upcoming year is an (election) off-year, I think it is extremely important for us to keep our membership and the campus community engaged in issues important to all of us,” Schneider said. “We think the (Women’s March) is an amazing opportunity for people who are passionate not just about women’s issues but all issues that intersect with women’s issues to re-energize, to meet new people, to hear speakers and new ideas.”
LSA freshman Warda Yousuf attended the march with friends, bringing a sign she made that said “I do not like this episode of Black Mirror.” Yousuf explained she came to the march to express her support for women, which she is less able to do back home.
“I’m actually from Bangladesh, and I always see on TV these marches,” Yousuf said. “But I never got a chance to be a part of it, so when I came to Michigan, I knew it was one of the things I needed to experience. Because I support women, and I come from a place where I feel I can’t really show it as much as I could here. Now that I’m getting the chance to do it, I want to be able to.”
LSA freshman Reem Alshareef shared similar sentiments, saying she attended the march to represent Muslim and Arab women.
“I felt like I had an obligation to come out here and speak for women who can’t,” Alshareef said. “We don’t have marches like this in Dearborn where I’m from, which is a Muslim-majority, Arab-majority city. And so it’s just really important to me that our problems are heard and our problems are being represented here.”
Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Mattie Levy attended the March with a sign that said “Free the Tampon” on the front, in reference to the Free the Tampon movement, and “#SayHerName” on the back, in reference to the #SayHerName movement and the death of Sandra Bland, who died in jail three days after being arrested by a Texas State Trooper in 2015. Levy said she went to church with Sandra Bland. She also talked about how she was inspired to come to the march by classes she’s taking to be a Resident Advisor next year.
“(Sandra Bland) actually went to my church, but I didn’t know her personally … so this (sign) is a testament to her, because we have to keep this one going,” Levy said. “One of the things that stood out to me about (the RA classes) was being one of the “good ones,” the idea of standing for a cause but not necessarily doing anything about it … So here I am today, I’m going to be present and stand up for these things that are unjust.”
LSA sophomore Michael Briggs, president of Progressives at the University of Michigan and a co-organizer of the March, expressed his support of the women’s movement as a male ally.
“As a male ally, I think it’s really important to first recognize the privilege that I have, and second use that privilege to help as many people as I can,” Briggs said. “I have seen the women in my life face misogyny … So when I see these things as a male ally, I feel like I have no choice but to stand against it. It’s the only thing I can do.”
According to Briggs, the Ann Arbor Women’s March was held in March instead of January to distance the “Women March On for Justice” march from the national Women’s March organization.
“The March On for Justice has never been associated with the national Women’s March,” Briggs said. “We felt uncomfortable with some of the comments that were made in their leadership. We felt it was important to our own values to continue the fight that it stood for but to do so in a more separate way from the national organization. So we felt having it in March and having it in Women’s History Month and having it celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s birthday was a perfect way to continue fighting for the same cause without showing any support to any possible anti-Semitism or problematic statements that came from their leadership.”
Before the event, several organizations were present on the Diag with information about their cause, including student organizations Students Against Rape, College Democrats, Progressives at U-M and Michigan Movement. Other organizations included Michigan Resistance, Ann Arbor YMCA, League of Women Voters, Ann Arbor NAACP and Washtenaw County Democrats. In an email to The Daily before the event, Deatrick emphasized the importance of having such organizations table at the March.
“One aspect that (the organizers) feel is particularly important is that there will be several student and community groups tabling and flyering at the event,” Deatrick wrote. “We want people to have ways to connect with the incredible surge of grassroots activism so they know they can continue to act. Marching is important, but we need to keep on connecting and acting to create a better future.”
Deatrick expressed the importance of the march as a platform for female and non-binary voices on various political issues.
“I’d like to think of the Women’s March as being about issues for women and people who are non-binary, even though it’s called the Women’s March,” Deatrick said. “I do believe all human issues are women’s issues, but that women and non-binary people bring a different perspective to bear. And when we’re given a seat at the table, we help to improve outcomes … The point is, having us here speaking and thinking about (all human issues) helps us get to a better place in terms of all kinds of justice.”
The march ended at 3:30 p.m., half an hour before the New Zealand Mosques Solidarity Vigil began on the Diag at 4 p.m. and about an hour before the Diag was cleared by police due to a false active shooter threat.