300,000 rally at Women's March Chicago event
January 20 2018

Carrie Maxwell
Windy City Times

An estimated 300,000 people gathered at Columbus Parkway near Grant Park for the Women’s March Chicago rally and march Jan. 20 under the theme March to the Polls.

Last year’s event, held the day after the presidential inauguration (Jan. 21, 2017), attracted approximately 250,000 people in protest of the 2016 election results.

Ahead of the rally and march, Women’s March Chicago (WMC) board member and March to the Polls organizer Emily Kraiem said, “I want to thank the readers of Windy City Times for their incredible support this past year. We appreciate the way the LGBTQ community has embraced the Women’s March movement and hope to keep building that strong relationship with them. We are excited to have representation from the LGBTQ community at the rally, in particular our emcee [actor and producer] Fawzia Mirza who did a great job last year and trans activist and [Broadway Youth Center Drop-in Program Manager] Channyn Lynne Parker.

“Right now we are focusing on the 2018 midterm elections—the March 20 primary and Nov. 6 general election. We know there are so many legislative issues that are impacting the LGBTQ community and we want to support those. Every member of the WMC board is touched by these issues because they have LGBTQ people in their lives that they love. We are determined to make sure their rights are being protected.”

Kraiem also noted the controversy and conversations over the pink hats this past year. She said they are trying to change opinions around inclusivity of trans people and women of color in particular and the key to this is listening to every voice so their issues can be addressed.

The crisp, sunny morning began with musical set by DJ HeilyB and performances by Faces for Radio, Second City’s She the People Cast and Lights of Zion ahead of remarks by more than 20 activists, community leaders, elected officials and WMC leaders. Women cast members from Chicago’s production of Hamilton also performed.

Members of Chicago ADAPT praised WMC organizers for making this event accessible for people with disabilities and spoke about the legislative work, including protests on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., they have been doing around healthcare access and other issues. They also spoke about the Disability Integration Act that they are trying to get passed in Congress.

Mirza rallied the crowd with chants and her special brand of humor. She spoke about the intersectionality of the event and the importance of learning from one another. She also relayed a message from her friend, activist and National Domestic Workers Alliance Director Ai-jen Poo (who attended the Golden Globes this year with Meryl Streep and was at the New York City Women’s March during the Chicago Women’s March). Poo said everyone needs to remember the women who are nannies, housekeepers and caregivers.

“We are people of all ages, accessibilities, races, genders, orientations and language capacities,” said Mirza. “This march is for women, women identifying people, gender nonconforming people, trans people and male allies. We are all feminists. The purpose of this march is to stay woke and this year we have to take our power to the polls.”

Northwestern University’s Associate Chaplain and Director of Interfaith Engagement Tahera Ahmad opened the rally with a Muslim greeting and justice and peace chant.

Among the speakers were Parker, NBC’s Chicago Fire actor and activist Monica Raymund, philanthropist and progressive activist founder of Need to Impeach Tom Steyer and many women elected officials in the Chicagoland area including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer (10th district) and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward).

“It is still a good day to be trans,” said Parker. “Gentleman, legislation does not belong in uteruses, and madams when I have to use the bathroom I promise you all I want to do is pee.”

Parker also noted that the only way to save the country from Donald Trump is voting in every election. She invoked the late Audre Lorde with her quote, “The only thing more frightening than speaking your truth is not speaking at all.” Parker also expressed solidarity with undocumented immigrants. She spoke about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement and also called on women to run for office.

Mirza called out the numerous women running for office, Illinois’ HB40 being signed into law, the founder of the #MeToo movement Tarana Burke, African American women voting for Sen. Doug Jones and the election of Virginia House Delegate Danica Roem among other events over the past year.

Raymund explained that her identity as a Latinx queer woman is the opposition’s worst nightmare. She also read a poem by Lorde.

Steyer said it was great to be in Chicago with so many fired up and passionate women. He noted this movement has gone past politics and into the culture. Steyer also reminded everyone how many elected offices are at stake in November and said those seats need to be flipped with progressives, especially women and people of color.

“We will not stand by and lose the soul of America to a racist, anti-woman bigot and someone who vilifies immigrants and who is against the LGBTQ community,” said Steyer.

CAIR Chicago’s Asha Binbek spoke about the danger of having a Trump mindset because it is used to divide people not bring them together. Binbek also stressed the importance of civic engagement, including voting and running for office.

Gainer called on attendees to elect more women so their voices and concerns will be heard across the country.

Chakena Sims highlighted the work Chicago Votes did to register 1,000 Cook County Jail inmates to vote.

Smith spoke about the sexual harassment she, as well as her mom and daughter, faced over the years. She said “this is where it stops.”

Valencia said she is the second woman to hold the City Clerk’s office since 1837. Valencia noted the percentages of women in elected office is very low across the board and called on everyone to vote more women into office.

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights New Americans Democracy Project/Youth Engagement Manager Celina Villanueva addressed the crowd in both Spanish and English and denounced a man who called her the day before to say she was wrong for supporting undocumented immigrants.

Villanueva also said Congress has to pass a clean Dream Act now and challenged the white women in attendance to have the uncomfortable conversations with their fellow white family members and friends who voted for Trump in 2016.

Access Living’s Director of Advocacy and External Affairs and Chicago ADAPT member Amber Smock also spoke about the rights of people with disabilities.

League of Women Voters’ Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley invoked Ida B. Wells and said everyone, especially women, must march to the polls because this is where people hold the power so it is important to get more people registered to vote. She also noted how vital it is for all sides of Chicago to flourish, not just the Loop and North Side. Mbekeani-Wiley also explained that dignity knows no political affiliation or gender.

Preckwinkle praised the SEIU for the work they do and made note of the Time Magazine cover featuring many of the women running for political office. She also explained that there are no Black governors across the U.S. and said that could change in November with the election of Stacey Abrams as Georgia’s governor.

Madigan said standing up for justice, fairness and equality is what democracy looks like. She spoke about the power of women, using one’s power for good including voting and running for office and the power of many people coming together in common cause.

Foxx explained that for her this year is about taking power back from the opposition. She said she is less than one percent of prosecutors who are women of color in the nation. Foxx noted it is unacceptable that women do not hold an equal number of elected seats in all levels of government.

Emily’s List Regional Campaign Finance Advisor Quiana McKenzie spoke about the work she has done this past year to get more women to run for office, engage with elected officials on issues and the many diverse people who were elected in 2017 across the country.

SEIU Healthcare of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas and Missouri President Greg Kelley said he was at the rally as an ally and on behalf of all the women who are members of SEIU. He explained that union rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are union rights.

Chicago Foundation for Women President and CEO K. Sujata explained that the health, safety and security of women and girls is being threatened every day, especially immigrant women, women of color and poor women.

Former Chicago Ford assembly plant employee Suzette Wright (Urban Dialog with Suzette Founder and host) spoke about 2017 being the year of the silence breakers and her personal experience as a survivor of sexual harassment. She said when one woman uses their voice to speak out it empowers other women to speak out on important issues like sexual assault/harassment. Wright also said marching to the polls is how change happens.

Other speakers included WMC Executive Director Claire Shingler and Board Members Kraiem, Ann Scholhamer, Carrie Kiley, Liz Radford, Jaquie Algee and Jessica Scheller and WMC Lead Marshal and Safety Instructor Shani Smith.

Deborah Lane (ATU) and the Bryant Jones Choir and DJ Heather closed out the rally with a performance ahead of the march west toward Federal Plaza.

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