On January 21st 2017, the day after Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States of America, hundreds of thousands of women, men, minorities, LGBTQIA, and allies to those who face social injustice gathered for rallies and protests in their respective capitols and other places of interest. The purpose of the Women’s March was to highlight the unity of the American people and boldly declare their message for intolerance of any political attempts to hinder progress made towards equality and acceptance. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Women’s March organized in Topeka, KS.
I woke up to the panic-attack inducing sound of my alarm clock. Excitedly, I jumped out of bed and quickly dressed myself as I could hear my roommates and friends getting ready upstairs. Running upstairs, I was greeted by my friends who were all ready to head out. We got into the car, and set off on the almost 3 hour drive towards Topeka, our protest signs already in the trunk.
A couple of days before this, I was told by my professor that people were organizing a march on DC and that its purpose was to unite people of all walks of life to send a powerful message to Trump (and his unqualified appointees) that any hint of going backwards on human rights would be contested defiantly and vigorously. Excited at the swiftness of the reaction and people’s determination to defend each other, I continuously checked in with that same professor to check the progress of the movement. I later found out that there would be marches at every capitol and even more places outside of those cities! After going home that day, my roommate Brenda told me that she was interested in going. Only after making a Facebook post inquiring about others who wanted to go with us, and immediately finding two other passengers, as well as two others who would take their own car, did we decide we were going to the march. Brenda decided we would have a sign making party that night. So, as we dined on homemade meatballs with a side of chips and dip, we each made a sign.
Back to the trip. In order to really get in the proper mindset for the march, we listened to empowering and talented female rock singers such as Alanis Morissette, Aretha Franklin and numerous others. Singing loud while throwing our hands around we quickly got into the spirit of excitement and readiness to embark on our journey, one I had never been on before. Cindy, a great friend of mine, turned around holding two magazines and asked me, “So which one would you like to read: Women’s Weekly or Women’s Weekly?” We all laughed as I picked the second Women’s Weekly. We carried on conversations about singers we liked, things that had happened during our week, and about an apparent trend where people drink wine while doing yoga. To which my roommate Meagan replied, “F*** the yoga…Let’s do shots!” Loud laughter and off-pitch singing, even after a bad experience at a Denny’s, had us arriving at Topeka in no time.
Pulling into the capitol parking lot, I became ecstatic about the amount of people walking with home-made signs heading towards the capitol building. I later learned that there were over 4000 in attendance. For Kansas, this was a truly amazing sight. Also noteworthy were various other marches: one in Kansas City, Lawrence and Wichita showing that Kansas has thousands are concerned. We all grabbed our signs out of the trunk and begin walking up to the capitol.
(above) People gather at the steps of the capitol building.
As we approached the capitol building, I heard the crowd break out in thundering applause as an all female band called The Skirts began playing. We talked to people and looked at other’s signs while listening to beautiful music played by women wearing hippie style clothing. I went around asking people what their motivation, their call-to-action, was that inspired them to come to the event.
Jane Ballath, a concerned mother, had this to say, “I have a three year old daughter. I just want her to grow up in a world where her beautiful mind and physical attributes will be accepted however she chooses to express herself and not have to worry about it.”
I continued walking around taking pictures while asking more that same question.
(above) A protestor holds up a sign to show the unity she wishes for.
Julie Schoff, a Kansas-native answered, “I just wanted there to be a physical presence here that lets legislators know that people in small towns want equality. I’m from McPherson and I came to meet others and rally for those without a voice.”
As the music ended, the speakers came to speak to us from the mid-section of the steps.
Sarah Dunegan, a minister of the Universal-Unitarian church in Topeka, started things off with her Prayer to the Feminine Divine.
Elise Higgins, a representative of Planned Parenthood, also spoke. Higgins reminded us that the 22nd of January was the 45th anniversary of the famous Roe v. Wade case. Higgins let those present know that if they wanted to receive news alerts about Planned Parenthood, and the things they were doing, they could text FIGHT to 22422.
Next came a woman wearing a hijab and sunglasses. Fatima Mohammadi, an American born Muslim of Iranian descent spoke of the policies Donald Trump had proposed during his campaign such as identifying and numbering all Muslims. Mohammadi reminded us of the Muslim people’s disgust with ISIS and their willingness to help stand up for civil rights as they too believe in equal treatment.
A man takes the microphone off of the stand and walks it up to a woman sitting in a wheelchair at the top of the steps. This woman, though seemingly small, had a resoundingly loud voice. Dot Nary, a researcher at Kansas University, spoke very clearly of many disabled people’s opinion for Trump. “We are people with blindness, deafness, intellectual disability, autism, and both visible and internal disabilities….and we’re not going anywhere.” Nary later said, “We denounce a justice department that weakens, defunds, or repeals laws that end civil rights. We denounce a president who mocks those with disabilities.” Nary highlighted the possibility of Trumps want to repeal the A.D.A. ( American Disabilities Act).
As the microphone is brought back, a women adorned with beautiful, traditional, purple native-American clothing walks up. She sets something black on the podium. We all watch in silence as she looks back at us. After a few moments, she drapes the black cloth over the podium that says “Black Lives Matter”. We all applaud in unison while people shout in encouragement. Paulette Blanchard, a member of the Shawnee tribe, began speaking in her native tongue and scattered tobacco in the air. Blanchard stated, “I am the descendant of a Native American they couldn’t kill…. You stand on stolen land. ..We are still here.” Blanchard talked about the importance of water to their culture, and referenced Flint, Michigan. “People ask why we don’t get over it,” Blanchard said, “It’s because atrocities have continued for 525 years.”
Kansas Poet laureate Caryn Goldberg read her poem “Dedication”.
Ana Morales spoke on the importance of safe spaces.
Glenda Overstreet spoke on the importance of inclusion of different races in educational settings. Overstreet told protestors, “There are those of us who have felt the pain of our ancestry who hung from trees and dragged through streets.”
Democratic representative Barbra Ballard spoke about the political landscape and how it has changed drastically.
Aleese Martini, a women who served a lifetime career in construction, spoke about the dangers of our economic state and how women should be able to work where they want.
Heather Ousley, an advocate for children’s rights, spoke about the dangers of privatizing education.
Lastly, my favorite speaker, Stephanie Mott spoke. Mott, an older woman who spoke slowly, had the most profound message (in my opinion). Mott was surprisingly a transgender woman, and was previously a man. On the matter of gender identity, Mott highlighted the change in opinion at the presidential level by saying, “Last night, I went to bed in a country with a president who believed I was a woman. Today, I woke up in a country where my president does not believe that.” Mott spoke on the issues that the entire rally was there for, to let Trump know that they would not tolerate any hindering of social equality. “We are not going to go backwards,” Mott said, “We are going to go forwards, and we’re going to do it now.” Mott was given permission to unveil, for the first time anywhere, that a legislator would soon be producing a bill that would protect LGBTQIA Kansans. Mott demonstrated an enthusiastic outlook on the possibility of passing the bill.
After the speakers were done speaking, we all picked up our signs and marched around the capitol yard. Chants such as “hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” and “Tiny hands can’t build a wall!” were shouted as protestors marched.
The day ended with my roommates, friends, and I all heading to Texas Outhouse where I ate an amazing southwestern hamburger and fries. I can honestly say that this was one of the most enlightening and eventful days of my life. I left with a sense of self, a peace knowing that there were plenty of others like me in the state, and with a determination to be more involved in my community. A special thanks to all the people who made this event possible. It was life changing.