While the name of the event would imply a simple focus on the rights of women, protesters called for action on climate change, amnesty and protection of immigrants, and provision of universal healthcare.
(Video produced by Neil Shah)
Thousands of people gathered in downtown Ann Arbor on the afternoon of Saturday, January 21, as part of a nationwide Women’s March. Organized by several groups, including the Progressives at the University of Michigan and A Michigan to Believe In, the march began near the Federal Building on East Liberty Street at 2 pm and led to the Diag, where artists performed before the rally began. Ashley Wilson from Students for Choice was a features speaker at the event.
Robert Joseph, one of the co-leaders of the Progressives at the University of Michigan, stated that he hopes the event will “show solidarity between the many groups whose rights are being called into question, whether it’s people of color, women, or environmental activists.”
Indeed, the event did bring together people who represented an assortment of issues. While the name of the event would imply a simple focus on the rights of women, protesters called for action on climate change, amnesty and protection of immigrants, and provision of universal healthcare. Across an ocean of pink heads, people chanted, “Black Lives Matter,” “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Bigotry Has Got To Go,” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
Corey Walker, a spectator in the Diag, commented, “I think that it’s great people are coming out to express their freedom of speech.” On the riots that occurred in Washington, Walker stated, “I don’t think violent protests are a good thing, but as a person of color, I don’t think I’d have the rights I have today if people weren’t willing to rise up and make change happen.”
The rally itself had several speakers, including the co-leaders of the Progressives at the University of Michigan, Robert Joseph, Brad McPherson, and Claire Cepuran, the last of whom urged the crowd that, “We do not have the luxury or time for hopelessness,” a message echoed by other speakers, who continued to call for people to continue activism beyond just this march.
Michelle Elizabeth Brown, a community and civil rights activist, continued the rally’s diverse message, inciting the crowd with her crescendoing pronouncement, “Black lives, trans’ lives, women’s lives, our children’s lives matter.” Following Brown’s remarks, Cindy Estrada, Vice President of the United Auto Workers spoke about the divide our nation currently faces, stating that, “Corporations want workers to fight amongst themselves,” and calling for people to unite regardless of their background.
Donna Lasinski, Michigan’s 52nd District State House Representative, proceeded to address the crowd, calling upon young women to seize as many opportunities as they can, to “Say yes, say it early, say it often.” But it was the final speech, by US Representative Debbie Dingell, that seemed to most energize the crowd. Speaking loudly, her voice echoing across the diag, she told the crowd, “This is not about political leanings. We’re not here as Republicans or Democrats, we’re here as Americans.” Dingell called for those present to keep protesting and to stay involved, commenting, “I was one of those women that marched in the 60s, that is now in her 60s.”
Following the event, when asked what more she believes individuals could do to bring about change, Lasinski commented, “Well there are several seats at the local level that go unfilled every year, from our planning commissions, to our local school boards. There are lots of seats that are filled because no one else wants to fill them, seats that are running uncontested, and when we look at what affects our daily lives, it’s most often affected by those local decisions. So it’s really taking an opportunity to get engaged early and often.”
Lasinski also spoke of what she believes to be the most troubling issues with the current political situation in this country: false divides. She stated, “Our roads, our infrastructure, our schools, these are problems that should be uniting us in solutions not dividing us in ideology.”
As the crowd dissipated, Claire Cepuran, co-leader of the Progressives at the University of Michigan remarked, “I’m really amazed and impressed by the turnout and impressed by everyone who wants to get involved.”
Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the student groups that organized the rally. We regret the error.