The Combs family stood near the edge of the Orange County Courthouse lawn as Mysti Mayhem, a band from Durham, belted out “Come Together” by The Beatles. Chapel Hill local Malia Combs donned a pink “pussy hat” and a shirt from the Women’s March on Washington.
Though only 7 years old, Malia Combs is a veteran activist. She marched in Washington with her mom, Amelia Combs, and her brother, Weston, age 2, at last year’s Women’s March. This year her family made their way to Hillsborough to continue their fight for women’s rights.
“This community is growing and doing so much for empowerment for all walks of life and types of people,” Amelia Combs said. “It’s about time that the voice of everyone is really heard and accepted and appreciated and honored.”
Hillsborough hosted the 2018 Women’s March into Action on Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington, joining hundreds of towns and cities across the country in hosting anniversary marches.
The town hosted an affiliate of the Women’s March on Washington in 2017. Organizers estimate that nearly 1,500 protesters attended last year.
March co-organizer Christina Benson, an associate professor at Elon University, said this year’s march centered around building bridges to allow for constructive conversations between people of different backgrounds and political affiliations.
“In our mind, building bridges starts with people listening to one another to create opportunities for that kind of dialogue to happen, even if people don’t agree,” she said.
Speakers such as Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens, Northern Orange NAACP President Patricia Clayton and Compass Center for Women and Families Executive Director Cordelia Heaney addressed the marchers. Several organizations set up tables with information about their causes and volunteer opportunities.
Benson said she hoped the march’s theme, "marching into action," would encourage protesters to volunteer with and donate to organizations that support causes ranging from reproductive rights to gerrymandering.
“Similarly to last year, we want to think globally, act locally,” she said. “We’re trying to get local people to understand what local organizations already exist out there and/or to think about creating their own opportunities for service.”
The women’s marches held Saturday also marked one year since President Donald Trump’s inauguration. In their first year, the Trump administration reversed campus sexual assault guidelines, made several attempts to block funding for Planned Parenthood and decreased federal protections for transgender students. Many protesters at the Hillsborough march held posters arguing against these policies.
Some issues covered by local organizations at the march included reproductive rights, violence against women, racial inequities in Orange County schools, the future of DACA and immigration reform.
“We speak for not just women, but we want everyone to be a part of this,” said marcher Francine Marteski ofChapel Hill. “This is not a country of one race or one gender.”
While it remains unclear whether Hillsborough will host women’s marches every year, paralegal and march co-organizer Sarah Timmel said she hopes to see the momentum from this year’s protest continue in the future.
“It’s not a moment,” she said. “It’s a movement.”
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