Ice still covered the grounds of Halifax Mall, but thousands of women and allies braved the cold to stoke the fires of resistance Saturday morning at the Women’s Rally on Raleigh.
A stream of figures bearing signs, many sporting pink hats, advanced on the streets of downtown Raleigh, steadily streaming into the mall situated behind the North Carolina state legislative building. As the mall quickly filled with demonstrators, they were met with live performances of protest music, poetry and improvisation.
A year to the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the second Women’s March on Raleigh was held to commemorate and continue the work of last year’s Women’s March on Washington and its offshoot protests across the country.
Andrea Azcarate, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine, helped organize both of Raleigh’s Women’s Marches, focusing this year on fundraising for the event. She said there were many reasons she was participating, but the most significant were that there is simply still much to do and the fact that 2018 is an election year, which speakers and demonstrators reiterated throughout the day.
“I think this year everybody is exhausted. We made millions of phone calls; we sent letters and postcards; we marched; we rallied,” she said. “We needed to do this to energize people and tell them ‘We're still here and we’re paying attention. We’re not going anywhere until they go.’”
A resolute sense of resistance permeated the atmosphere and language of the rally. Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes, an alumna of UNC and rally speaker, said to the crowd, “We are not simply leading the resistance. We are the resistance.”
This year’s rally was especially charged in the wake of the recent "Me Too" movement, a national movement demanding accountability for sexual assault.
“If the boys don’t know how to keep their hands off our bodies, if the boys don’t know how to treat us fairly, then we will take their toys,” Holmes promised the crowd. “We will take their seats. We will take their offices.”
The main criticism of last year’s Women’s March on Washington was some participants lacked sensitivity toward intersectional issues affecting the female experience, like race and transgender inclusion.
Dare Cook, a feminist studies scholar from Raleigh, attended the March on Washington last year and found the experience to overall be positive.
“There are always going to be people in some groups that are not inclusive, but as a whole, there were so many people and so many groups represented," she said. "I really felt that it was inclusive, and you can definitely tell this year that the planning has been more cognizant of that.”
It was clear in the sponsoring organizations present and the speaker line-up that inclusivity was a priority for Raleigh’s rally.
Transgender activist Candis Cox, who is on the board of directors for Equality NC, began her speech with an emphasis on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“If you all remember nothing that I say today, I want you to remember the one thing that is the most important thing I can say – and that is that Black Lives Matter,” she said, resulting in resounding cheers from the audience.
She emphasized the importance of recognizing that women of color are affected by women's issues differently than white women.
“We cannot come out here and have our Women’s March and talk about equality and women’s rights without remembering that when we say women must be paid equally, that women of color are paid even less. That when we are talking about equality for LGBTQI people, it is trans women of color who are disproportionately murdered in this country,” Cox said. “That when we talk about citizenship rights and who belongs, that the ones who are targeted first are the brown people from other countries.
The programming also reflected diversity with its inclusion of several Muslim speakers, such as Letha Muhammad, Eiman Ali and Nida Allam and Latinx speakers, such as Ana Pardo and Becki Fernandez.
There was also a diverse range of ages among demonstrators and speakers.
Raleigh teen activist Emily Ficker, a senior at Millbrook High School, led the crowd in an activist’s pledge.
“I‘m rallying for the young people of the resistance because we are so susceptible to the notion that we can’t affect change. It’s toxic, and it perpetuates low voter turnout and a lack of civic efficacy,” Ficker said. “My hope is to make the political process more accessible.”
This year’s Women’s Rally came a day after the annual March for Life in Washington, the largest anti-abortion demonstration in the world. The march began in 1973 in a response to Roe v. Wade. President Donald Trump addressed this year's crowd via video satellite.
"We will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life," Trump said.
Kelsea McLain participated in the Raleigh rally as a representative at the booth for A Woman’s Choice, a clinic dedicated to providing compassionate abortion care.
“Defending abortion access is really important because Roe v. Wade made it a constitutional right, but a right isn’t much use if there’s no access,” McLain said.
She spoke of several North Carolina laws that impede access to timely abortions including mandatory waiting periods, mandatory counseling and parental consent requirements.
UNC sophomore Anna Chesson, a journalism major, attended the rally with friends.
“I’m here today because of the lack of leadership that we have in our government and the lack of respect we have for those that identify as women,” Chesson said.
“I always think of the quote ‘If you don’t speak up, how will anyone know you exist?’ I think it’s important to just be here and make a stand.”
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