Unity was the major theme of the 2019 Raleigh Women's March that took place this weekend.
Roads in downtown Raleigh were not closed for the march, but a large crowd soon overtook the crosswalks and sidewalks in front of the North Carolina Legislative Building. As volunteers and organizers directed the crowd on the march path around the building, they chanted “Believe women!” and “Equality now!”
Police presence increased as the march progressed, and one interaction between a police officer and Takiyah Thompson turned hostile when the officer asked her to lower her sign. Thompson said fellow marchers did not come to her aid and later addressed the crowd to talk about what happened.
“I wake up every day, and I’m a woman and I’m Black. When we talk about the violences that Black women face, we have to talk about police violence. When we talk about protecting women, we also have to talk about not only the legislature, but the police,” Thompson said. “If we’re not going to protect Black women, how are we supposed to protect everyone else?”
The march in Raleigh was just one of many across the state this weekend, which occurred a week after the national march in Washington, D.C. Many of the events, including those in Charlotte and Raleigh, were organized by local nonprofits to show unity in the face of anti-Semitism allegations in the national Women’s March organization.
Women Mobilize NC, one organization that helped plan the Raleigh Women’s March, released a statement ahead of the event saying it organized the event in Raleigh independently from the national organization and is appalled by the rise of anti-Semitism and "the pain and suffering it causes.”
“Women Mobilize NC stands with all women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. We condemn all forms of hate and bigotry. We join all of our sisters and allies in drowning out the hateful noise with the voices of a diverse, intersectional, powerful and united movement,” the statement said.
La-Mine Perkins, an organizer of the Raleigh march, said 75 to 100 volunteers came together over six weeks to plan the event. The final event had a lineup of 23 speakers and performers surrounded by tables representing 44 community partners.
“One of our goals has always been not only to bring people out and be energized, but then to help them connect with other agencies in the community that are doing great work,” Perkins said.
The Raleigh Women’s March is separate from the National Women’s March and began in 2017 when organizers decided to focus on the unique issues impacting North Carolinians, and how citizens can become more involved in local issues, Perkins said.
“My hope for this march is that people can come out and be encouraged and re-energized. I hope we can celebrate the elections last November and the historic wins that women had, in terms of not only the women who won, but the record number of women who ran, even right here in North Carolina,” she said.
She hopes this energy will carry through during future elections.
“I hope that we can bask in the sun and enjoy that, and then get ourselves thinking ahead to how we can keep that momentum up so women can continue to show up, run for office, win offices, vote in record numbers and help create a North Carolina that reflects our values,” she said.
Marjorie Menestres and her husband Roland said they attended the march because they are concerned about reproductive rights.
“What is going on now in the government is despicable, and we need to step up and have our voices heard. I hope that young people march up to the front and take us to the next level,” Menestres said.
Her husband said he believes young people will make a difference in their communities more than his generation did.
“We were just talking about how young people are going to save us. Obviously we didn’t do too good a job, but I see young people all around here, getting involved,” he said. “They’re going to make the difference.
One of those young people participating in the march was Gracie Yager, a high school student from Jacksonville, N.C. She carried a hand-made sign during the march that illustrated the pay gaps between women of different ethnicities.
“My main topics I wanted to focus on today were the gender pay gap, representation in high positions, like in business, and sexual assault,” she said. “I hope that in the future we can have equal pay for all genders and ethnicities, that women can have representation in the workforce and in government and that we can put an end to sexual assault.”
Jessica Holmes, chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, was the first speaker at the rally following the march. She said there is still work to be done to remedy issues such as homelessness, affordable housing and sexual assault.
“We have not reached the mountaintop when we have glass ceilings that are yet to be broken. There is but one way to reach the top of that mountain, and that is together,” Holmes said. “There is the reality that we are only as strong as our weakest link. We are only as strong as the sister some of us left behind today. We can’t do that and make it to the top of the mountain.”