It’s been nearly one year since President Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2017. Following his inauguration, thousands of women took to the streets in Chicago and across the country with one motive in mind—resist.
Though co-organizers Liz Radford and Ann Scholhamer expected 50,000 attendees for the 2017 Women’s March Chicago, approximately 250,000 protesters flooded the streets. Last year’s event was marked by raw emotions, an outcry after the unexpected defeat of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But, with midterm federal elections and numerous Illinois state and local elections approaching, the upcoming 2018 Women’s March Chicago, Radford says, will be more focused on voting and tangible community action.
Radford emphasizes how many people have come together to make these marches happen. Though the idea started with 10 to 15 people originally, last year’s roster of volunteers grew to 500—and this year’s event required the same amount of staffing. “It’s clearly a group effort,” she says.
Before the January 20 Women’s March Chicago: March to the Polls protest downtown at Columbus Drive and Congress Parkway, Chicago spoke with Radford about what to expect this year, the importance of the upcoming elections, and alternative actions for those who can’t join the protest.
What will be different about this year’s Women’s March Chicago?
The focus this year is to harness the energy of the march, specifically into the midterm [elections], around the [Illinois] governor’s election, and other local elections. That said, everyone realizes that the political system is far from perfect, but this year it is a tool. The governor’s race is in front of us, and that is an area where women’s rights need to be defended. The rights of women of color especially need to be defended.
There are a lot of state and local elections for voters to consider. How is Women’s March Chicago working to engage voters?
We’re amplifying groups that have been in the Get Out the Vote business for years and years: so, Chicago Votes, League of Women Voters Chicago, Emily’s List, groups that are working within the [jail] system to get people to vote, working with teens to get them educated about voting. We’re amplifying them with a master calendar and materials on our website. People will be out there with commitment cards. We will be working with these groups through November.
One of the broader criticisms of the Women’s March last year was that people felt it could’ve been more inclusive.
This has been top of mind since week one when we started last year, because many of us were new to the protest scene. We realized how much work people were already doing on the ground. Our goal is to offer our platform; we’re not selling an ideology. If people don’t feel included then organizers need to work at that harder. This year we made an effort to hold meetings in areas that were accessible across the city. And also, just respecting and honoring differences between people who want to participate. No one woman can speak for any other woman.
Which partners have you contacted? Any women of color groups or LGBT groups?
I can refer you to our website. I’m not going to talk about the ins-and-outs of these relationships—it’s not just [asking groups], “Will you sign on?” It’s our goal to have this be as accessible and as open as possible. There are a number of these groups that have women of color representing them: SEIU, Women Employed, National Rainbow PUSH, Fierce Over 40, Planned Parenthood. Windy City Media Group, that’s an LGBTQ organization.
What are your thoughts on the broader push for women to run for office?
It’s fantastic because the only way that women will make you protect their rights and make changes is to be at the table. And they need to be at a lot of tables—political tables, business tables, unions. We’re thrilled that women are energized to run. It’s the only way to get equal pay focused on more. Not the only way, but a way, to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified in Illinois, work on Fight for 15, support men and women who provide and need childcare.
From your viewpoint, what challenges remain for women who are trying to get elected?
Women definitely do still face a level of sexism. It’s still ingrained in our culture, just as racism is still ingrained in our culture. It takes a lot of consciousness and strength to recognize it and fight it. Women, especially women of color, are still facing these institutional obstacles.
Are there particular state and local races to which participants in the Women’s March should be paying closer attention?
I think people really need to pay attention to the primary elections in March, because there’s a lot at stake, especially in the governor’s race. I think people historically do not vote in the midterm elections and they really don’t vote in the primaries. All of us really need to up our research levels. We’ll have a lot of this information on our website. Research the judges. Research the local elections. See where they stand on women’s issues.
Will those bright pink knit “pussy hats” still be a thing?
[Laughs] You can wear it if you want to or not. The hats are kind of an organic symbol and there was a group of folks who loved and some people didn’t like them.
Who will speak at this year’s march?
We’ve got Tahera Ahmad, who’s going to lead a call to prayer or a moment of reflection. We’ve got Asha Binbek from the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Channyn Lynne Parker, who represents the trans community; Chakena Sims, from Chicago Votes, which does a lot of work in jails and with youth; Attorney General Lisa Madigan; Celina Villanueva, with the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. We have some women who were in New York Times article about the Ford workers.
What are you hoping attendees get out of this year’s Women’s March Chicago?
It’s a place to hopefully take a breath, open your eyes up, center yourself, and think about what you need to do for yourself and your community.
After the march ends, what’s next?
A march is not the answer to everything, obviously. A march has a really specific place in life and in politics. Activism should not feel like you have to save the world; it’s looking around your own community, identifying the problem, checking out how your church or an organization helps with those problems, and maybe getting involved. From there, you’ll want to run for the school board or take a higher position in a religious institution. You don’t have to change everything. You just have to take that step.