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Local residents swell the ranks of women's marches

Rallies draw huge crowds across the nation; no arrests reported in Chicago or D.C.

January 24th, 2017 12:34 PM

'Ovary- acting?' Thousands of people march through downtown for the Women's March on Chicago, which took place on Jan. 21, a day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Thousands of residents from the western suburbs participated. | WILLIAM CAMARGO/Staff Photographer

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Thousands of women from the western suburbs rallied in Washington D.C. and downtown Chicago on Saturday, with 750,000 demonstrators estimated between the two cities.

The message from millions who gathered in cities across the country to President Donald J. Trump the day after his inauguration: We won't turn back the clock on women's rights.  

Women and men of all ages and ethnicities chartered buses and car-pooled to the D.C. rally, which was estimated at half a million people. 

Both the Washington and Chicago rallies resulted in zero arrests, a stark contrast from reports of more than 200 arrests in D.C. alone amid protests on the day of Trump's inauguration, which were not associated with the Women's March.

The backlash against the 45th president stems in part from public comments he made about various women — referring to them as "dogs," "pigs," "disgusting," "slobs," and, of course, "nasty" — plus multiple accusations against him for sexual assault; and the 2005 hot mic moment caught on video with Trump saying he gropes women without their consent. Trump was a pro-life candidate, who said in March that if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses its historic Roe v. Wade decision making abortion legal, women caught having an abortion should be punished. He later reversed that position, saying doctors providing abortions should be punished, not women.

Buses and carpools of women from Riverside, Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest, among others, began departing on Friday and lighting up social media outlets with reports from the road.

One group noted that their bus had broken down and left five hours late. 

Theirs wasn't the only one delayed. Wednesday Journal shadowed a group that departed from Oak Park and River Forest High School on Friday evening, but the red-eye bus ride was cut short by a flat tire about 65 miles from the drop-off point in Rockville, Maryland.

The people from that bus split up, as small groups of 5-6 people called Uber and Lyft drivers to take them the rest of the way.

At the rally, thousands of demonstrators waved homemade signs that read: "My body, my choice. My country, my voice," "Grab patriarchy by the balls," "We won't go back," and "Don't tread on my pussy," among many, many others.

And, of course, there were the hats.

Pink and floppy and ubiquitous, the women have dubbed them "pussy hats" in response to a quote by then-candidate Trump that surfaced in October, where he was unknowingly recorded in 2005 telling Access Hollywood host Billy Bush how he'd attempted to get a married woman to have sex with him and how he grabs women without their consent.

"You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them," Trump told Bush about a decade before his run for the White House. "It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."

One Forest Park resident, Susan Beach, 68, did not travel on the Oak Park buses but drove to Marshall, Michigan with two other Forest Parkers and a woman from Oak Park — all longtime friends — to catch a bus from that city.

The weekend demonstration was a flashback of sorts for Beach to the last big protest she attended — an anti-Vietnam demonstration in New York City in April 1967. 

Beach, a retired grandmother who formerly worked for Oak Park school District 97, said she had to lie to her parents to attend that demonstration, telling them she was visiting one of her teachers in the city. 

"They were watching TV and saw the march and I hoped I wouldn't get caught in it," she said, noting that she was a senior in high school at the time. "Little did they know I was in the streets with [the protestors]."

Beach said she attended the Women's March on Washington because of immigrants, women, people of Muslim faith and people of color who will be immediately impacted by Trump administration policies.

She noted a recent executive order signed by President Trump halting Federal Housing Authority mortgage insurance rate cuts for FHA-backed loans. "A lot of people are going to be hurt by that," she said, calling the executive order "insidious."

"We have to stand up to these cuts," she said. "It's a death by a thousand cuts, and for some people it's going to be fatal."

Beach said she hopes the march was more than just a demonstration but the beginning of a movement against the retrograde policies of the Trump administration. "I'm going to continue to stay active, and I'm hoping that all of us will do that."

In Oak Park, artists Holly Holmes and Tom Burtonwood, both in their early 40s, said they made the long bus ride to Washington "to stand up for women's rights and human rights," according to Holmes, who said she had never been to a demonstration this widely attended. She was skeptical about the 500,000 attendance estimate. She put the number closer to a million.

She pointed out that President Trump "goes back on everything he says" and he must be called out for spreading disinformation.

"There's a lot [at] stake," she said.

Burtonwood, one of a handful of men on the Oak Park buses, said he wanted to attend "to support all the women in this country and internationally who are under threat by this administration.

"We're not going backwards," he said later, adding, "If they think we are going to roll over because they won one election, they're out of their minds."

Burtonwood said women, people of color, queer, transgender and undocumented people are "going to be in the crosshairs of this administration" and it's up to everyone to defend their rights.

"It's imperative that people in positions of privilege like myself stand up and support them and push back against this stuff," he said.

Another Oak Park resident, Simone Akgulian, 23, a graduate of OPRF High School who just earned a bachelor's degree from Tulane University, said she's concerned that changes to the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, could directly affect her.

Akgulian is still on her parents' health insurance as she prepares to go to graduate school to "become a midwife and work for women's health." The Affordable Care Act allowed young people in school to remain on their parents' insurance until they turn 26.

"Our new administration doesn't support me as a student, as a woman, as a future supporter of women's health, and I want to be here to fight for our rights and for the rights of women everywhere," she said as she headed down Pennsylvania Avenue the morning of the demonstration.

Kim Jacobs, a Riverside resident who caught the Oak Park bus, described the crowd in D.C. as relaxed and in a good mood.

Jacobs said she hopes the rally sends a message to the Trump administration and Congress that "we're not going to tolerate intolerance and hate."

"We're all human beings and we all need to get along and respect one another," she said. 

Though many of the riders were from around Oak Park, some came from Chicago and other suburbs to join the pilgrimage to Washington.

Kim Hoopingarner, of Evanston, attended the Women's March on Washington with her two adult daughters. 

Following the demonstration, Hoopingarner said she opposed Trump's rhetoric and policies. 

"I loved the number of men in the audience and the range of people," she said, describing the march as having a friendly and supportive atmosphere. "I just felt like it was what America really looks like — every age, race and gender identity."

According to media reports, the marches in both Washington and Chicago were turned into rallies due to the large numbers who showed up in both cities.

The Washington rally featured dozens of speakers, including documentary filmmaker and activist Michael Moore; feminist writer Gloria Steinem; actress Scarlett Johansson; and singer Madonna. 

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

  • Ready to rally

    It was déjà vu all over again on Nov. 9, when Oak Park resident and School of the Art Institute adjunct associate professor Claire Ashley awoke to the news that Donald J. Trump had won the presidential election against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

    Ashley, a Scottish citizen who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years, living and working under the protection of a green card, said she had the same experience of dismay in June, when the United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the European Union.

    "Waking up Nov. 9 to this brave new world of xenophobia and racism and anti-feminism and this kind of rhetoric being the new normal was horrifying and sent me into a frenzy of feeling the need to do something," she said, noting that she is particularly concerned about the kind of future a Trump administration holds for her two young daughters.

    Ashley said that "the conversation over immigration and xenophobia bubbling up here and in my own country" made her realize she could no longer be silent on the issue.

    In the days following the historic election, she learned of the Women's March on Washington and began exploring how to get there.

    "I posted on Facebook that I was interested in going to the march in D.C. but couldn't afford to fly my girls and stay in a hotel room," she said. 

    That got her thinking about getting a group of people together to share the cost of renting a bus to get to the protest. She began talking about her plan on social media and got "a flood of people" sending her requests. 

    About a month later, the single bus she had planned had ballooned to five buses transporting roughly 275 people from Chicago, Oak Park, Forest Park, River Forest Riverside, Northbrook and elsewhere. 

    Ashley said that she is not a political activist and has never even attended a demonstration of any sort. The women's march will be the first for her and her daughters, Ashley said prior to the demonstration.

    "I felt it was important to make a stand and to be a voice and try and be heard and make sure of the visibility of this march and of the marches around the country and the globe," she said.

    Her efforts did not go unnoticed by others who have more experience taking direct action on social issues. 

    Julie Justicz, an Oak Park resident and attorney who works with the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, which focuses on racial equity and social justice issues, said she has marched for gay and lesbian rights and women's rights issues in the past and has even made the trek to D.C. 

    She began organizing a group to charter a bus to D.C. and learned about Ashley's efforts. The two joined forces on the pilgrimage to the U.S. capital.

    Justicz said this march was of particular importance to her because, like Ashley, the effect the election had a direct effect on her 12-year-old daughter.

    "It's important to show her that there are powerful women who are prepared to stand up to [Trump] and to fight his image of women," she said.

    Justicz said that the group, which at one point dubbed itself the Chicagoland Nasty Women's March on Washington (a reference to Trump calling opponent Hillary Clinton a "nasty woman" during an election-season debate), are mainly going to be women, but each of the five buses has about four or five men attending. The demographics of women riding the bus "run the gamut," she said, from middle-school aged girls to middle-age and older women.

    "It's really empowering to see people from all backgrounds attending," Justicz said.

    Timothy Inklebarger

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  • Ivy Czekanski from Chicago (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 24th, 2017 5:27 PM

    Ashley Judd, Angela Davis, Linda Sarsour and Michael Moore were some of the other well-known speakers. I recommend watching the recordings!

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