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Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 12:07 am

Women march for resistance

Demonstrators outside the State Capitol on Saturday.
Photo By Lee Milner

 

On Saturday, Jan. 20, over 1,500 people gathered in front of the State Capitol for the second annual Women’s March, part of a worldwide protest in favor of legislation and policies supporting women’s rights, environmental preservation, health care reform, immigration reform, reproductive rights, LGBT rights and other progressive issues. The first Women’s March took place Jan 20, 2017, the day of Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as president. Now as then, much of the demonstration, both nationally and locally, was critical of the president and his policies, frequently characterizing his administration as bigoted, misogynistic and anti-environment.

The invocation was given by Rev. T. Ray McJunkins of Union Baptist Church in Springfield. “I’ve got problems, O God, when men go behind closed doors and make decisions for women,” he said. “Women have a right to make their own decisions.” McJunkins praised the recent #metoo movement – in which women worldwide have come forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment – exhorting religious leaders across multiple denominations to “come from behind the pulpits and come from behind the fear to stand with women everywhere [and to] have the confidence and the courage to say, not only do we support you but we believe you.”

Veronica Espina, activist and UIS instructor, spoke briefly in conjunction with an area DACA Dreamer and Illinois College student named Lisset, whose last name was withheld out of fear for the safety of herself and her family. Her undocumented immigrant parents brought her with them to America when she was three years old. “We vote in place of thousands who cannot vote and remain in shadows and yet, like all Dreamers, we are here to stay,” Espina said.

“After years of singing the national anthem loud and proud, after volunteering in my community at every opportunity, excelling in my academics and paying taxes, there are still those out there who think I am nothing more than a criminal,” Lisset said.

Jessica Thomas of the group Action Metro East (covering St. Louis and south central Illinois) said, “When I started organizing, I thought a half-dozen people would get together for some beers and complain to each other. But the number of people who wanted to come kept growing and before we knew it, we had a group of 1,300 people who want to take our government back and continue this movement.”

Jonna Cooley, executive director of Springfield’s Phoenix Center, reminded the crowd that during his campaign, future president Trump had announced his support for the LGBT community. “He has proceeded to take away transgender student rights,” she said. Cooley cited the removal of sexual orientation and gender identity from the 2020 census and the proposed creation of a Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom to further take away LGBT rights and services, including the right to refuse medical care. “We need laws that bar discrimination. This administration invites it,” she said.

Kelly Hurst, executive director of the organization Being Black at School, gave a fiery speech, referencing the conflict at Standing Rock, water quality issues in Flint, Michigan, and the fact that the Women’s March itself was taking place on indigenous land. “Here’s the thing about living in a healthy democracy – and I think we’re living in one right now, the fact that you’re here tells me that – we don’t have time for the bullshit,” she said. “But I have some good news for you,” she said, referring to the president and his supporters. “We outnumber them.”

“We have a lot of work to do,” said 48th District Sen. Andy Manar from the podium. “But the truth is, we never stopped marching from last year, did we?” He pointed out that while other states were closing the doors to the ballot box to keep people from exercising their constitutional right to vote, Illinois passed automatic voter registration.

Springfield poet and activist Shatriya Smith read a call-and-response poem, written for the occasion, entitled “He doesn’t speak for me.” It included the lines, “At the crossroads of justifiable injustice and affluenza / When our memories teeter on apathetic dementia / Pangs of technological insomnia / Pervasive and organized immoral mafias / He doesn’t speak for me / I know a change is gonna come.”

The keynote speaker was Illinois comptroller Susana Mendoza, who identified herself as the proud daughter of Mexican immigrant parents. “Men of quality do not fear equality,” she said, admonishing the crowd to “rise up as one to resist the infectious disease that is hate, bigotry, intolerance, inequality and poverty. Trump-itis and Rauner-itis are diseases undermining the fabric of America and our great state of Illinois.” Mendoza ended her speech, and signaled the peaceful and orderly march to begin. The march began making its way from the Statehouse to the Old State Capitol with a reminder of the importance of voting on March 20. “Grab them by the policy,” she said.

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

 

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