By Stephanie Cook Broadhurst / The Mother List
When a friend asked me to join a group of moms at the Chicago Women’s March, I came up with a dozen legit reasons why I couldn’t make it. Many of us have children in multiple sports and activities, work to be done, and a stack of time commitments with an end-goal of raising responsible, respectful adults. But then I thought: “What better way to teach our kids to stand up for what they believe in while also learning about our constitutional right to peacefully protest?” So instead of offering excuses, I did what so many moms did that day: canceled plans, re-jigged the calendar, lined up carpools, and handed off responsibilities to a very supportive spouse.
Wearing handmade, pink hats, we boarded a Metra train brimming with courage as the sun cut through the haze and cast an oasis of spring warmth for the march.
The day before, I had stopped in a local shop to buy a gift. As I was paying, the senior sales lady mentioned the unseasonably warm weather.
“It’ll be a great day for the Women’s March.” I said.
She smiled and lowered her voice: “I’m not supposed to talk about this at work, but since you brought it up…. Do you have a pink pussy-cat hat yet? You need to wear a pink hat.”
“Not yet,” I replied. She quickly glanced around to make sure no one was watching, reached under the counter and produced a pink-fleece hat from her handbag. “Take this,” She whispered. “I’ve been making them all week and handing them out.”
Then she rolled her eyes and said, “I’ve been marching for women’s rights for decades. I’m a grandmother now, and we STILL have to do this?! I’m getting too old for this!”
When we arrived downtown, I expected to see raw anger and maybe even police confrontations. But what I witnessed was nothing but peace, kindness, and a sense of unity for what is, in my opinion, a universal, bipartisan cause – equality and respect for women.
The recent women’s marches were the largest inauguration-related demonstrations in US history. At least 3.2 million people participated in all 50 states. They were so civil that, even at the massive D.C. March, there was not a single arrest, according to news reports. In Chicago, there were at least 250 attendees. Zero arrests. Zero. And in Boston, the police commissioner even went so far as to thank demonstrators for the high level of respect and for protesting in a peaceful, polite manner.
As we walked around Chicago, flanked by the Windy City’s iconic architecture, I saw a patchwork of hand-knit color, 10-cent wisdom, calm and good wit.
I noticed shoulder-to-shoulder crowds part to let families with small children walk past or to allow adequate space for people in wheelchairs. I saw diversity – this was not just a crowd of middle-age white women. There were a wide range of causes and ages, from teens to grandparents. I noticed women (and men) pushing strollers, and I watched people standing nearby form protective bubbles around them. I noticed babies sleeping peacefully in their mothers’ arms amid camaraderie and chanting and smiling.
As one of my close friends later wrote: “I see more anger on public transportation during my daily commute than I saw in that crowd.”
The warm sunshine grew the Chicago march from an expected 60, to at least 250,000. In the end, we couldn’t move more than a few blocks, and the march itself was canceled due to crowd size. But there was enough positive energy to send a strong message. Some of the signs read:
“The measure of any society is how it treats its women.”
“Make America kind again.”
“I march for my daughters.”
“Love, not hate, makes America great.”
“Men support equality.”
And, on a more humorous note:
“My arms are tired from holding this damn sign since the ‘70s.”
Later that afternoon, a gentleman who did not march asked us: “What’s the point of all this? What are you demonstrating against?”
I thought: This isn’t even about politics for me anymore. Don’t both sides want equal pay for women? Don’t both sides want to stand up against sexual harassment, against bigotry and hate? Don’t we all want to teach our daughters to take a stand for themselves — and for what they believe in?
We told the man that this march was about defending women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, keeping government out of private healthcare decisions – and reminding the world about the importance of equality for women at a point in history when many of those freedoms are being threatened.
We need to call out sexism and bigotry when we see it – not just look the other way, or simply excuse it as “locker-room talk.” Silence is compliance. Saying nothing or “just staying out of it” is permitting wrongs to continue unchecked. And plenty of issues still need correcting: Sexual harassment occurs regularly in the workplace. Sexism runs rampant in the media. We still do not have equal pay. Our maternity-leave policies are among the worst in the world.
Perhaps progress is measured in small victories. After demonstrating for several hours, a friend invited our group to eat at the formerly men-only Union League Club of Chicago, conveniently located along the parade route. The club only decided to accept women members in 1987, right before a city ordinance banning sex discrimination went into effect. Donning our bright-pink hats, we marched in and sat down. We were met mostly with approval: People came up and thanked us, and one person even asked to have a photo taken with us. Only later were we politely asked to remove our hats.
I’ve never felt as hopeful as I did that day. The best part is knowing that we were not alone – that there were millions of women, men and children across the US, across the world, and on every continent who were marching, too. The demonstrations gave many people courage to take a stand, to act on their convictions and to effect change. And less than a week after the marches, groups are forming across the globe and plans have been set into motion to try to preserve those rights that women before us fought hard for.
As I reflect on the marches, I have no doubt that there are future female leaders out there in the crowds — leaders who will stand up for equal rights, leaders who will set strong examples for our children, leaders we can all be proud of.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.” –Martin Luther King.