Sharon Digiacomo brought her two young granddaughters to the Women’s March Chicago on Saturday, to prepare the next generation of female voters and activists.
“It’s a legacy,” said Digiacomo, who traveled from Bourbonnais in Kankakee County to attend the Grant Park rally and march with 12-year-old Simara and 4-year-old Gia. “They’re women, and they have to learn that they’re going to have to fight for the rest of their lives.”
The event dubbed “March to the Polls 2018” was designed to honor first-time voters, who led the parade of marchers to Federal Plaza, as well as encourage everyone to cast a ballot in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
“These marches build a sense of community,” organizer Jessica Scheller said. “Women are ready to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”
This was the third local event of its kind. The first Women’s March unexpectedly drew a quarter-million women and supporters in January 2017, following the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Then organizers estimated an even higher attendance of roughly 300,000 participants at the second Women’s March in January of this year, amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against sexual harassment and assault.
Organizers declined to give crowd estimates for Saturday’s march and rally.
“We simply don’t have a sense yet,” said Claire Shingler, executive director of Women’s March Chicago. “Today was not about the numbers, it was about connection, inspiration, empathy and action.”
She added that at the two previous events, “people who had aerial visuals” were giving input on attendance, but this was not the case Saturday. The first two marches were held in solidarity with similar events across the globe, while Saturday’s march was a local event.
Speakers included Adrienne Lever of Swing Left, a grassroots organization that supports Democrats, who urged folks at the rally to go beyond their comfort zones and reach out to potential voters “who need to be reminded that their voice matters.”
“This march, this is just the beginning,” Lever said. “Activism doesn’t end here.”
First-time voter Tichina Haywood told the crowd that she and other working people “can’t afford child care and health care.”
“The current politicians we have discriminate against people like me,” she said.
Heather Booth, activist and founder of the former underground abortion network the Jane Collective, said the U.S. Supreme Court raises threats to women’s lives.
“Because people organized, (Roe v. Wade) became the law of the land,” she said. “And we will never go back.”
In a statement against sexual assault and harassment, Kate Latshaw of Hyde Park brought her dog Lincoln, who wore a sign that read, “Keep your paws to yourself!”
“Good boys can be good boys,” Latshaw said. “It’s not that hard. He understands it.”
A 20-foot inflatable “baby Trump” — a caricature of the president — floated above the event. Across from the balloon, Amber Harmon and Ann Meehan donned pink “pussy hats” — cat-eared knit caps that have become a symbol of these marches — and recalled coming out to January’s march, which they estimated drew a bit of a larger crowd.
“I feel as if things have only gotten worse since then,” said Meehan, 52, referencing the anger and frustration surrounding the recent nomination and confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Harmon, 47, said the Kavanaugh hearings really got her temperature up. This was part of the reason she registered to vote Saturday.
“You can’t complain if you don’t vote,” she said.
Pam Carmichael also said the Kavanaugh confirmation motivated her to come out. She wanted to give her young daughter Meredith the opportunity to ask questions and see democracy at work.
“She’s 10 now, and it’s time,” Carmichael said. “I needed the affirmation that there are smart, intelligent people out there who believe in women’s rights and believe in fighting for them.”
Meredith wore a sign around her neck listing the things she loves: science, reading and a future with women’s rights.
Marchers snaked from the park to Federal Plaza, chanting “my body, my rights” and “this is what democracy looks like,” and then had the opportunity to cast ballots at early voting sites downtown.
Chanda Szczeblowski was at the 1978 March for the Equal Rights Amendment in Washington, D.C., with her mother.
Forty years later, she stood at the Women’s March with her 11-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend.
“I was hoping we’d be done with this by now,” Szczeblowski said. “They need to see other women around them taking a stand and realize that this is normal.”
Szczeblowski said she had hoped for a bigger crowd Saturday, but the event was less about being present at the march and more about showing up at the polling booth.
“Being anti-Trump isn’t going to change anything,” she said. “That’s not a positive message. We need a message of action.”
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