By Leah Jones, Features Editor
The day after Donald Trump addressed a crowd of disputed size at his inauguration on January 20 saying that, “You [the American people] will never be ignored again,” millions of women around the world, including in St. Louis, tested this declaration by taking to the streets to send “a bold message of resistance and determination” to the incoming administration, according to the website of the Women’s March on St. Louis.
Alison Dreith, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri and University of Missouri–St. Louis political science alumna, attended the march in St. Louis. “Trump’s words in his inaugural speech mean nothing, as we can see by his continued tweets, actions, and cabinet appointments. He has promised to punish women, immigrants, and Muslims. If he wants to transfer power back to the American people, he would not be appointing millionaires and billionaires to his cabinet,” she said. “America is not the bleak picture he paints. This country is already great, and the resistance to his presidency will continue to show him that.”
DefendHERS LLC, a non-partisan grassroots social justice organization, hosted the march in St. Louis. Lead organizer and co-founder of the organization, Valerie Brinkman, and other local activists organized the local march to coincide with the Women’s March on Washington to call the incoming administration’s attention to the rights of marginalized groups, including, but not limited to, women, African Americans, Native Americans, those with diverse religious beliefs, the LGBTQIA+ community, and those with disabilities. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, police estimated that around 13,000 people marched in St. Louis on Saturday, though organizers claimed that that number was closer to 20,000. Marchers carried signs and chanted slogans as they progressed east down Market Street from Union Station to Luther Ely Smith Square under the Arch. After the largely peaceful march, participants attended a rally and an action fair.
Kat Wheeling, senior, communications and media studies, also attended the St. Louis march. She said that she did not attend the march to oppose Trump though. “I’m a concerned citizen because I care about the well-being of my fellow citizens, in particular those less fortunate who are facing financial hardships or critical healthcare concerns,” said Wheeling, who cited the cutting of federal programs and the resulting diminished social safety nets, her opposition to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the wage gap between men and women, the threat of a Muslim registry, and her concern that the marriages of LGBQTIA+ individuals could be nullified as some of her reasons for attending.
She added “I marched because I have grown weary of friends and family saying ‘get over it’ in reference to the outcome of the presidential election. I will not get over it! Now is the time to send a message to the new administration: We are watching and taking action. I truly hope the new administration proves me wrong.”
Speakers maintained the march’s momentum at a rally near the base of the Arch. The speakers included local writer and educator, Marshata Caradine-Randall; Missouri State Senator, Maria Chappelle-Nadal; U.S. Senator, Claire McCaskill; assistant professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Saba Fatima; neurologist and current member of Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls, Dr. Ghazala Hayat; lesbian rights and feminist activist, Margaret Flowing Johnson; 8th grade activist, Lauryn; Planned Parenthood representative and member of the Teen Advocates for Sexual Health program, Macy; board member of Forward Through Ferguson and Creative Reaction Lab, De Andrea Nichols; poet and doctoral student researching global feminisms in communities of color, Treasure Shields Redmond; Ferguson activist and Rabbi of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, Susan Talve, and others.
The march faced some concerns about the inclusivity of the event, despite the array of voices at the rally. Many of the speakers addressed this in their speeches. “There are deep divides between white women and other women, the rest of us, in this country,” said Nichols. “Time and time again our livelihoods and our well-beings have been placed [in] the hands of your complicity to white supremacy and patriarchy.”
Mya Petty, a young local poet and activist, read her poem citing the wage gap between white men, white women, and African American women, saying that she was angry that while white women make 77 cents for every dollar that a white man makes, African American women only make 64 cents. The Pew Research Center found these numbers to be slightly different based on data from 2016, with white women making 72 cents for every dollar that a white man makes, and African American women making 65 cents. The point, however, was not lost and remained a salient statistic for the crowd.
Nichols called for “radical listening,” and asked for white women and allies to use their privilege to aid other groups who feel threatened by the incoming administration. “I am here today to put my life on the line for you, but I must ask: Are you willing to put your body on the line for me?” she asked. “Until each and every one of us can say that, ‘Yes, we can,’ until this fight, our women’s fight, assures that the most vulnerable, most targeted, and most forgotten of us can access the resources, opportunities, and protections of the most privileged of us, we must continue to resist.”
Talve also called for women to support each other. Talve cited the story of the Exodus, in which two Egyptian midwives, Shifra and Puah, used their privilege and power to disobey the orders of an evil pharaoh to save the infant Moses. “We are women and allies of all faiths and races and genders and lifestyles and ethnicities, and like those midwives, we are determined to use every bit of privilege and power that we have to stand together,” Talve said. “White supremacy and patriarchy hurt all of us, and I vow in front of all of every one of you, to stand with our Muslim families, and I promise if they register you, they are going to have to register me.”
Dreith said that she thought that the event organizers did a good job at working towards inclusion for the march. “I think that the march itself could have had more diversity,” she said. “But I also understand why some women of color didn’t feel like it was a safe place. People of color are often the ones targeted by police, like we saw during the Ferguson uprising. Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Trump because they chose white supremacy [and] the patriarchy, which go hand in hand. It is the work of white women and men to put our bodies on the line and show up for communities of color moving forward if we ever want to dismantle racism,” she said.
Wheeling reflected on the overall experience of the march, saying, “I have attended marches before, but nothing on the scale to what we witnessed on January 21 in St. Louis. The entire experience on Saturday exceeded every expectation I had in a very positive way. The organizers were focused, responsive, and kept the lines of communication open with all interested participants.”
After the rally, participants could attend an action fair at the Phyllis Wheatley Heritage Center YWCA. The event connected people with local organizations to encourage them to remain active in the issues, and to complete the “10 Actions in 100 Days” campaign promoted by the Women’s March on Washington.
Dreith tabled for NARAL Pro-Choice at the event. “NARAL’s mission is to develop and sustain a constituency that uses the political process to guarantee every woman the right to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices, including preventing unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children, and choosing legal abortion,” she said. “The march was important to us because Missouri is the third-most restrictive state in the country for abortion access, with one remaining clinic, which is located in St. Louis. With a hostile state government and a new president that has promised to punish women, we wanted to send the message with millions of other women across the country that women’s rights are human rights.”
Wheeling did not attend the action fair, but she said that she intends to remain active in political and social issues. “Longer term here in Missouri, we need to select and support strong, viable candidates during the November 2018 mid-term congressional elections. We need to get behind the re-election efforts of Senator Claire McCaskill,” she said. “Personally, I will likely run again for a local political office; I ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Woodson Terrace back in 2010. The outcome of this past election has spurred me to throw my hat back in the ring.”
Dreith agreed that the political activism sparked by the march should not end now that the marches are over. “Moving forward, people should just stay engaged. [They should] make sure they vote. The city of St. Louis has an important mayoral election on March 7. Get involved with an organization, donate, lobby, talk to your friends and family,” she said. “NARAL is currently working on Board Bill 203 in St. Louis City, to add protections for reproductive health decisions and pregnancy to the city’s current non-discrimination ordinance, so that nobody is discriminated at their job or in housing.”
Beyond individual action, Wheeling said that she hoped for dialogue on a larger scale. “I did not march in St. Louis because I’m opposed to Donald Trump; this march was not about him. I truly hope [the] POTUS and the new administration will lead the country in the right direction, but I’m not optimistic,” she said. “I hope someone in the new administration will make an effort to reach out to the organizers of the Women’s March. I hope the dialogue starts immediately. I also recognize that hope is not a strategy, so that is a key reason I showed up on Saturday.”
In response to Trump’s promise to not ignore the American people, Wheeling said, “There is a flip side to not ignoring a particular group. The flip side is to pay attention and listen. It’s easy to say, ‘You will never be ignored again,’ because there is no follow-up or onus implied by that statement. The follow up sentence should have been, ‘I am listening, and I will work with you.’”
To read more about some action initiatives available to St. Louis citizens, visit http://womensmarchonstlouis.weebly.com/after-the-march.html
To read about Board Bill 203, visit http://www.prochoicemissouri.org/get-involved/take-action/boardbill203.shtml