Tens of thousands take part in history-making event alongside millions worldwide
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Democracy is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people. That strength and solidarity shined brightly at the Women’s March on St. Louis on Saturday, Jan. 21.
An estimated 20,000 women, men and children of all ages hit the streets in Downtown St. Louis during the event to show unity in the fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups who felt vilified and scorned by Donald Trump in his race for the presidency.
The St. Louis demonstration was one of more than 600 sister marches worldwide that occurred in conjunction with the national Women’s March on Washington. That march drew about 500,000 – five times the number of people who attended Trump’s inauguration festivities the day before.
A RENEWED SENSE OF FIGHT
Carrying a sign that read, “A woman’s place is in the House or Senate,” U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill took part in the march and gave a surprise speech at the rally afterward. The day before, the Democrat from Missouri attended Trump’s inauguration.
“Yesterday, I was on the platform, and it started to rain, which kind of matched my mood,” McCaskill said. “But being out here today with you all – marching, hugging and crying – has given me a renewed sense of fight.”
Sonja Gholston-Byrd, president of the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, marched with her union sisters from SEIU Local 1, APWU St. Louis Gateway Local 8 and Musicians’ Association of St. Louis Local 2-197.
“This is a beautiful thing, and I never would have thought turnout would be so great,” said Gholston-Byrd, a vice president for CWA Local 6300. “It’s so diverse in age and color. It’s empowering and makes you think that change can really happen.”
ENSURING A VOICE FOR ALL
Melissa Conaway, a St. Louis union federal government employee who worked as a volunteer at the event, said she took part in the march for her daughter and granddaughter. She said Trump’s attacks on women and other groups, including the disabled and LGBT community, during his race for presidency saddened her.
“I woke up that Wednesday morning after the election, and I just sat in the corner and bawled,” Conaway said. “I thought we were building a better world for children. I’m marching because we have to make sure our voices are heard.”
STANDING IN UNITY FOR ORGANIZED LABOR
Nick Pavia, Sr., a 33-year member of Laborers’ Local 42 who recently retired, said he attended the march for future generations of Organized Labor. He has five sons who are union members.
“I’m angry that Trump and (Missouri Governor Eric) Greitens are taking away everything we stand for,” Pavia said. “I’m shocked with the number of people who are here. If we had this many people at our Labor Day Parade, we wouldn’t have ‘right-to-work.’”
THE NATIONAL MARCH
The idea for the Women’s March on Washington originated shortly after the general election by a diverse group of women who were unhappy with Trump’s win and trying to figure out how move forward while facing national and international concern and fear.
Those feelings were sparked by the campaign rhetoric of the election cycle in which Trump took aim at women, immigrants, the African-American and Latino communities, those with diverse religious faiths, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault.
The concept for the march started from a single post on Facebook and quickly grew into a mobilized, nationwide effort. In just two months, 673 sister marches were planned across the world attracting nearly five million people.
THE ST. LOUIS MARCH
Like the national event, the local march unfolded in the same manner. Valerie Brinkman, a St. Louis mother of four, and 15 other local women got together to plan the event hoping to offer women who couldn’t make the Washington march the opportunity to take part in the history-making demonstration. Organizers formed the non-profit group DefendHERS to manage the logistics and financial necessities of the march.
Brinkman thanked everyone who attended the march for their support and encouragement in the planning process. She described the 15 women she worked with to make the march become a reality as her family.
“Seven weeks ago we were total strangers and then 16 individuals came together and made this happen,” Brinkman said at the rally. “Think about how powerful that is. Think about what any individual can accomplish, and then how much more can be done when you find allies and work together.”
MAKE THIS THE BEGINNING
Brinkman urged marchers not to become complacent.
“Make this march mean something,” she said. “Make it about more than just today. Make it just the beginning. Find your action. Find your place. Educate yourself. Educate your friends and family. Let’s work together to be together. It is our time. Time to rise up.”
CONTINUE THE JOURNEY
Since the march, organizers have created a new website and closed group Facebook page to will give the group the opportunity to find and share action items and the chance to share, vent, learn, grow and continue its journey.