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Monday, February 20

PROTECT: Herstory Made in 2017 - The Women’s March on Chicago

Krista Woods, MSW, LCSW

This article is intended to help you better understand how to Protect the Profession. If you have insight on legislation and advocacy that supports the social work profession, please consider contributing an article! Submit your article proposal online here.

Saturday, January 21, 2017, was a time in our world that unity, solidarity, and standing up for women’s rights was shouted in peaceful chants and varying signs representing women’s issues of all kinds. We walked, we talked, we sang, and made new friends all while denouncing oppression, discrimination, and violation of female bodies. Many people—men, women, children, and gender non-conforming—joined the movement in Chicago. We pledged to march for ourselves, our aunts, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, friends, future generations, or just because we understood that women’s rights are human rights.

The Women’s March movement started in Washington, DC, but several women in Chicago began talking on Facebook the day after the presidential election in November. The women agreed that much of what the president-elect’s acts and beliefs towards women would not be accepted; not then, not ever. The women agreed that they wanted to do something to denounce the oppression and discrimination. The women posted on Facebook to garner additional interest, and within a few hours several thousand women and men all agreed they wanted to march in Chicago to send a loud and clear message to the incoming administration that abuse, oppression, and discrimination will not be accepted by us.

On December 5, 2016, the first meeting of the Women’s March on Chicago was held at the Center on Halsted in Chicago, the largest LGBTQ community center in the Midwest. The meeting was open to anyone who wanted to join as a volunteer in this movement.

I was there from that first meeting. This was the first time I had ever been a part of a march or protest. There have been many times I’ve wanted to join various protests over the years but hadn’t out of fear. But now I knew I had to be part of this movement. I needed to be the change I wished to see in the world.

The energy in the room for the first meeting was invigorating. I knew at that moment I was in the right place at the right time. Women spoke of how they were sick and tired, and some said they were scared—afraid of losing gains or access to what we know to be our rights as Americans and immigrants in the US.

We were asked what our interests were, and we broke out into committees to start the work to create a peaceful march. Our backgrounds varied from health care providers, yoga teachers, social activists, and stay-at-home-moms. We came from the city and suburbs and from all backgrounds. We came ready to work, and co-chairs Liz Radford and Ann Scholhamer made sure we had a clear to-do list. Our march theme: Connect, Protect, and Activate!

During the month of December we met weekly, with smaller meetings being held daily to coordinate the smaller groups. I volunteered to create the spreadsheet that would list potential speakers. We agreed as a committee and overall that this would be a people’s march. Politicians would be acknowledged in a roll call.

The ongoing work and discussions included deciding how many speakers (we finally settled on 26) and entertainment. We decided on key topics for the speakers to discuss. We chose the categories of health, environmental, reproductive health, immigration, Black Lives Matter, youth, Latino and women of color issues, respect for Muslim and Jewish women, union rights, Native American issues (namely no DAPL), wage issues, disability and access issues, child care and education, LGBTQ rights, gun violence, and sexual assault were all key topics to be discussed.

Access Living formed a committee to ensure the march was accessible including sign language interpreters, closed captioning, plenty of seating for the disabled, portable bathrooms that were accessible, ramps for the stage for speakers, and drop-off and pick-up for all who had mobility challenges.

The City of Chicago approved the marching route permits, along with the approval from the Chicago Park District and Chicago Police Department. We were initially anticipating 10,000 people to march. As the prospective numbers grew, the march route was modified to accommodate the increase. We were then briefed that the projected numbers were rising to 50,000.

The crowds swelled to 150,000, and eventually to approximately 250,000 people! Some people still marched the route but for safety reasons, the formal march was changed to an extended rally. Not one arrest was made that day. An overall feeling of peace, unity, community, and sisterhood brought women, men, and families together. The calm was powerful and invigorating.

Our sister-speakers quoted abolitionists, Civil Rights leaders, one woman sang the Muslim midday prayer, while others reminded us that in a chant, “I am my sister’s keeper!” We were all encouraged to become politically active, hold our elected officials accountable, and combat all forms of oppression. We were also reminded that our transgendered sisters need us to speak up and create safe spaces for them as fellow humans and that love shouldn’t have limits.

Sister marches were held in all 50 states on January 21, 2017, and totaled over 350 marches all over the world. This solidarity of sisterhood continues to send the message that we will stand strong and support each other, even during this time of adversity and oppression.

Herstory was made on January 21, 2017. As noted in our code of ethics, social workers should be the leading profession in protection rights for women and all marginalized and oppressed individuals and communities. I now have a renewed sense of purpose, belonging, and commitment to help others, and am taking more active steps to be engaged as a citizen and social worker. What will you do to help, “Connect, Protect and Activate”?

Chicago march organizers are actively planning for how to help and what to do after the march. Stay informed in the Women’s March on Chicago Facebook group or website at http://womens121marchonchicago.org. The video of speakers and performers can also be found on website. 

Krista Woods, LCSW, is founder and president of Integrity Clinical Consulting & Training which provides therapy and clinical services in Illinois and case consultation and training across the country. She has worked in the field of social work for over 20 years in various roles including direct service and leadership in foster care/adoption, mental health, crisis intervention, and managed care.

Posted on 02/20/17 at 08:00 AM


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