By Anne Galloway/VTDigger
Frigid temperatures hurt turnout for the third annual Vermont Women’s March at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Saturday, Jan. 19. Still over 500 marched at the capital.
By Ellie French/VTDigger
Protestors in pink hats Saturday, Jan. 19, flooded the Statehouse steps. Women, men and families came from every corner of the state to sing, march with placards and demonstrate in solidarity with people rallying all over the country in the interest of human rights.
For two hours, in frigid single digit temperatures, the crowd stood listening to speakers expound on the power of women from black, Asian, Latina, white and LGBTQ communities coming together around one single issue – empowerment.
That theme struck a chord with participants at the third annual Vermont Women’s March at a time when the president and Congress are at odds over the rights of immigrants and women. While many hugged themselves to stay warm and stamped their feet, members of the crowd cheered with gusto – shouting their encouragement and clapping with mittened hands – as speakers talked about how women who are oppressed by male privilege must find solidarity.
Capital police estimated there were over 500 protesters present – about half the number organizers expected. In 2017, about 15,000 Vermonters attended a similar rally that was held just two months after President Donald Trump was elected. The cold weather and an impending snowstorm were blamed for lower attendance.
Sister marches in New York and Philadelphia were split between two protests – one also pushed anti-racism efforts, while the other highlighted the fight against anti-Semitism.
There was no such apparent schism in Vermont. The Montpelier march highlighted the importance of civil rights for all women.
Immigration took center stage with the backdrop of the 29th day of a partial government shutdown over Trump’s border wall.
Amanda Garces of the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools repeated the phrase “I am afraid you have forgotten” followed by a recitation of human rights violations in the U.S., including the 7,000 immigrants who have died trying to cross into the United States over a 20-year period and families that have been separated at the border. She reminded the crowd that in Vermont students of color are often subjected to discrimination.
“But I cannot be afraid, because we need resistance,” Garces said. “We are here. We are powerful. We will rise.”
The loudest cheers were for former Rep. Kiah Morris as she spoke about the power of ordinary people to change society.
“I want, for youth from Bennington all the way up to Burlington, to know this work is not just about this moment, but about creating a world that we know we need and that we believe should be,” Morris said.
In August, Morris, the only black woman in the state Legislature, announced she would not seek re-election because of racist threats against her family. She resigned a month later. Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan subsequently opened an investigation into the threats. Last week Donovan said at a press conference in Bennington that Morris had been racially harassed but did not find sufficient evidence to file charges.
“The label of the second-whitest state in the Union has become a crutch to keep us from doing the work of meaningful, revolutionary inclusion. This is lazy leadership of the most tepid form,” Morris said. “Marginalized peoples are the real Vermonters – we re-commit to this state again and again. Our love is so great, our hope is so real that we determine that this state is worth fighting for. But we cannot do it alone.”
Native American women also spoke and emphasized that the Statehouse was built on former Abenaki land. Melody Walker-Brook spoke about the respect that both women and the environment were treated with by the Abenaki tribe, and called their treatment today “frankly horrifying.”
“Don’t forget about the original woman [Mother Earth], and what is being done to her on a daily basis,” Walker-Brook said.
Other speakers included Mariko Silver, president of Bennington College; Brenda Churchill, of the LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont; Tabitha Pohl-Moore, the Vermont director of the NAACP; Freweyni Adugnia, of SunCommon and an environmental justice and Black Liberation community organizer; Beverly Little Thunder, an activist and member of the Standing Rock Lakota band; musician Patti Casey, and others.
Women who braved the cold said the cause was worth it.
Marie Gervais said she went to the march in Washington, D.C. last year, but that option wasn’t feasible for her this year. Immigration is the most important issue for her.
“I myself am an immigrant from Canada,” Gervais said. “We don’t see immediate change [because of the marches], but it helps. There is always hope.”
Rebecca Sheppard, holding a sign that said “There’s only one reason a woman should get an abortion: She is pregnant and she doesn’t want to be,” said that the longer Trump is president, the more desperate marches like these feel.
“The damage that has been done to the environment, to the social framework, to humanity [under Trump] is so much,” Sheppard said. “But this shows that there is support for another way, another government, a better government.”
As women came to the march, many walked through a giant, colorful fabric vulva sculpture, amid cheers and shouts of “Thanks for being born.” Nutty Steph’s, a Middlesex chocolate shop, brought the sculpture to the march as part of a $100,000 fundraising campaign for Planned Parenthood.