Loyola senior Luke Landry and his girlfriend, Priyanka Podjale, a DePaul University sophomore, met up with some friends to finish signs ahead of their first Women’s March. They joked and talked as they colored in a sign she would hold that day reading: “I’m a female rebel.”
“Every girl is a female rebel. Just by existing and being themselves,” Podjale said.
Around 11:30 a.m., the couple embarked from their Belmont apartment with friends and hopped on the packed trains downtown. Their sign would soon join the mix of hundreds of other unique displays proclaiming women’s equality and a sea of pink hats at the second Women’s March in Chicago.
“Being a part of the community is cool, and being with everyone and seeing what they all have to say on their posters,” Landry said.
The march happened on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration — someone criticized for controversial and derogatory comments about women — and after a year of upheaval in the media world from women and some men speaking out against sexual harassment. Faces young and old showed up to celebrate women’s empowerment and make a statement about the importance of the female vote ahead of the midterm elections later this year.
Numerous signs read #MeToo in reference to the movement which has grown in the past few months out of the dozens of powerful actors, journalists and other men in power ousted by accusations of sexual misconduct.
Last year’s Women’s March Chicago drew 250,000 people, with Loyola students and faculty among them. It occurred in association with dozens of other massive marches for female empowerment in cities worldwide. This year’s was no different, but the crowd had grown to around 300,000, organizers said.
“It’s awesome. I love all the female energy I’m seeing,” Podjale, a 19-year-old public relations and advertising major, said.
“There’s a lot of happy energy, too, which is cool. It’s not aggressive,” Landry, a 21-year-old chemistry major, said.
While Chicago’s march grew in size, other major cities saw their demonstrations shrink this year compared to last. New York City’s march and Washington, D.C.’s march were down several hundred thousand people, according to crowd estimates.
The Chicago march began in the morning with speakers and entertainment at a rally in Grant Park. Around 12:30 p.m., demonstrators poured onto East Jackson Drive and marched to Federal Plaza in the heart of the city.
Speakers included public office holders, activists and representatives of various communities. The cast of Chicago’s “Hamilton” performed onstage for the crowd. A common theme pervaded speeches: Encouragement for women and people of color to run for public office.
Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer emphasized this call to action in her speech, asking a series of questions which were all answered with a cry of “elect more women” from the crowd.
“When they want to deport children and Dreamers from the only home they’ve ever known, there’s only one answer, and what is it?” Gainer said. “Elect more women. ‘Elect more women’ is the answer that we need to change this country.”
Tom Steyer, a well-known environmentalist and philanthropist leading the call for Trump’s impeachment, stressed the importance of upcoming midterm elections. After reminding the crowd that there are 435 Congressional seats, 33 Senate seats, 36 governorships and 78 legislative halls to be voted on in November, Steyer said the protesters should mobilize and elect progressive officials.
“That means that we are going to have to be organized, we are going to have to be engaged and we are going to have to go to the polls and flip those seats with progressives,” Steyer said. “We have absolutely no choice.”
Other speakers included Chakena Sims, who represented an organization called Chicago Votes, City Clerk of Chicago Anna Valencia, Celina Villanueva of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Chicagoan Olaya Landa-Vialard attended the March for the first time this year, calling it a “rallying cry” for those opposing Trump. Landa-Vialard said she will continue to write to representatives following the march and encouraged young people to do the same.
“[Young people] are so good with technology, it’s so easy to contact your representative,” Landa-Vialard said. “Make your voice heard, even if you can’t vote.”
Jodi Greenspan, who attended the march last year, said she didn’t expect the outcome to be as large as it was.
“We were happily surprised [with the turnout] because I personally was worried that people would be kind of tired from what we’ve seen,” Greenspan said.