Despite inches of snowfall, hundreds of people attended the youth-organized and youth-lead Chicago Young Women’s March Rally Saturday morning at Federal Plaza in the Loop. While an official Women’s March wasn’t organized in Chicago, this rally was a locally-organized replacement.
The first Women’s March took place Jan. 21, 2017 following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The marches, which have taken place every year since, are led by women “to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change,” according to the movement’s mission statement.
Chicago’s Young Women’s Rally, separate from the official Women’s March, was organized by Jazmine Marie, a 19-year-old first-year student at Roosevelt University. Attendees gathered at from 10 to 11:30 a.m., many wearing the now-symbolic pink cat-ear hats and holding posters.
“I saw that Chicago didn’t have [a march] planned for the 19th [of January] and I thought it was super important for Chicago to be represented with the other cities participating in it,” Marie said.
In December, the national Women’s March organization faced claims of anti-Semitism in its leadership. Chicago’s organizers said they never had a march planned for this year, citing security and logistical concerns.
Because of this, Marie said she decided to organize this event. The rally was intended to be an informational event, not a professional march, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Federal Plaza was filled with people chanting slogans — such as “hear it loud, hear it clear, immigrants are welcome here” and “my body, my choice” — and female speakers from around the Chicago area. The speakers aimed to address “the most important issues and challenges they are facing in Chicago, and their hopes for a diverse and inclusive women’s movement,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
Amy Tran, a 21-year-old junior at Loyola, was one of the speakers. She spoke on behalf of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), which Tran said focuses on immigration, economic and reproductive-justice work. In her speech, the advertising and public relations major talked about her work with immigrant and refugee youth.
A total of 11 speakers addressed the crowd, highlighting issues such as Muslim rights, environmental justice, indigenous rights and women’s rights and safety from gender-based violence .
Marie said she expected around 1,000 people to attend the rally. However, an estimated 250 to 500 people showed up, according to Brenna O’Brien, who works with Women’s March Illinois and helped support and promote the event.
“I definitely felt like our rally was original, it hadn’t been done before,” Marie said. “It definitely showed that you can hold a rally and make a difference without spending thousands of dollars.”
The Rev. Dr. Finley C. Campbell, 84, who lives in the Hyde Park area, spoke on the rally’s positive atmosphere.
“I come and I’m a little worried, I’m an old black guy, will I be welcomed?” Campbell asked. “Fully welcomed. A lot of other men were there as well.”
Campbell said he was also worried about the cold weather, unsure of whether or not he should show up during such harsh weather conditions.
“I call [my wife] and I said ‘You know, it’s too cold to go,’ and she said ‘It ain’t too cold to fight back’ or something like that,” Campbell said. “So I followed her leadership and here I am. So here to show solidarity and to raise the line that multiracial unity is the key to liberation and victory.”
Elissa Vrabel, a 21-year-old junior at Concordia University Chicago, was also determined to show up.
“I decided to brave the cold today because even though it’s snowing, it’s not an excuse to not go out and support women’s rights,” the strategic communications major said. “It’s very important. Our rights are being jeopardized and no matter what you need to fight for what’s right.”
The rally also provided an opportunity for younger voices to be heard, such as Tegwyn Hollenbach and Greta Siemsen, two juniors at Fenwick High School in Oak Park.
“I decided to come out today because I know that my voice matters and since I’m so young, I realize I need to start making a difference now,” 16-year-old Siemsen said. “I’m not just going to sit around and wait for other people to make a change and it’s important for me to start making a change myself and to use my voice.”
Hollenbach agreed with Siemsen’s statements, and said she wants change, and women’s voices need to be heard to achieve that change.
“Everyone’s voices [sic] counts, every person counts,” 17-year-old Hollenbach said. “And everyone has a different view on everything and we should respect that but we all need to work together and push forward because we can’t all be stuck in one spot forever. There needs to be change and there’s so much that women can bring to the table.”