Sending a message

Jan. 21 was a historic day in the U.S. — and around the world — as people marched in the street to support human rights for all

Photo by Karin Elton Marchers gathered Saturday at the Minnesota Capitol grounds to hear speakers and to exercise their civil rights.

Area residents found themselves a part of history as they joined the women’s march “to promote women’s rights, immigration reform, and LGBTQ rights, and to address racial inequities, workers’ issues, and environmental issues,” according to Wikipedia.com, which goes on to say that last Saturday’s demonstration was “the largest one-day protest in U.S. history.”

Jacob Schmitt of Milroy, who is a Tracy Area High School graduate Class of 2015, attended the march in St. Paul.

“I wanted to attend the Washington, D.C., march, but I missed the deadline to sign up,” Schmitt said. “Then I found out there was one in St. Paul.”

Schmitt, who attends St. Cloud State, drove down to St. Paul with a friend.

“I went because after the election, I was worried,” he said. “The Trump administration is so unpredictable. This was an opportunity to express my frustration, to be with other people in unity to fight every policy and every law. Not to accept it, but keep fighting for equality, for women’s rights, for LGBTQ, for people of color.”

Judy Wilson of Hendricks did make it to the Women’s March on Washington. She was among the hundreds of thousands who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. She believes there were 16 buses from Minnesota. She was on “#1 Amy Klobuchar” bus with “folks from Rochester, Mankato, and Duluth. Each bus was named after a well-known Minnesota woman,” she said.

“We loaded up early Friday morning, drove straight through to Washington, D.C., switching drivers along the way,” she said. “We unloaded at Garfield Park in D.C. and walked to the rally point about six blocks away. That first 15 minutes was exhilarating.”

Residents raised their fists and cheered as they walked, she said.

“I remember being pumped that we were going to have some huge numbers, but I also remember thinking I was stepping into something way bigger than anything I’d ever done before,” she said. “And that was scary. But the greeting we got when we got to D.C. by the actual residents there and the absolute absence of all police presence gave me peace. When we got near the National Mall, the crowd was already so swelled that we couldn’t get to the stage area to hear all the wonderful speakers. But there was a jumbo TV, and I stood and watched. When it was time to march, there were so many people in all the streets along the march route, that it was absolute gridlock. There wasn’t much marching going on. But there was some amazing chanting.”

Wilson reveled in the diversity of her fellow marchers.

“It was a beautifully diverse crowd,” she said. “My heart just swelled being with these peaceful, wonderful people from all walks of life. I was blown away by the number of men who attended. As well as the number of men who brought their sons. I was also impressed with the number of disabled individuals and senior citizens who marched. It was physically challenging for me, and I so admired them for participating. It was extremely inspirational.”

An English professor at Southwest Minnesota State University, Wilson wore a pink hat knitted by her SMSU colleague, Mary Ellen Daniloff-Merrill.

“We were a wall of pink at the march, and I was very proud to be wearing the hat she knitted for me,” Wilson said. “She said, too, just knitting the hat gave her a sense of empowerment as a woman.”

Marianne Zarzana of Marshall attended the sister women’s march in St. Paul. She carried a sandwich sign that said, “Kindness, hope and human rights for all” on one side and on the back it said, “I march to re-imagine disability.”

As a professor at SMSU, she teaches a contemporary issues and society class called “Re-imagining Disability Through Literature, Film and Media.”

Zarzana said she was “appalled” that the president-elect mimicked a disabled reporter during a rally.

After the election, Zarzana said she felt “sick, physically sick.” She said the march provided her with “hope — it was positive and healing. It was for something, not anti — very positive.”

She enjoyed the chants, particularly “this is what Democracy looks like!” and the speakers including explorer and author Ann Bancroft. Zarzana was there at the beginning when American Indians kicked off the rally with drumming.

“All they’ve been through throughout the centuries and they are still marginalized,” she said. “And here they were, leading the rally.”

Zarzana said hate crimes have increased since Trump was elected.

“This is not normal,” she said. “We can’t normalize racism.”

Her sisters marched in their states — one in Indianapolis and another in Chicago. Her daughter, Elaine, marched with her fiancé in Copenhagen, Denmark, Zarzana said. They drove two hours from their home in Halmstad, Sweden. Zarzana has a friend, Yang-May Ooi, who marched in London and another friend, Krista Senden, who is from Marshall, marched in Sydney, Australia.

“It wasn’t just ex-pats who marched — there were all kinds of people,” said Zarzana.

Zarzana said the election was a “wake-up call” for many people including her.

“If Clinton would have won, that would have been fine,” she said. “I wanted a woman to win and not just because she was a woman, but because she was qualified. But, we’ve been complacent. There are people who have been marginalized. We need to take a stand and say, ‘this is not OK.'”

She said the march was “energizing, like rocket fuel — it’s not a moment, it’s a movement.”

Zarzana marveled at the “sense of community” she felt at the march.

“There were families there, all ages, races, grandmas, children in strollers,” she said.

“I was excited when I heard that there was going to be 14,000 people in the march,” she said. “Then it was raised to 17,000 and then the final number was 100,000. It helped that the weather was nice.”

After the march, officials behind the organization reported 673 marches took place worldwide, including 29 in Canada and 20 in Mexico. In Washington D.C. alone, the protests were the largest political demonstrations since the anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and 1970s, with both protests drawing in similar numbers. The Women’s March crowds were generally peaceful, and no arrests were made in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle, where an estimated combined total of 2 million people marched.

Schmitt had been under the impression that about 20,000 people would attend the march in St. Paul.

“To hear that it was 100,000 speaks volumes in terms of how people feel,” he said. “Hopefully, this sends a message to Washington; they can’t ignore it.”

Wilson felt as well that the march sent a message — “not only to the Trump administration, but also to those worried about the impact of his administration,” she said. “Being among the people in that massive outpouring reaffirmed my love for and belief in my country. And I’ve seen so many men thank the women who participated in the march, saying it reaffirmed their own belief in democracy and gave them hope. A little hope goes a long way. It was also a model of action and fervor. There was energy there, and that energy flowed in a wave across the country, and indeed into other countries. Yes, we moved the world that day. Nobody can say we didn’t.”

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