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One Year Later, Women’s March Demands More Than Attendance

The 2017 Women’s March, fresh on the heels of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, was estimated to be the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.

Saturday is the follow-up — a chance to tap into some of the energy marchers felt last year. This year, organizers are cutting straight to the chase with the theme “Power to the Polls.” It is meant to remind attendees to register and show up to vote on Nov. 6. Some activists are taking it one step further. They don’t just women in the booth. They want them on the ballot.

Speakers take the stage at 11 a.m. The regular political big hitters will take the mic, like Attorney General Lisa Madigan, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle. Some cast members of Hamilton are even expected to be there (maybe you’ll finally see a snippet of the show if you couldn’t get tickets). And there’s a strong contingent of activists from the Service Employees International Union, League of Women Voters, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Among the issues to watch for at this year’s march are pushing more women to run for office, engaging youth organizers, and immigrants’ rights.

Getting women to the booth and on the ballot

Meghan Christiansen, executive director of Cause the Effect Chicago, helps provide a platform for Chicago women to “take their ideas to action.” The group trains women on how to run for elected office, learn to fundraise, and serve as community leaders.  

Christiansen is hoping to change what she called a “complacency” she saw in some women while campaigning for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “Women can change the outcome of elections,” she said.

Girls pose at the Young Feminist Conference. (Courtesy of Cause the Effect)

From protesting to voting

Kenwood Academy High School senior Maxine Wint started Youth for Black Lives in 2016 after the fatal police shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana. She wanted to give other young people the tools to combat any racism and sexism they confront..

This year, Wint is attending the March as someone excited for a new mission — voting for the first time. She just turned 18.

Maxine Wint, co-organizer of Youth for Black Lives. (Photo courtesy of Wint)

Wint said this means she has to “become educated on the people who are going to be affecting the life I live.”

Immigrant’s rights are women’s rights

Celina Villanueva, youth engagement manager for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, educates and advocates for policies that offer fair and equal treatment for immigrants.

Taking that message to the Women’s March, where Villanueva is scheduled to speak on stage, is a critical part of her work.

Villanueva said Saturday’s march is an opportunity to promote the idea of immigration rights as a human rights issue. Legislation that would offer a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the U.S. as part of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is a social justice issue that should matter to everyone, she said.

Villanueva is also using Saturday as a platform to push for more women, especially women of color or from marginalized communities, to run for office. She argues those who are directly affected by an issue, by living that experience every day, are the key people to have at the table to bring about positive change.  But, Villanueva said, fighting for equal rights is a responsibility that belongs to everyone: “If it affects one of us, it affects all of us.”

Carrie Shepherd is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @cshepherd.

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