The numbers for the Women’s March on Chicago keep changing.
Three weeks ago, the Women’s March on Chicago Facebook page had 20,000 RSVPs. I eavesdrop on a group of women on the UP-N Metra into the city who insist that the number has swelled to 50,000. It was easy to eavesdrop on that 8 a.m. Metra ride—the train was packed with so many people that it was impossible to move. Once we reach the city, a volunteer at Grant Park hollers out to anyone who will listen that the march has been cancelled due to the influx of people.
“When did that happen,” I ask.
“About 20 minutes ago.”
He tells me there are more than 100,000 people in the Loop for the march. In the end, we were all wrong—current estimates from event organizers have put the number at approximately 250,000. 250,000 protesters flood Columbus Drive; waving signs, singing, yelling, taking selfies, taking photos, taking video—it’s friendly chaos in a sea of pink. Chicago had one the largest protest crowds in the country after the Women’s March on Washington.
There are so many people on Columbus Drive that it’s almost impossible to see the stage. It’s also almost impossible to hear anything from the stage—in the distance protestors keep cheering, and overhead is the sound of helicopters circling the city.
“I came out because this is history in the making,” said Molly—a first-time protestor. “I feel like I should be here. It’s important to me to get out here even if I don’t have a sign or a clever T-shirt—I need to be seen and I need to be heard.”
There is a mix of first-time protestors and the veterans who have seen it all before—families walk together, and every group bears a different message—signs urging the protection of women’s healthcare, the preservation of the environment, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, Native American rights, disability services, social services, education, Medicaid, Medicare…the list goes on.
On the outskirts of the event are various sub-groups providing their own form of protest. A woman in a gray hoodie holds up a newspaper and offers to teach me about Socialism, while a man stands on the sidewalk blowing repeatedly on a whistle with a sign that says, “FBI daily rape me.” The mood is lighthearted. A woman smiles and apologizes for bumping into me—her sign is emblazoned with, “FUCK YOU PATRIARCHY.”
“It’s a call for action and a response to that call to action,” said protestor Cynthia Stringfellow Jackson about the overwhelming popularity of the Women’s March on Chicago. “If you take the broadest approach to this thing, it’s about people in America feeling respected, loved, accepted and as part of the love of mankind overall.”
Many of the participating groups for the Women’s March on Chicago are already under direct attack from our new president, who has threatened to cut funding for these organizations. Planned Parenthood of Illinois served as a supporting group for the event, one of the many institutions involved that has lent time or services to helping the grassroots march succeed. “This is not a new space for some of us, but it is not a fight that we are unfamiliar to,” said Julie Lynn, Manager of External Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “We will continue to fight and hold those accountable.”
The magnitude of this march shows that they will not be fighting alone.