by Ritu Prasad
Sharpies, construction paper, pastries, and plenty of coffee were spread invitingly across two tables at the Women & Children First Bookstore. When the doors opened at 8 a.m. sharp on Saturday morning, there was already a line of people ready to make signs and socialize before the Women’s March on Chicago.
Nineteen-year-old Alivia Heuer, a freshman at Northeastern Illinois University, was one of the first to arrive. She took to the supplies with purpose.
“I honestly think that instead of trying to rebel against the current administration we should try to protect those who might be adversely affected,” Heuer said while filling in the large bubbled letters of her sign with red sharpie. “So that’s why I’m writing love is greater than hate.”
Though young, Heuer has already participated in the Take Back the Night march, the Chicago Public School strikes, and she’s a member of the Feminist Collective club at NEIU, helping with events promoting women’s and LGBTQ rights. Her motivations for joining Saturday’s march were manifold, but were in part inspired by the women in her own family.
“My grandmother passed away a few years ago but she still to this day is an inspiration to me because she was a single mom,” Heuer said. “She worked as a waitress, dropped out of school so she could support her children. I think it’s a very admirable thing to do…to not rely on anyone to get what you need to survive. She was very independent. And my mother as well [is] a single mother…they really inspire me. There are many reasons I’m here and they’re definitely two of them.”
On the other side of the table, behind the children’s books on display, Alysia Kinsella watched over her daughter’s sign-making.
“I’ve been teary most of the day already,” Kinsella said. “My sister’s in Washington, my mom’s here, my daughter’s here. We’ve got three generations.”
The march is Kinsella’s first foray into activism, but her mother is no stranger to the fight. “She said she even protested when I was in her belly a long time ago,” she said. “We have a lot of strong women in my family—I’ve always admired my mom…she’s been a working mother and I’m a working mother, and I feel like we need to support each other better.”
Kinsella’s own sign read ‘empathy is my weapon.’
“I really believe we need to reach out to everybody, to understand what people’s issues are—even those that we don’t agree with,” she said. “I came mostly because I didn’t like the divisiveness of the election.”
Across the shop, Christopher Wilson had taken a seat by the cashier’s desk to keep out of the way of people rushing between decorating and discussions. His own sign, succinct and snarky, declared ‘SAD!’ in bold red letters.
“Marches on every continent are happening today and living here in Chicago, knowing that something like this was going to be happening…I couldn’t not come out and take part,” Wilson said.
A first-time protester, Wilson wanted to show support for the women in his life and across the country.
“Donald Trump has said and done things that are terrible along every spectrum, but the fact that someone can be on the record saying the things that he’s said about women and still get elected president speaks to a big problem with society,” Wilson said. “This march and other things like it are going to show there are a lot of people who are not okay with that.”
As the older brother to two twin sisters and an uncle to three nieces, Wilson’s thoughts turned to the world his younger relatives would be growing up in.
“[My sisters] are going to be 17 this year and I don’t want them living in a world where stuff like this is acceptable,” Wilson said. “I don’t want my three baby nieces growing up in a world where the leader of the free world can say things like ‘just grab ‘em by the p*ssy’ and still get elected president.”
Wilson’s passionate explanations were interrupted by a sudden call to silence.
“I am a man, yes, but I’m just interrupting the talking so that a woman can speak!” someone yelled.
To rippling laughter (buoyed perhaps by the caffeine and sugar), bookstore co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck addressed the morning’s attendees.
“You are my country, you are my hope,” Hollenbeck said, emotion heavy in her voice. “I’m so touched that you decided to begin your day here at Chicago’s only feminist bookstore…we need to keep these faces alive and healthy and vibrant for the next four years and further. Let’s go resist in peace! I love all of you.”
The robust group of women, children, and men chorused their support in claps and whoops and, filing out between the bookshelves, began their march.
The first Red Line train was already packed with fellow protestors. As the doors opened, people exchanged grins and waves across the tracks. The second train was nearly as full, but somehow, everyone managed to fit onboard, a puzzle of people crushed together by necessity.
The outpouring at the Jackson stop rekindled the momentum lost in transit. A river of pink and bobbing signs guided newcomers to the main event at Grant Park.
At the park’s entrance, Lindsey Gavel and her mother-in-law, Janice Domanik, stood atop low cement blocks to survey the scene. The last time Gavel found herself in Grant Park, Obama had just won his first term. The vibe this time, she noted, laughing, was considerably different.
“The fact that there are over 500 sister marches happening outside of Washington D.C., like, that says something. People are not happy,” Gavel said.
Domanik interjected: “And they’re not just in this country! They’re around the world!”
Domanik is a 71-year-old scientist, passionate about women’s rights, minority rights, Black Lives Matter, healthcare access, and, unsurprisingly, science. Wearing a pink ‘p*ssyhat’ that Gavel had crocheted for her the night before, she was an ardent advocate for all the march stood for.
“Gloria Steinem did a lot for getting feminism started, but there were women who you’re never gonna hear of who just went in and were in the trenches,” Domanik said. “[Trump] needs to pay attention to the fact that women are people, too, and to treat a woman other than with respect is a violation of our Constitution. It says we the people. That means everybody.”
Gavel, smiling beneath a matching homemade hat, echoed her mother-in-law’s sentiments.
“My mother is actually a very strong Trump supporter in Michigan,” she revealed. “Ha-ha. We don’t talk about it really.”
In fact, Gavel’s mother didn’t even know her daughter was planning on attending the march that day.
“She will now,” Gavel joked.
Domanik laughed. “Her mother’s not going to speak to me anymore!” she said.
Behind the them, a couple had lifted their young son atop metal railings so he could proudly exhibit his own sign: “tiny hands, huge a**hole.” In the distance, a father held a sign reading, “today she calls me dad, tomorrow I’ll call her president.”
Ahead of the funneling influx of newcomers, someone with the foresight to bring a sound system played Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” as a string of protestors, holding a banner decreeing “power to the people” danced through the masses.