Thousands marched in Little Rock Saturday (Jan. 21) to show solidarity with a simultaneous Women’s March on Washington along with marches across the globe.
Galvanized by the election of President Donald Trump, the Women’s March for Arkansas had registered 5,008 individuals as of Friday night, said Shelle Stormoe, logistics chair for the Be the Change Alliance. The group formed after the November election to organize the event and is becoming a nonprofit that will educate advocates on community involvement.
Speakers called for legal abortion, women’s workplace rights, gay rights, civil rights, the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and other causes. Many of the marchers carried signs, including one that read “Hell hath no fury like a woman protecting her rights” and another reading, “She is me. We are 1.” Some wore pink knit hats with cat ears as part of the national “Pussyhat Project” showing support for women’s rights.
According to the national group, the Little Rock event was one of 616 marches nationally and internationally.
The Women’s March for Arkansas was the brainchild of teacher Gwen Combs, who also founded the Be the Change Alliance. Combs told the group she was lying in bed after the election and decided she wouldn’t get up until she had decided to make a difference.
“I reached a point that made me ashamed to be American, and I decided that I would change that which I could not accept,” she said.
Combs said she thought 100 people might participate. Instead, after she created an event page on Facebook, various women’s organizations began joining the rapidly forming coalition. Referring to Trump’s inauguration, she said, “There was a little thing in D.C. yesterday. There’s a bigger thing there today.”
Among the marchers was Kathy Dillion, an English professor at Harding University, who told a reporter, “I’m just here because it’s a place where you can be with other people who believe in the importance of what’s going on right now, when we have had to deal with the disgust of the last several months with the election. And just to feel the despair that so many people have had, and to come here and to voice with other people what we can believe in, it just means so much.”
The speakers included Camile Richoux with the Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a pro-abortion rights group, and Little Rock City Director Capi Peck, who said public education is under attack. Little Rock Central High teacher Tippi McCullough said she had spent years hiding the fact that she is gay, fearing she would lose her Catholic school teaching job, and in fact that’s what happened when she married her partner. Kathy Webb, executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, said that she had stood on those same Capitol steps 45 years earlier trying to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said she had cried while watching the movie “Hidden Figures” about three female African-American NASA mathematicians who were integral to the space race. She asked how many had cried for the various groups she said would be harmed by the results of the election – African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, and Americans covered for the first time as the result of the Affordable Care Act, which created Obamacare.
“How many of you cry as you consider the brave American soldiers who could be sent off to fight a senseless war that occurs as a result of a ridiculous tweet?” she asked.
Two speakers represented the Latino community: Mireyah Reith, co-founder of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, and Ana Aguayo, 28, an undocumented immigrant living in Springdale who came to the United States with her parents at age 8 and wasn’t aware of her status until she was 16.
They expressed concern that Trump would end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration policy restricting enforcement of immigration laws regarding children brought to the United States as children.
“I am afraid because this program is the only thing that stands between me and deportation and the opportunity to be a young professional,” she said.