On Saturday morning, Jan. 21, a fourth-year Case Western Reserve University student woke up early to make signs, despite not getting enough sleep the night before. Marlowe Susselman was excited to know that she was going to participate in “something important.” When she arrived at Public Square in downtown Cleveland, the park was already filled with protesters.
Susselman, along with an estimated 15,000 people, came out to demonstrate and show solidarity and support for the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. and its nearly 300 other sister marches around the globe. The marches’ goal was to direct attention to a host of human rights issues, in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump.
“The issues that the marches addressed … existed prior to the recent political climate, but this election has brought the problems into sharp relief,” said Rhonda Williams, director of the Social Justice Institute (SJI). “Certainly seeing millions of people marching puts those managing and advancing oppressive systems on notice.”
The SJI was one of many organizations here at CWRU that organized a trip to the Women’s March on Cleveland. Lisa Kollins, administrator of the SJI, was impressed by the large number of participants from campus at the protest. The turnout included both students and on-campus organizations who were heavily invested in letting their voices be heard.
“I bumped into several Case staff members and students at the Cleveland march, including the directors of the Women’s Center and the LGBT Center, and also know several CWRU folks who traveled to Washington, D.C,” said Kollins. “Seeing that level of engagement is exciting—maintaining that excitement through the challenges that undoubtedly loom ahead is crucial.”
Saturday’s Women’s March on Cleveland was a peaceful protest, intended to advocate for the rights of women. The march in Cleveland was organized by two CWRU graduate physics students, Laura Johnson and Claudia Pasmatsiou. The two discovered the Women’s March on Washington one afternoon while taking a break from their research and decided to start one in Cleveland.
“We saw that many cities were hosting sister marches but were disappointed to find that Cleveland wasn’t on the map,” Johnson and Pasmatsiou wrote in a joint statement. “So we decided to take action and organize a local event.” Coming from a traditionally male dominated field, Pasmatsiou hoped that the march would promote education for women and young girls, but said that the march’s main message was “women’s rights are human rights.”
They soon created a Facebook event page for the Women’s March on Cleveland. At press time, approximately 6,000 people were “interested” and another 6,000 had claimed attendance.
Around 10 a.m., people started to arrive at Public Square, where the march planned to start. They were greeted by Janice Boyd, a member of the Cleveland Heights City Council. She shouted to all, “Good morning warriors!” The sign she carried referred to Trump dodging the Vietnam War draft multiple times and his derogatory remarks about prisoners of war. At the top of the sign was a triptych style cartoon depicting Trump, a KKK member and Putin, surrounded by cyrillic. Boyd, herself a victim of sexual assault in the military, was outraged about Trump taking advantage of women: “How can I trust somebody like that to run our military? That’s disgusting.”
As the march began turning onto Ontario Street, one woman remained still. She sat in a wheelchair holding a sign saying “THANK YOU! For marching for those of US who CAN’T.” One voice said, “I’m gonna go hug her.” Many did just that.
On numerous occasions during his campaign, the current president derided women, and at one point was caught on tape making reprehensible comments about sexual assault: “I don’t even wait …. grab ‘em by the pussy.” In response, many at the march donned red and pink “pussy hats.” These easily identifiable symbols of solidarity and resistance bobbed up and down, streaming down Lakeside Avenue in a mass of pink. Cars honked in support, voices shouted on megaphones and the crowd fed off the energy.
As the thousands chanted “Hear our voice!” Rev. Robin Craig connected participation in the march to her service as a religious leader. “I think in all of our faiths, that we are spoken to by prophets of hundreds of year ago, telling us that we have a call to justice and peace.”
Susselman was filled with pride and hope after the march.
“I felt that the marches across the globe sent an important and necessary message to the incoming administration that we will not tolerate our rights being marginalized, and I was proud to be a part of it,” she said. She quoted a sign she saw in the crowd, “respect existence or expect resistance,” to express her opinions on human rights under current political climate.
“People across the world demonstrated that we are a force to be reckoned with and that we will not be silent against injustice,” she said. “We will speak up, we will march, and we will protest … however often and for however long as it necessary.”
Three-hundred fifty miles away in Washington, D.C., fourth-year student Matt Conley was one of many students who travelled out to Washington D.C. and participated in the Women’s March on Washington. For Conley, the experience was motivated by a desire to support the march, learn more about the issues that the march stood for and “to get the chance to witness history in the making firsthand.”
“I was invited to go by some friends from Case who were involved in the Young Democratic Socialists club on campus,” commented Conley. “I went for the experience, while fully supporting what the march stood for and the values, rights and human decency those who were a part of it marched for.”
These motivations drove Conley to navigate the throngs of people that spilled into the streets of D.C. and overfilled the metro station. Only government buildings and museums peeked over the ocean of rallies, and even those buildings saw protesters watching through the windows.
“The Women’s March was by far the most intense protest I have ever been a part of,” noted Conley. “Trying to make our way to the rally felt like pushing to the front of the crowd at the world’s biggest concert. Except in this case, everyone held posters, wore ‘pussy hats’ and the headliner was ‘Justice for All.’”
Back in Cleveland, Nyrie Stallworth, a student at Cuyahoga Community College, also felt determination to continue fighting against the current administration. As a woman paying for college out of pocket and living under Trump, she felt dismay at the election results but also excitement about this march: “We’re all here, we’re doing such a great job, and it is just so heartwarming to know everyone is together on this.”
Pasmatsiou was proud of the crowd the Cleveland march was able to draw.
“We had 15,000 people marching with us according to the police department,” she wrote in a text message. “We feel excited that our effort inspired people of all ages.”
In addition to keeping protesters safe on Saturday, Cleveland Police reported “no issues or arrests” during the march from their official Twitter handle, ending the tweet with the peace sign emoji.
The Women’s March on Washington website has shared 10 actions that supporters can take to continue their mission.
Additional reporting by Celia Wan