Katie Keogh and Ashlin Bird
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
More than 100 demonstrators gathered in Baltimore Wednesday afternoon to march in solidarity for women’s rights and equality in honor of International Women’s Day.
Demonstrators walked over four miles from the People’s Park to the Inner Harbor making sure to have the Baltimore City Women’s Detention Center and the Baltimore City Hall en route.
Protesters held signs that read “women’s liberation not corporate feminism,” “woman’s place is in the resistance,” and “Baltimore women stand united.”
Many of the participants also wore peace stickers, pins and T-shirts that read “nasty woman” or “love trumps hate.”
The protest disrupted traffic as demonstrators marched in the streets to spread their message of solidarity using their voices to chant “the people united will never be defeated” and “ain’t no power like the power of a woman because the power of the women don’t stop.”
Baltimore City police officers approached the protesters to move them onto the sidewalk, but the leaders of the protest instructed demonstrators to “stay in the street.” The officers gave the protesters a motorcade convoy to help keep the traffic flowing through the one open lane out of the three that are normally in use.
T.J. Smith, the Baltimore City police spokesman, said the department would not underestimate the size of the crowd and the protesters’ voices.
“We are prepared for larger than expected crowds and we are prepared for those crowds if necessary,” Smith said. “Just like any other march or protest, we plan to be there to make sure that the people who are exercising their First Amendment rights are protected and have the ability to continue to exercise their rights.”
The Rev. Annie Chambers, one of the organizers of the protest who has been a woman activist for over 50 years, participated in the four-mile demonstration in her wheelchair and for the majority of the protest was leading the pack.
“The reason I’m out here today is to say that women all over, nationally and internationally, that we have been down long enough,” Chambers said. “We have been struggling ever since the beginning of us and we are saying enough. We won’t take it.”
“We are saying especially to younger women to know that the time is now,” Chambers continued. “We are fighting for our rights. We had to fight for a right to vote and we won’t be in the kitchen. We have a voice. Out of any movement it was always women in the back getting the movements started. It was always women who built the movement and supported the movement.”
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women and other marginalized minorities. This year many women took off work to show what it would be like to have “A Day Without a Woman” mirroring the “A Day Without Immigrants” last month.
The organizers of the protest encouraged women to take off work, to only shop at small women owned businesses, and to wear red. The Prince George’s school system shut down for the day because of a lack of staffing.
Many women brought their children to the march to walk alongside for most of the four miles in strollers.
Protesters also took aim at President Trump as they chanted “when Trump says ‘get back’ we say ‘fight back,’” and “from Palestine to Mexico these border walls have got to go.”
“We got the devil in the White House,” Chambers said to the crowd.
One demonstrator, Alexandra Jacobi, is a mental health therapist in Towson. Jacobi believes the election has drastically changed what therapy has been like for her and for her clients.
“A lot of people who were dealing with anxiety issues before [the presidential election] and feeling less than or marginalized because of their sex, gender, race or religion. Their anxiety levels have gone through the roof,” Jacobi said. “I consider myself a very empowered person and I believe it is important to speak up for people who feel that they can’t speak up for themselves. I think there are a lot of people who would want to show up to these things but are intimidated and I think that there are power in numbers.”
Protesters took turns passing the small megaphone to each other to create new chants and voice their opinions.
The gathering in People’s Park started with guest speakers warming up the crowd by speaking about the injustices against women.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” said Sharell Witherspoon, the first guest speaker.
“It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
A national organization, Food Not Bombs, provided oranges, apples and soup to protesters to fuel the long march ahead and to locals, who may not be able to provide for themselves.
Betsy Cunningham, an advocate of peace and a member of the Women in Black organization, was very passionate about keeping the protest and messages peaceful.
“I haven’t been fighting,” Cunningham said. “No fighting. We need a whole new vocabulary because we are so used to it. Even people are here saying we need to fight for minimum wage. I don’t know what all the right words are but there really are no words for people whose lives were destroyed by violence. In Baltimore, there are no words to comfort these families who struggle everyday with what happened when the niece, the nephew, the son, or the husband was killed because of this violence in our city. If you just do one thing for peace its amazing. In other cultures the first word they said to people is peace.”
Cunningham’s main goal is to establish more tools and methods to teach children about peace and proper mediation.
“One of my other goals would be to see the money that’s going to the Pentagon go to establish a department of peace,” Cunningham said. “I think mediation should be a required subject in every college and every school. People wonder why there is family violence, because nobody knows how to handle it when it comes up.”
As Cunningham spoke in People’s Park she had the whole crowd chanting “no war in my name, no wall in my name, no money to the Pentagon in my name.”
“We are focusing on the historical context of the holiday so we will be talking about women’s worker’s rights and intersectionality,” said Emily Fields, a Towson University student and an organizer of the event. “We will be talking about minimum wage and we are trying to focus on issues that are pertinent to Baltimore right now like immigrant women’s rights and prisoner woman rights.”
Outside of the Women’s Detention Center, Chambers got to her feet from her wheelchair when talking about the treatment of the women inside.
The women in the prisons are only allowed a few pads for their menstrual cycle, she said. “All my daughters and sisters in there we are with you,” Chambers shouted.
Cars driving by honked their horns and raised their fists up in support of the march.
Organizers of the protest hope that their message will be heard and that next year’s protest will only be larger.