Women’s health and reproductive rights, equal pay, quality public education and worker’s rights were some of the reasons hundreds of people from different parts of the state met Saturday for the Mississippi Women’s March on the south steps of the Capitol.
The event, one of hundreds of similar rallies and marches held in cities across the U.S. and the world, aimed to empower people of diverse backgrounds to speak on a wide range of issues and encourage more grassroots political involvement, organizers said.
The first Women’s March took place in 2017. That year, in Jackson, thousands of people showed up to march for equal rights and a better quality of life.
This time around, approximately 500 people carried signs and wore T-shirts promoting political causes, including immigrant and LGBTQ rights. Despite drawing a smaller crowd compared to 2017, this year’s Mississippi Women’s March shows the movement is evolving, said one of the organizers, Talamieka Brice.
Brice said the aim of the 2017 march was to stand up against policies newly elected President Donald Trump had proposed. This year, she said, women can celebrate the successes of the women’s movement.
“Everything that we were afraid of on this day last year, those policies were put forward,” Brice said. “But the resistance, the push back, has been the rallying cry. Last year was like, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do? We have to do something.’ And this year is, ‘This is what we’ve done. It’s working. Let’s keep pushing forward and doing that.’”
This year’s Women’s March theme was “Rally to the Polls!,” an echo of the national march in Las Vegas whose theme is “Power to the Polls!”
Brice said Saturday’s rally featured a lot more voices and perspectives from women of color. The 10 speakers included women representing Muslims, LGBTQ people, journalists and people of other backgrounds.
This was essential, organizers said, considering that Mississippi ranked as the worst state for women in a WalletHub study from early 2017 based on factors like median wages for female workers, unemployment rates for women, percentages of women in poverty and percentages of women-owned businesses.
“There’s so many things that would improve the lives of women, like a raised minimum wage, an improved public education system,” said Annie Reiher of Indivisible Jackson Metro and one of the march organizers. “They’re not necessarily things that scream, ‘women’s issues.’ They’re economic issues.”
Reiher attended the national Women’s March in Washington, D.C. with her mother last year, but felt it was important to be a part of the march in her home state this year. She said that President Trump’s inauguration may have been a catalyst in bringing people to these kinds of rallies last year, but it may take more effort to encourage people to take part in the political process this year, with the mid-term elections ahead.
“It’s important to see people that look like them in the process when we’re talking about Jackson,” Reiher said. “We tried really hard to make this event representative of the community from a demographics standpoint and culturally.”
That effort was evident during the event’s speeches. Malaysia Walker, the Transgender Education & Advocacy Program advocacy coordinator of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, encouraged women to voice their frustration and needs regardless of their economic or cultural background.
“We have to stop allowing other people to tell our truths, because we are the only ones that know our truths,” Walker said. “Not only should we help protect others and share their story, we should listen to the stories that are being told.”
Speakers at the march also reflected on the recent rebirth of the #metoo movement which has encouraged women, including those in the entertainment industry and government, to speak up about their experiences with sexism — from unwanted sexual advances from male colleagues and bosses to limited opportunities for career advancement and pay raises compared to men.
Jackson resident Hina Qureshi attended the Mississippi Women’s March to support immigrants’ rights, among other causes, and appreciates how the march brings many voices and opinions that are often pushed aside to the forefront.
“There’s a lot of things at the state and local level that I’m concerned about,” she said, which includes people whose parents brought them to U.S. as children without proper documentation. “With the dreamers, Salvadorans, everything that’s going on … it’s just a general environment of hostility.”
She said she would like to see more college and high school students involved in events like women’s marches to learn more about the political process and their rights.
Barbara Tucker, who attended the rally to support the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said the event creates a safe space for people to unite and voice the political issues that mean a lot to them.
“Abortion is not an issue that’s openly talked about, so I think all of us being here today, just supporting, (sends) the message that it is something that we can talk about and have an opinion about,” Tucker said.