Local Voices at the Women’s March on Houston
The Women’s March on Houston kicked off right after 11 am on Saturday, joining the hundreds of “sister” events held across the nation and around the world to protest the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Despite the threat of rain and several days of flash floods throughout the city, an estimated 23,000 Houstonians gathered at Jamail Skate Park to march on City Hall where organizers planned a “Free Speech” rally featuring speeches by local citizens and leaders.
People of all genders, ages, races, classes, nationalities, and nearly any other locus of identity you can imagine turned up to represent a host of issues and communities, ranging from a more generalized feminism and concern for women’s rights to racial justice, transgender rights, immigrants’ rights, disability rights, accessible health care, climate change, education reform, sex workers’ rights, and electoral corruption. What began as a march to highlight issues of women’s rights under the Trump administration evolved into an energetic display of the intersections of Houston’s hugely diverse communities.
Handmade and printed signs floated above the heads of the crowd as it marched down Allen Parkway toward City Hall, emblazoned with statements like “NOT MY PRESIDENT,” “BRIDGES NOT WALLS,” “ONE NATION (OF IMMIGRANTS) UNDER GOD,” and “KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY RIGHTS (AND PUSSY).” Many women wore pink knitted “pussy” hats, and one marcher carried a Trump piñata bearing the words “Putin’s Puppet.” An elderly woman held a handwritten sign that described, in English and in Spanish, her personal experience with police brutality in Houston. Members of the Houston Police Department lined the half mile-long march route; a number of marchers clapped and thanked them as they passed.
When asked why they chose to join the march, many people responded with concern over the divisive words and actions of now-President Trump. Tatiana, a New Yorker who moved to Houston two years ago, said, “I feel like as president you should be a uniter, and I have not heard those words coming from our [new] president.” 27-year-old Joshua from Houston explained that he was marching in solidarity with the women in his family, as well as out of frustration that Trump “doesn’t respect that women are human beings and…think[s] you can control them, grab them, tell them that they don’t have the right to do whatever they choose with their own bodies.” Referring to Trump’s oft-derided campaign slogan, Fran, 39, said, “America is already great and you can’t talk about it being great unless everyone is inclu[ded],” particularly queer and black communities.
There were a number of young people present at the march, including a boy named Harry who stated his belief “in women’s rights and Black Lives Matter.” A trio of teenage girls cited their inability to vote as the impetus for their presence. “I’m…trying to do my part to show…even though I couldn’t vote I still support what I believe,” said Daphne, 16.
Older generations also turned out to show their support for causes past and present. Christina, a 77-year-old cancer survivor from La Porte, said she joined the march “because [I’ve] done this before, because [I’ve] fought for women’s rights and reproductive rights and [I’m] still fighting. [I] can’t tolerate intolerance,” she concluded. Guruatma, who is 65 years old and deaf, praised the march as a “positive” form of dissent that “gives me a voice to say, this is who I am [and] this is who I am not,” as well as the chance to demonstrate her solidarity with disabled Americans.
Women who emigrated to the U.S. from different parts of the world spoke of their concerns over the dehumanization of immigrants in America’s overtly xenophobic political climate. “I am doing this march for all the women… [of] all colors and countries,” said Mojan, who came to Houston from Iran 42 years ago. “I hope they can hear us, and see us, and I hope that it affects [them].” Nadia, a 41 year-old Muslim woman originally from Jordan, emphasized that women “are not less than any other human being here [even if] we came from [a] different place or different country…we are all women.”
The mood was celebratory as the march ended and the crowd of thousands gathered around the reflecting pool in Hermann Square to hear from lead event organizer Robin Paoli, former Democratic Texas State Representative and current Houston City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, U.S. Congressman Al Green (D), State Representative Gene Wu (D), Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, Houston Chief of Police Art Arcevedo, and Judge Phyllis Frye of the Houston Municipal Court, who is the first openly transgender judge to serve in the U.S. [Editor’s note: Frye referenced that she was not speaking in a judicial capacity] Councilwoman Cohen emphasized the importance of women running for state and local offices, while Rep. Wu praised “the power of Texas women” who have been active in fights for equality around the state. Judge Frye used the platform as an opportunity to criticize Senate Bill 6, otherwise known as the “bathroom bill,” which disproportionately targets transgender men and women. Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) also addressed the crowd, highlighting Houston’s status as the country’s most diverse city before declaring, “I came to the steps of City Hall to say we are not going back.”
Before the march began a 9 year-old named Abby told me she was marching “so that Donald Trump isn’t president.” Her mom laughed and said it was too late for that; if the size, strength, and passion of the Women’s March on Houston is any indication, however, it’s not too late for ordinary citizens to turn their dissent into a catalyst for change.