On Saturday, January 21, more than a quarter million women, men, and children gathered in Chicago’s Loop: it was a brilliant sunny morning. The kick-off event, a rally with speakers representing local activists, Chicago aldermen, artists, and religious leaders, began around 9:00, speaking to a gathering that overflowed massive Grant Park and poured out along Michigan Avenue. A packed crowd listened to short statements on feminism, sexual violence, trans rights, Islamophobia, gun violence, and deportations. Gwen Pendleton, mother of the late Hadiya, addressed the new administration’s position on guns. Ari Afsar, Karen Olivo, and Samantha Marie Ware, of the Chicago production of Hamilton, sang “Let it Be.”
By 11am, organizers announced what was already clear: the protestors were “flooding” the route, paralyzing the march itself. They cancelled the formal march, but the crowd in Grant Park slowly inched back to Michigan Avenue, now emptied of cars and filled with celebrants. We lined the massive boulevard and stood expectantly. The snail’s pace led to countless interactions: people complimented one another’s signs, pink hats, children, puppies (we are polite Midwesterners, after all). Gawkers looked down on us from office windows. One suited man on a high floor simply stared at the crowd for minutes, as they frantically waved and chanted at him, until he finally smiled and waved back to their cheers. As numerous feeder routes opened in the arteries from Michigan towards Federal Plaza, protestors burst into screams each time the elevated train stopped overhead and passengers expressed support. The side streets caused even more gridlock as they merged with marchers heading north on Wabash. Music played on enormous speakers, a drum circle worked nearby.
Eventually we all moved. We found ourselves on E Jackson, outside the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and behind a large Donald Trump piñata. A dog in a pink t-shirt noted that she was “marching for my bitches.” The Hamilton theme continued, with signs calling on us to Rise Up, but the chants favored more politically pointed messages: “Black Lives Matter” and “My body, my choice/Her body, her choice.” My twelve-year-old was particularly charmed by “No means fuck you/Yes means fuck me,” so we shared an educational moment. A peppy brass band carried the end of the parade, as diverse and funky as Chicago itself.
Like the other marches Saturday, this one was giddy and friendly; Chicago’s infamous police seemed unthreatened by the (mostly) white women, many of whom seemed to have come in from the suburbs. Many marchers commented that this was the first time they had felt hope or joy since the elections. We can only hope that it’s not the last.