Report from Chicago: Americans Take to the Streets for Human Rights

By Julienne Grant

20170121_101055I’m writing this not only because I’m inspired, but also so our FCIL colleagues abroad can get a first – hand account of what Americans accomplished on Saturday.  This morning I set out for what I expected to be a local march in Chicago, perhaps 20,000 people rallying for women’s rights.  What I encountered instead, was a massive turnout of over 250,000 citizens – of every age, race, sexual orientation, and religion – taking to the streets for a demonstration of unity.  There were babies in strollers, Muslims, transgender people, Jews, senior citizens, African-Americans, teachers, suburbanites and urbanites, immigrants, artists, and men and women from every neighborhood, every collar county, and even some contiguous states.  These were citizens who were angry and wanted to be heard.

The messages they carried were compelling and forceful – some humorous, some even poetic.  There were signs in French, Spanish, English, and Arabic.  There were large signs and small ones – some visually stunning, while others were simple, in handwritten scrawl.  All, however, were powerful –  clear, thoughtful, and direct. Some content cannot be repeated here, but I mention these as a representation of what was on people’s minds: “women’s rights are human rights,” “we are the noisy majority,” “hope not hate,” “the most important word in a democracy is we,” “men of quality don’t fear equality,” and, possibly my personal favorite, “it takes a village to raze a village idiot.” This was not just about women;  it was broader than that. It was about human rights, and it was about the fear of a new government that doesn’t recognize them (i.e., that just doesn’t get it).

This gathering20170121_110721 of some quarter of a million vocal people, however, was amazingly peaceful and polite, and for just a few hours in a city that is marred by violence, there was kindness and compassion. There was a bond between strangers, and it felt hopeful and good. Even the oft-maligned Chicago cops who were there to maintain order were digging it; there was no profiling and no use of force.  Above our heads in the clogged downtown streets, the el trains slowed down; the drivers pumped their fists, and the passengers waved and nodded their approval.  It was empowering and energizing, and it was an outlet for all who felt marginalized and unheard.

My phone was pinging with texts and pictures from everywhere in the country–from a cousin who was marching in Boston, from a friend at a rally in a small town in Oregon, and word spread through the crowd about Washington, Denver, New York, and Los Angeles; millions of Americans were out in droves. There was strength in numbers, and for anyone abroad who thinks Americans are complacent, this should prove them wrong.  I’m encouraged, I’m proud, and I’m hopeful.

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