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Thousands show up on Hill for Women's March
« on: January 21, 2018, 10:00:13 PM »
Thousands show up on Hill for Women's March

Police estimate the Women's March on Ottawa attracted between 6,000 and 8,000 participants, matching last year’s total.

Ottawans answered the call to action in droves Saturday, as thousands ascended Parliament Hill to begin a 1.5-km trek to the Bronson Centre in support of women’s rights and equality for all kinds of marginalized groups.

Police estimate the march attracted between 6,000 and 8,000 participants, matching last year’s total. The 2017 march took place a day after — and was largely in protest of — U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration. This year’s, on the actual anniversary of that inauguration, followed in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the outings of pantloads of male celebrities accused of unwanted and sometimes criminal sexual harassment.

(Trump goaded marchers Saturday afternoon, tweeting: “Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all Women to March. Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”)

On Parliament Hill, participants did not appear to be celebrating historic milestones, but rather demanding some as they bore signs with such slogans as “Kindness Trumps All,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun-damental Rights,” “Respect My Existence or Expect My Resistance” and, in a politely understated sign that looked a little like needlepoint, “Patriarchy Bugs Me.”

And who were these people? Women, mostly, but there were plenty of men marching, too, as well as some children and dogs, while clusters of like-minded trade unionists, nurses, communists, queers and new socialists (what was wrong with the old?) waved CUPE, PSAC and Soviet-era flags, and vowed their support of immigrants, Mohamed Harkat, the LGBTQ+ community and others.

“The movement that’s happening right now, particularly to the south of us, is really scary, so it’s important that we use our democratic rights and say what we believe in,” said Sarah MacKenzie, who held a large sign that read, “We Were Served a Lemon But We’ll Make Lemonade.”

Although just 23, MacKenzie said she’s experienced too much unacceptable behaviour from men. Working as a chef in the male-dominated kitchens of an Ottawa restaurant and the university, she’s heard inappropriate jokes “like saying females shouldn’t be in the kitchen, except in the kitchen at home. So I’m here to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice.”

Shannon Elliot, meanwhile, brought her daughters, Edie, 8, and Ava, 10, with her, as well as a friend of theirs, nine-year-old Kat Batten. Ava wants to be a veterinarian and an engineer when she grows up, and her mother doesn’t want her to think she can’t. “I’m here for my little girls,” she said. “They have big dreams and they don’t know yet some of the ways that things are weighted against them, so I’m here to make sure that by the time that they grow up, they have the same rights and opportunities that everyone else does.”

Elliot’s and MacKenzie’s sentiments were largely echoed throughout the march, where pink woollen cat-eared “pussy hats” — a fashion symbol of women’s resistance — and red scarves — worn in support of missing and murdered Indigenous women — were in abundance.

There were speeches, of course, both on the Hill and at the Bronson Centre. Most moving was perhaps First Nations elder Annie Smith-St. George’s plea for unity, her calls of “Enough! Enough!” ironically almost drowned out and swept away by the Peace Tower’s carillon bells.

According to police, there were no arrests or incidents. Two young men — counter-marchers, if you will — stood at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Lyon Street, smiling and laughing as they held signs that read “Men Matter Too” and “There Are ONLY Two Genders.” Organizer Catherine Butler said she responded by calling out, “We love you anyway,” while another marcher harboured a little less kumbaya generosity, noting, “So that’s what an a–hole looks like.”

Meanwhile, chants of, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, this sexist s–t has got to go,” and, “Women’s rights are human rights,” caromed off apartment buildings and office towers as the crowd continued the fight.

At the Bronson Centre, those who ventured inside had a choice of activities, including performances by the Dandelion Dance troupe, comprised of a dozen young women who create social justice-themed dances, and the Raging Grannies, a 10-woman group who, dressed as old-fashioned grannies, sing satirical songs, including one, titled Pussy Power, the chorus of which goes: “Pussy Power/We’re here to make a stir/Don’t mess around with women’s rights/We can roar as well as purr.”

In a gymnasium down the hall, “community” tables were set up, where participants could buy buttons, paintings, pastries, T-shirts, henna tattoos or knitted slippers (Mayor Jim Watson left with a pair), or meet and talk with representatives from such organizations as Planned Parenthood, the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre, Ottawa Basketeers and the Grandmother’s Advocacy Network.

Elsewhere in the Centre, a few workshops were held, including one in which Ottawa councillors Marianne Wilkinson, Diane Deans and Catherine McKenney were part of a panel discussion encouraging women to run for political office.

A red-scarfed Ottawa-Centre MP Catherine McKenna also spoke Saturday, noting that while she took part in the march for her two daughters and son, she had another reason: “Because I’m done. I’m done with violence against women, I’m done with sexual harassment, I’m done with labels on Twitter that say terrible things about people. I’m just done with this; it has to be over.”

In the Centre’s front entranceway as the afternoon wound down, marcher and guitarist Larry Pegg played a song he wrote called The Shallows, about women rising up from the shallows and men emerging from their shallow thinking. Pegg marched for his two daughters, Kelly Anne and Stephanie, the former who took her own life in 2007. “She would have been 30 last year, on Jan. 20,” said Pegg, “and I was not going to share that moment with Donald Trump, and I turned off all media, and music came out.

“She took her life because she did not have hope, but I think if she saw the hope that I witnessed at last year’s march and that we’re seeing now, I think there would have been a reason for her to live.”

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