Thousands of women and men from across West Virginia and neighboring states filled the steps of the Capitol Saturday afternoon in a demonstration for women’s rights that mirrored the march of hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., and other events across the country.
Organizers of the Women’s March on West Virginia counted 2,800 people who marched around the Capitol complex following the demonstration, though hundreds more had stayed behind to sing and dance on the steps.
“There’s an awful lot of us who thought you all were asleep,” said Nancy Guthrie, a former state delegate who recently lost the election to represent Kanawha County’s 36th District by only 13 votes. “But you’re not asleep. You’re wide awake, and you’re here.”
Many of the attendees said they had wanted to attend the march in D.C., but they couldn’t afford the travel or the time away from their families. Marchers carried signs decrying President Donald Trump. As they marched, they sang “Bread and Roses,” a song first sung during a 1912 labor strike.
“Someone asked me, ‘Why are you marching?’” Guthrie said. “My immediate reaction was, ‘Out of respect. Out of respect for all of the women who went before me, and all of the women and the men who supported them. A lot of those women were a lot braver than any of us. They were jailed. They were criminalized. They were demonized. They were institutionalized because they wanted other women to have the right to vote. That’s where the movement started.’”
As Guthrie spoke about the several pieces of legislation proposed last year to limit access to abortions, the crowd interrupted and chanted, “We won’t go back. We won’t go back.”
Community organizers and religious leaders encouraged the crowd to focus not just on the next presidential election in 2020, but to start organizing for the 2018 mid-term election and to encourage more women and minorities to run for local and county-level offices.
Margo White never intended to live in West Virginia.
She grew up as a care-free California girl, surrounded by a diverse blend of family members of varying skin colors, sexual orientations and ideas. Then she married a man from West Virginia.
For years, White and her husband would return to the Mountain State, each time just to visit. The couple made the move permanent 12 years ago when they retired.
“West Virginia was always 10 or 15 years socially behind California,” White said. “We couldn’t find anybody with really liberal ideas. In 12 years, I met a handful of people, so coming here today is just amazing. It helps heal the hurt and the fear that we feel.”
White wore a felt pink hat she made herself. Like other hats protesters planned to wear in Washington, White’s hat was meant to symbolize cat ears and reference a decade-old video of Donald Trump bragging about using his status as a celebrity to assault women.
She made extra hats and brought them to the march to give out. When White arrived early at the march, she met an 83-year-old woman sitting by herself on the steps. White said the woman seemed shy, so she gave her a hat.
During the speeches, the woman sat on the steps wearing the hat and holding a sign that read, “Don’t grab my p----.”
“My mother is 100 years old, and she would have been here today, but she can’t be out in the wet, cool air,” White said. “She could have walked it; she walks better than I do. So I’m here, marching for her.”
Missy Riggio drove almost an hour from Proctorville, Ohio, to Charleston to march.
“I’m here in solidarity with my sisters and for my daughter and all of the other little ones, to make sure we’re fighting for our rights,” Riggio said. “I’ve never done something like this before. This is the first time I’ve felt inspired to come out. I don’t know if it’s just because of the election or if it’s because of motherhood, but I have to make sure my daughter knows to fight for what she believes in when she grows up.”
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