Thousand drawn to local protest
Young and old. Women and men. Black, white and Latino. Christians, Jews and Muslims.
An estimated 1,000 people rallied in the Allen County Courthouse Square Saturday afternoon to support women’s rights, celebrate diversity and send a message to the White House. A longtime observer of similar gatherings described it as the largest he’d seen in downtown Fort Wayne in at least 20 years.
Many protesters carried signs that conveyed to passing motorists their motivations for attending: “Equality for all,” “Let’s build bridges not walls,” “Science is not a liberal myth” and “Women’s rights are human rights.”
Seven-year-old Greysen Schirm held a sign that urged people to “Save are planet.”
The rally was an opportunity for local residents to express the same concerns as those in the Women’s March on Washington and more than 670 “sister marches” around the world, taking place in countries as varied as Argentina, France, Ghana, Latvia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.
Locally, Linda Hogge held a sign that read: “Support Planned Parenthood.”
The 62-year-old Hoagland woman is worried that Congress and President Donald Trump will decide to stop giving federal money to the nonprofit organization that provides health care to women, including abortions. Planned Parenthood officials have said that abortions are a small percentage of the care delivered and are not supplemented by government funds.
Hogge was encouraged to see many younger faces in the crowd.
“It’s going to affect them more than anybody,” she said of potential funding cuts to Planned Parenthood. “We need them to stand up.”
Hogge wanted to travel to Washington to join the much larger march on the Capitol but couldn’t find an open seat on buses leaving from northeast Indiana.
Even so, she wanted to make her voice heard.
“I think if Trump wants to unify the nation,” Hogge said, “he needs to do it without bullying people.”
Vinnie Nix was among several women wearing pink hats that included what looked like cat ears, known as “pussyhats,” a reference to an infamous audio tape leaked during the presidential campaign in which Trump can be heard saying he has grabbed women by their genitals.
The 63-year-old Fort Wayne woman considered traveling to the nation’s capital but decided she’d rather make her voice heard here.
“I think it’s important to show solidarity and (fight for) progress for everyone,” Nix said.
Clairity Calvillo’s sign asked for “Equality for all.” But the 17-year-old wasn’t thinking of humankind in general.
Her motivation was much more personal.
“My whole life, I’ve struggled to have (health) insurance, and my mother and little brother are disabled,” said the South Side High School senior.
“I’ve been homeless multiple times, and it made it hard to get into the school system,” she said. “I needed proof of residence, but we didn’t live anywhere.”
Calvillo, who wore a black mask complete with whiskers and cat ears, wants to become more involved in social justice issues.
“It’s also a nice day for a protest,” she added, smiling. Local temperatures reached into the 60s on Saturday afternoon.
Five speakers addressed the crowd, including the Rev. Bill McGill, whose opening prayer followed a rhythmic cadence reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“We are not here to launch some radical scheme,” McGill said. “We are here because we hold a powerful dream.”
Palermo Galindo, president of the Greater Fort Wayne Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, talked briefly about the economic contribution that immigrants make to the city and the state.
He led the crowd in chanting, “Sí, se puede,” the Spanish translation of “Yes, we can,” a phrase associated with former President Barack Obama.
Farah Amer, an Arabic instructor at IPFW, spoke about being an Arab, Muslim woman in the United States. She moved here from Palestine for educational opportunities.
“I love this country as much as Trump does,” she said.
As the formal portion ended, McGill led the crowd in singing “We Shall Overcome,” a song long associated with liberal marches.
Sarah Hyndman, one of the rally’s organizers, was most looking forward to the informational fair set up at Allen County Public Library. A large group from the rally walked to the library’s headquarters after spending about an hour on the Courthouse Green.
“I wanted to find a way to connect people’s passion with action,” she said.
Among the 28 organizations represented at the information fair were the YWCA, the League of Women Voters and Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education.
Gary and Teresa Roberts are among those looking for ways to be more politically active.
The Fort Wayne couple, both in their mid-60s, were upset when Trump won the presidency in November.
The retirees like the idea of solving problems by bringing diverse people to the table to work together. Among the numerous causes that prompted them to attend Saturday’s gathering was the need for affordable health care.
Trump and Republicans in Congress have said repealing the Affordable Care Act is one of their priorities.
“I shouldn’t have to be afraid,” Teresa Roberts said, “that if I get sick, I’ll be bankrupt.”