Memphis Women's March Draws Thousands

Jan 21, 2017

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn), center, is flanked by Claudia Escheverri (left) and BJ Worthy (right) at Saturday's Memphis Women's March.
Credit Christopher Blank/WKNO-FM

A day after the Presidential Inauguration, an estimated 6,000 demonstrators marched through downtown Memphis in support of women's rights. Similar marches were held across the country to protest President Trump's policies.

MEMPHIS -- After a rainy week, the skies over Memphis cleared Saturday morning in time for thousands of demonstrators, mostly women, to descend upon the Shelby County courthouse.

The Memphis Women’s March was a symbolic act of defiance against proposed policies by a Republican-dominated Congress, as well as a rebuke of the nationalist tone set by President Donald Trump in Friday’s Inaugural Address that has deeply divided the country.

In Tennessee, marches took place in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga -- those principally urban and progressive areas in a state dominated by conservatives. Hundreds of additional marches were held around the world in conjunction with the main rally in Washington D.C., attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

On the courthouse steps, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat who had joined dozens of other House members in boycotting the inauguration, was the only elected official to speak or otherwise be recognized.

Cohen said that when Trump proposed as his future political bedrock “a total allegiance” to the United States, the rhetoric sounded "like Germany in 1933 and Italy (during) the same time.”

Karen Spence McGee, a member of Black Lives Matter Memphis 2017, was among representatives from various organizations protesting in support of women on Saturday.
Credit Christopher Blank/WKNO-FM

“This is the most serious threat to the Constitution ever in our lifetime,” Cohen said. “A threat to the environment, a threat to world peace, a threat to women’s rights, a threat to rights of everyone.”

Like their counterparts in Washington, many Memphis demonstrators wore pink “pussy hats,” knit caps with cat ears. The accessories allude to President Trump’s private comment about grabbing women he finds attractive by the genitals. Numerous signs held aloft by protesters cited that remark as evidence that women’s issues are not being taken seriously by the new administration.

Sprawling across several city blocks, the demonstration proceeded south from the courthouse down Second Street, to the National Civil Rights Museum. Based on a Facebook signup page, organizers anticipated 2,000 protesters. More than 6,000 came.

At the head of the peaceful march, Rep. Cohen carried a banner that read “Women’s Rights = Human Rights.” He was flanked by Claudia Echeverri, a Columbian immigrant, and African-American activist B.J. Worthy.

While most of the marchers voiced opposition to President Trump’s policies toward women, the event was well-attended by activists from various causes, including Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood and LGBT causes.

Jeanne Jemison took the opportunity to represent Just City Memphis, a civil rights monitoring group.

“There is something we can do besides staying uninformed or depressed,” she said. “As if those are the only two options.”

After hearing a recent speech by activist Angela Davis, Joy Brooke Fairfield wanted to bring awareness to “carceral feminism,” or the civil rights of women in prisons.

“For me, when Trump replaced the civil rights page on whitehouse.gov with a page that talks about his commitment to supporting police at any cost, it’s clear we’re going to see an uptick in policing that could violate civil rights, and women’s rights in particular,” Fairfield said.

Organizers anticipated 2,000, but likely saw more than 6,000 arrive for the Memphis Women's March on Saturday in front of the National Civil Rights Museum
Credit Christopher Blank/W

Wearing a t-shirt that read “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” National Civil Rights Museum president Teri Freeman addressed the crowds near the balcony were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain.

Freeman said that while the museum honors the struggle of African-Americans in the last century, “there is no shortage of issues to focus on” in the coming years.

She urged her audience to “remember how effective nonviolent corrective action can be.”

She concluded the rally with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “There will be moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair,” she said. “But difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.”