Saturday was foggy, overcast and grey but the crowd more than made up for it. Bright posters, rainbow paraphernalia, and of course, bright pink pussy hats were all displayed in a massive crowd in front of the Human Rights Monument at City Hall for the Women’s March on Ottawa.
It began as a stream of people walking down the street, until the crowd formed at the monument, swelling until over thousands of people flooded the area overflowing onto the streets and buildings nearby.
Catherine Butler and Yelu Mulop, two of the main organizers, shouted through megaphones, welcoming the crowd and promoting their message of a peaceful, inclusive protest for women’s rights.
The overwhelming theme of the March was inclusivity. Several speakers emphasized that the March was about coming together, uniting against discrimination in all forms. There were sign language interpreters, and as Ottawa does so well, French speakers and performers, such as Carine Guidicelli, the Executive Director of Crossroads International, and singer/songwriter Kristine St-Pierre.
There were a variety of people marching: men and women, in groups or alone, some with their children along, many holding inspirational posters with them. The crowd chanted, and cheered as the March went underway. “The atmosphere is great, the environment is great, it’s amazing to see so many people, it’s fantastic,” said Rita Morbia, Executive Director at Inter Pares, an organization dedicating to global equality.
Several were newcomers to the activist scene, like Dylan Carter and Anya Valentine, both first time protesters. “I didn’t expect it to be this cool!” Dylan exclaimed. Their eye-catching rainbow poster was one of several in the March promoting LGBTQ rights.
The protest was large, unwieldy, and brought forth a large amount of honking, both celebratory and irritated. The March moved from city hall up Elgin, down Laurier, before turning on Bronson and ending at the Bronson Centre. The rented room could only hold about 800 people, so the number of participants dwindled to those that could fit inside.
As an opening act, the Raging Grannies were funny, upbeat, and welcome. Jamie Anderson’s songs brought forth the most laughter though, with a piece about body insecurity that the whole audience loved.
On a more serious note, the speakers took turns to discuss a myriad of issues, all representing various people. Several human rights issues were touched on – representing women not just as one uniform entity, but focused on those whose struggles are often overlooked. Francyne Joe, the President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, discussed Indigenous rights, Amanda and Zoe Knox spoke about their own experiences as part of the transgender community, and Roua Aljied spoke eloquently about immigration.
Discrimination takes different forms depending on who you are, and everyone needs something different from their resistance. Aljied wasn’t originally going to attend, until she was invited as a speaker. She had heard of the issues surrounding the original March in Washington and how it was organized. There were accusations of exclusivity, of being white-centric, and initially co-opting the name of the famous Black women’s protest, the Million Women March.
“From what I’ve understood here in Ottawa, every time there’s been a complaint they’ve taken it seriously and that’s appreciated,” Aljied said. Still, there was skepticism there. “Black, Muslim, LGBTQ people, those are the people that we should be focusing on, they should be at the center of this movement, at the forefront of this movement.”
This March is intended as a first step, and more will have to be done to make it not just welcoming to everyone, but to make sure those in the minority have a chance to lead, to take direction, and to point out what needs to happen next. There were at highest estimate, 7,000 people marching in Ottawa. These are passionate, excited, and determined people. Clearly there’s more to do, but hopefully these people will be the ones to take up the work and get it done.
As Amanda Carver said, “Let us be lovely, hopeful, and optimistic, and we will change the world.”