Barbara and Miya Toney traveled together the hundreds of miles from Fort Myers, Fla., to be in Philadelphia together on Saturday to march against building a wall.
The mother-daughter pair said they’re sick of the dysfunction in Washington that’s led to the longest government shutdown in history. They blame President Donald Trump and his demand for funding to build a wall along the southern border, a move Barbara said was “another way for him to discriminate against Hispanics, women, and children.”
“We should fix some of the other issues inside our country,” said Miya, 27, “before we build a wall.”
Thousands of protesters and a sea of pink hats flooded the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday for the third annual Women’s March on Philadelphia, the local iteration of the massive movement established to counter the Trump administration and its policies.
A crowd estimate wasn’t immediately available Saturday, but event organizers said they were impressed with the turnout given major obstacles this year.
“We just kept the goal in mind,” said Nikki Bagby, a member of the board of Philly Women Rally, the group that put on the larger event in front of the Art Museum and that is unaffiliated with the national organization. “We want to show the world that we will be heard.”
In addition to frigid weather and a threatening weekend forecast, two separate demonstrations on the Parkway — one affiliated with the national Women’s March organization, one not — sowed confusion for weeks among potential attendees. Meanwhile, the national Women’s March has faced a crisis of its own as accusations of anti-Semitism in its ranks contributed to nearly a year’s worth of bad press for the organization’s leadership.
Molly Lawrence, a 24-year-old socialist organizer, has been pleased to see women-led social movements gain momentum, but she thinks disagreement between march organizers and a lack of consistency affected the turnout this year.
“The Women’s March has taken a lot of the energy around Trump, around sexual violence, around Me Too, but then sort of directed it toward Democratic campaigns and vote in November,” Lawrence, of Brewerytown, said. “There wasn’t a lot of energy in between Jan. 20 and [Election Day] just to sort of sustain that movement and to use the millions of people that came out for the Women’s March to actually get the demands that we want.”
Diana Espinal, of South Philadelphia, went to the demonstration in part because she was concerned there would be low numbers.
“I had a feeling it wouldn’t be a huge crowd, so I wanted to stand in solidarity with the other people who would show up,” she said. She happened upon the LOVE Park event. Espinal, a 33-year-old curriculum writer, was headed toward the Women’s March on the Parkway, but stopped when she saw another Latina addressing the crowd. The speeches impressed her, so she stayed.
Kathy Lyons, 62, of Oxford, Chester County, who was attending her third Women’s March on Philadelphia, also said she was disappointed to see divisions in the Women’s March movement, but said it was important for her to show up again.
Lyons said she’s protested in favor of abortion rights for decades after a friend died while getting an illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade. She said she’s concerned about the future of abortion access under an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation last year was a popular target of ire Saturday. Ashley Reyes, a 23-year-old law student at Widener, held a sign with a hand-drawn portrait of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school. The sign read: “We will not be silenced.”
But Reyes was giddy about the gains women have made politically in the last year.
“There are so many colors and nationalities, and it’s amazing to see how much they can change,” she said. “As bad as Trump is, he really united the people who care about change.”
A handful of women who were the beneficiaries of that energy spoke at the Art Museum rally Saturday, including three of Pennsylvania’s four new Democratic congresswomen elected in 2018: Madeleine Dean, Mary Gay Scanlon, and Chrissy Houlahan, each of whom spoke about the role the Women’s March movement played in their election.
“This wouldn’t have happened without all of you taking action,” said Houlahan, who represents parts of Berks and Chester Counties. “We have to remember why we stand here. All those issues that we marched for. ... Those are things we need to continue to be vigilant about and march for and talk about.”
At the LOVE Park rally, Nina Ahmad, a molecular biologist and former deputy mayor of public engagement, celebrated the success of recently elected women of color in Congress and praised the Me Too movement. She said there’s more work around sexual violence to be done.
“My message to sexual predators: We’re coming for you,” she warned.
Ahmad spoke with pride about her bid for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor last year. She lost in the primary race to John Fetterman but reminded the crowd that she came in second, notching nearly 185,000 votes.
Other prominent Pennsylvania Democrats made appearances at the march that culminated at the Art Museum, including a small group of state House and Senate members, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and Jalila Parker, a deputy director in the Wolf administration.
“I don’t know what happened to us as a country,” said Kenney, taking a shot at Trump, “but a couple years ago we effed up pretty good, didn’t we?”
Both events also featured young speakers. At the Art Museum, high school students who organized the March for Our Lives — an anti-gun-violence movement — addressed the crowd. At the LOVE Park rally, Central High student Abigail Leedy spoke at times through tears of the environmental crises that her generation is facing: “I’m concerned for every other young person coming of age in a time of catastrophe.”
She expressed disappointment at how previous marches had mostly white attendees and asked fellow white people to consider how working-class people of color are already experiencing the impacts of climate change differently. She pointed to Nicetown, where SEPTA’s natural gas plant project stirred opposition among neighbors and environmental activists.