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This weekend's Women's March on Philadelphia: bigger than last year, but money is tight

No centralized Women's March on Washington means Philly's getting more attention. But fund-raising remains a concern.

Kandi Ligon cheers in the front row at the Philadelphia Women Rally January 21, 2017. Cities around the world hosted marches in support of women’s rights the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Kandi Ligon cheers in the front row at the Philadelphia Women Rally January 21, 2017. Cities around the world hosted marches in support of women’s rights the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.Read moreMARGO REED / For The Inquirer

Nancy Weston says she's had two "peak" experiences in her life. The first was the birth of her daughter. The second was attending last year's Women's March on Washington.

"It was just such an incredible day to see so many people peacefully standing for the things that they believe in," she said. "I came home very committed to doing whatever I could to advance progressive ideals."

Weston, 70, of Bethlehem, Pa., came home with a renewed sense of activism after being one of about a half-million people who protested in Washington the day after President Trump's inauguration. She's marching again this year, but this time in Philadelphia.

Organizers of this year's Women's March on Philadelphia are anticipating that Saturday's event, barring unforeseen weather conditions, will be even larger than the 2017 protest that attracted an estimated 50,000 marchers. That's because unlike last year, there's not a larger Women's March in Washington — last year's place to be — on the same day.

But even though interest in this year's Women's March on Philadelphia is high (there are 50,000-plus people marked "going" or "interested" on Facebook), organizers say fund-raising is slower this year, and they may not be able to afford video screens that allow the thousands of people on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to see the day's speakers and performers.

Beth E. Finn, a colead organizer of the Women's March on Philadelphia, said the total budget for the event is around $50,000, which covers such costs as speaker systems, video screens, portable toilets, and permits. She said organizers have raised about $30,000 and are expecting $16,000 to come in this week, leaving a shortfall of about $4,000.

"I would be lying if I said I'm not a little nervous," she said, adding that this year's financial struggles may exist because "people are burned out from giving."

Those video screens would come in handy, though, as Philadelphia will this year play host to one of the largest women's marches in the region. Proximity to Washington last year meant marchers who would have come to Philadelphia ended up on Washington-bound buses to protest Trump. But the national Women's March organization is this year taking a different approach.

While there is a smaller anniversary march in D.C., the Women's March organization's official event takes place Sunday in Las Vegas. Called "Power to the Polls," the event is starting a yearlong voter-registration campaign.

The emphasis on local marches as opposed to a major march in Washington comes after a year of noticeable grassroots activism here. While there were plenty of Trump-related actions in Philadelphia, there also was increased interest in running for local political office, an uptick in donations to progressive groups, and a protracted outcry against Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

Emily Cooper Morse, another co-lead organizer of the Women's March on Philadelphia, said organizers this year picked the theme "We resist. We persist. We rise," so participants can reflect on actions they took over the last year and what they intend to do in the future, whether that's contacting local officials, organizing voter-registration campaigns, or running for office.

It also allows for marchers to focus on Philadelphia-centric issues such as poverty, gun violence and fair housing, said Nikki Bagby, another organizer.

"There's a lot that we need as Philadelphians first, so we have to tell a Philadelphia story first," she said, "and then we have to tell a story for the nation."

Deja Lynn Alvarez, a prominent advocate in Philadelphia's transgender community and march organizer, said Trump's election spurred local action like nothing she's seen before.

"One positive thing that came out of this is it woke a lot of us up to say, 'Hey, we can't get comfortable here,'" she said. "We're a long way from achieving what this country is supposed to represent."

Weston has a similar attitude. She'll be holding a sign that outlines the five stages of grief, but the fifth stage won't be acceptance — that'll be crossed out and replaced with the word never. On the flip side, it will read: "I refuse to accept what I can't change. I will change what I can't accept." She's been a progressive for decades, protested against the Vietnam War, and remembers desperately wishing she was there when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington in 1963.

Amy Gunzelman will be in Philadelphia on Saturday, too. She's 53 years younger than Weston but was also in Washington last year protesting the same issues. A high school senior from Spring Grove, Pa., Gunzelman is 17 — not old enough to vote.

But she's old enough to care and found out Monday that she was selected to be one of the official speakers.

"The day that I found out that Trump won, I cried. I was so scared," she said, recalling how she felt last year before the Women's March on Washington. "I was scared for my future. I was scared for other women's futures. I was scared for immigrants. I was scared about so many things, because I had no idea what it would mean."

This year's different.

"I definitely have a shield up," she said, "ready to battle."

If you go

What: The Women's March on Philadelphia

When: Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Start at Logan Square and proceed to Eakins Oval.

Registration: While the event is free to attend, attendees are asked to register for tickets ahead of time.