Growing up in Detroit in the 1960s and ’70s as the oldest of four daughters, Gayle Hamilton said her father often told her and her sisters two things: she had a voice and she could do whatever she wanted to do.
Hamilton, now the associate director of Wayne State University’s Labor Center, took his words to heart. She gives the same advice to the women she mentors, who are often women of color.
“I try to really tell them that they have a voice and they’re important,” said Hamilton, who works with women to know their rights in the workplace. “And right now we’re seeing thousands of women coming together and this momentum is extraordinary.”
The momentum comes from the first anniversary of the Women’s March, which will be celebrated Sunday with marches including one in Lansing. Hamilton, who will focus on women in the labor movement, is one of roughly a dozen women who will speak Sunday at the “Power to the Polls” march in Lansing.
The march is one of roughly a dozen anniversary events planned across Michigan to mark the Women’s March that last year drew millions of people to Washington, D.C., one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
A sister Lansing march last year drew an estimated 8,000 participants and included many liberal activists and Democratic politicians.
Organizers of the Lansing march say while last year was about making their voices known, this year’s theme is about harnessing women’s power – and their votes – and using it to create change, boost civic engagement and elect female leaders in an election year.
“The signal is loud and clear that we are here to stay, as women, in Michigan,” said Phoebe Hopps, director of Women’s March Michigan, a nonprofit that organized the Lansing march and a sister anniversary march in Marquette.
Suzie Griffith of Chesterfield Township plans to caravan with a group of women from Macomb County to Lansing.
Griffith marched in Washington, D.C., last year but said this year she wanted to turn her attention to Michigan.
“I am planning to go because I believe it is important to send a message around the world again that, yes, women are still stepping up, still paying attention, and still doing the organizational work that needs to be done to fight back against the harmful policies of our embarrassing president,” Griffith said.
But not everyone plans to march. The Progressive Women’s Caucus is holding a Sunday event in Farmington Hills that will include female political candidates, including Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gretchen Whitmer.
Marian Gonsior, a higher education professional from Westland who marched in Ypsilanti last year, plans to go to the Farmington Hills event. Gonsior, 62, said she felt so empowered marching last year – even more empowered than she felt during the first women’s movement in the 1970s – but “we can’t duplicate what happened last year.”
“What we need to do is get out the vote,” Gonsior said. “...The best way to be heard (now) is by getting out the vote.”
Nationally, marchers will gather in Las Vegas this year, the first stop in a tour of Republican-leaning and swing states that might eventually make its way to Michigan.
This year’s activities comes three months after the national Women’s Convention in Detroit, the first women’s convention held in roughly 40 years.
There has been criticism of Women’s March activities. Some have accused the Women’s March of discriminating against conservative women, who were told anti-abortion supporters weren’t welcome. Other have criticized leaders for not being inclusive enough, especially to women of color and transgender women.
“There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism,” Hopps said. “Different women experience every day life in different ways, and intersectionalism takes and respects that women experience oppression in varying degrees of intensity and experience.”
Sunday’s lineup includes many minority female speakers. The topics include gun control, domestic violence, as well as issues affecting gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
“Ninety-six people are shot and killed every day, and 50 American women are shot and killed by their current or former partners every month,” said Emily Durbin, a psychology professor at Michigan State University and chapter president of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “...Women and children are incredibly vulnerable to gun violence. (But) we know the solutions are in our communities.”
Part of the solution, Durbin says, is pressing state lawmakers for basic public safety protections regarding firarms.
Activist Chia Morgan, who lives in Flint, will speak on Sunday to remind marchers that the water crisis in Flint isn’t over.
“It’s about keeping that in the forefront,” said Morgan, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last year for Flint City Council. “We need all allies on deck.”
Sheerin Siddique of Northville will be at Sunday’s march to give a closing prayer. Siddique, a sexual assault survivor, said she hopes that participants realize how important it is to empower other women, especially in the aftermath of the Me Too movement.
“We need to come together and start not just raising awareness but empowering each other and giving each other a platform to speak,” said Siddique, an attorney.
Hamilton said she is hopeful that momentum from Sunday’s march will continue and keep building.
“This is our moment,” she said. “This is our moment as women.”
Women’s March events
From St. Joseph to Marquette, events are planned across Michigan to mark the one-year anniversary of Women’s March. Go to powertothepolls.com for a full listing.
■ Women’s March Michigan Anniversary March in Lansing, 110 North Capitol Avenue; 2-5 p.m. Sunday.
■ Women’s March Anniversary: Power to the Polls in Grand Rapids, Rosa Parks Circle, 135 Monroe Center St NW; 1 p.m. Sunday.
■ Celebrating One Year Anniversary of the Women’s March, hosted by the Progressive Women’s Caucus at the Farmington Hills Manor Banquet and Restaurant, 23666 Orchard Lake Road; 3-5 p.m. Sunday.
■ Women’s March 2018 Ann Arbor: Rally to Resist, Persist, Rise!, the University of Michigan Diag, 913 S. University Avenue; 2 p.m. Saturday.