Michigan women add voices to national protest movement

Jonathan Oosting, Melissa Nann Burke, and Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

From Detroit to Lansing to Washington, D.C., they united in protest and, they promise, more action is coming.

Protesters gather in Lansing.“Imagine the difference we could make if everyone here was the change that they wanted to see in the world,” organizer Meg McElhone said.

Thousands of Michigan women and allies marched against President Donald Trump on Saturday in cities across the state and in the nation’s capital, a show of resistance highlighting a deep divide.

Diverse demonstrators flooded downtown Detroit and the Michigan Capitol for Women’s March rallies that swelled with unexpectedly large crowds. At least 92 buses carried Michiganians to the nation’s capital for a massive march organizers believe was better attended than Trump’s inauguration the day before.

Sue Oldani of Ann Arbor and her kids — Annie, 22, and Tommy, 19 — marched on D.C. Her message for Trump: “You are outnumbered. We have a voice. We will come together. And you work for us!”

Organizers of Saturday’s marches are promising 10 additional actions to take during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. So far, the first and only is for supporters to write to their legislators.

Groups scrambled to arrange the demonstrations in only a few weeks and have had limited time to determine how to channel the energy into something more.

“It is my greatest hope that everyone in this audience today is spurred into action,” said Meg McElhone, who organized the march in Lansing. “Imagine the difference we could make if everyone here was the change that they wanted to see in the world.”

In addition to clever signs and patriotic clothing, demonstrators brought along their concerns and fears of what Trump’s presidency could mean for the fate of long fought rights including legal abortion, minority voting access, workers rights, health care and more.

“This is the only thing that has happened that is good about Trump. It has brought us all together,” said Patricia Lay-Dorsey, 74, of Grosse Pointe Farms. She rallied in Detroit with a “Women Unite Don’t Let Trump Steal Our Rights” sign attached to her mobility scooter.

“I am meeting people who have never demonstrated in their lives and that’s what Trump is doing. He’s so incredibly outrageous he’s is bringing all of us out of the woodwork. It’s phenomenal.”

They carried signs with slogans like “Not My President” and “Vaginas Vote.”

Amy Pethers marched in D.C. for the future rights of her granddaughter, 1-year-old Avery Arwen Mason, whose picture was printed on her poster.

“I want her to be able to choose whatever she wants,” said Pethers, who took a bus to Washington from Sheridan, near Grand Rapids. “We as women got complacent in our rights, and now they’re in jeopardy. ... We need to encourage the younger generation to get involved and get empowered.”

Trump’s response

Trump addressed the Women’s March on Sunday morning, initially in a dismissive fashion.

“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election!” the president wrote on Twitter. “Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”

Less than two hours later, the brash businessman softened his tone, tweeting that “peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”

The D.C. rally featured speeches by Michigan filmmaker Michael Moore, Bay City native and pop star Madonna, feminist icon Gloria Steinem and others.

Businesswoman Lena Epstein, who co-chaired Trump’s Michigan campaign and traveled to D.C. for his inauguration, said she was pleased to see people peacefully express their views and participate in the “full American experience.”

Epstein said she has several friends who participated in Saturday’s protests, including Harvard classmate and former Facebook spokesperson Randi Zuckerberg. Her own mother marched on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

But “the man that I know, and the man that so many female Republicans around me know, is a man of honor and a man of presidential quality,” said Epstein, general manager of Vesco Oil Corp. in Southfield.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes en route to his Electoral College victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. She won the popular vote, however, topping Trump by 2.8 million votes nationwide.

Epstein said she’s met women across the country who support him and believe he will do well by them by growing the economy and stimulating job growth.

“He’s going to recognize those communities, the down-trodden and forgotten communities that don’t want to be forgotten anymore,” she said. “And guess what? Half of that population is female.”

Several thousand in Detroit on Saturday join the marches nationwide. Turnout at Wayne State University on Saturday exceeded expectations.

Turnout exceeds expectations

D.C. march organizers believe turnout easily exceeded Trump’s inauguration the day before, although the National Park Service no longer provides official estimates. Metro line officials, for instance, said 1,001,613 rail trips were taken Saturday, compared to 570,557 during 20 hours of operation Friday.

Phoebe Hopps of Traverse City helped coordinate the Michigan contingent at the national march and said roughly 8,100 people signed up to participate from the Mitten State.

“I wanted our new government to understand and hear our voices,” Hopps told The Detroit News. “I created this to turn fear and sadness into hope and action.”

Five Democrats from Michigan’s congressional delegation met and welcomed their home state crowd at Hancock Park, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint Township and Debbie Dingell of Dearborn,

Wayne State Police Chief Anthony Holt said “well over 4,000” people marched in Detroit, more than four times what officials had expected.

An estimated crowd of 8,000 turned out at the Michigan Capitol, according to a facilities official. It was the largest demonstration at the building since massive union protests against right-to-work legislation in 2012.

Marchers also demonstrated Saturday in Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and other Michigan cities.

Protesters in Lansing carried signs referencing controversial comments Trump has made about women, Muslims and immigrants in the past. “We grab back,” read one. “Nasty women keep fighting,” said another.

Speakers, including 2018 gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, urged demonstrators to channel their frustrations into advocacy, cautioning against apathy during the tenure of a president they may not have voted for.

“I hope that as you leave here today, you don’t feel as though you just attended a wake for the American dream,” said Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat and former state Senate Minority Leader. “I hope you know that today is about a wake up call for America. Hope is a good place to start, but it’s got to be followed by action.”

Barbara Stark-Nemon of Ann Arbor, 66, said she felt it was important to make her “statement” in Michigan.

“I think there’s work to be done here,” she said in Lansing. “I think our state has taken a turn away from fundamental values that really are important to me as a woman, as an educator, as a parent and as a believer in democracy.”

The weekend marked the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling holding that women have a fundamental right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy, establishing abortion as a personal liberty and privacy right guaranteed under the constitution.

Lisa Nguyen of Sterling Heights marched with a friend in Detroit, calling women’s rights “one of the most important things in life that I fight for.”

“It’s important women have access to birth control, abortion and other things that clinics like Planned Parenthood provide,” said Nguyen, 24.

Associated Press contributed.