Women’s March draws 8,000 to Lansing

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — An estimated 8,000 Michigan residents rallied at the state Capitol on Saturday for the “Women’s March on Lansing,” sharing their hopes for the future but fears for the next four years under Republican President Donald Trump.

The demonstration was the largest of its kind in recent history at Michigan Capitol. Women and men of all ages flooded the east lawn, many wearing knitted pink "pussy cat” hats with feline ears, a callback to Trump's 2005 remarks about grabbing unsuspecting women by the genitals.

“I hope that as you leave here today, you don’t feel as though you just attended a wake for the American dream,” said Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat and former state Senate Minority Leader who is running for governor in 2018.

“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.”

The Lansing rally was one of several Michigan “sister” events on Saturday that coincided with a massive “Women’s March on Washington” in the nation’s capital, where Trump was sworn in Friday as the 45th president of the United States. Thousands also attended a Detroit rally.

Trump, who has said he will be “the best for women” as president, attended a national prayer service Saturday with Vice President Mike Pence and their families.

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. As the rally neared conclusion, demonstrators marched around the capitol building and, at one point, down the nearby Allegan Street.

Whitmer and others urged the crowd to channel their frustrations over Trump’s election into advocacy for progressive causes, cautioning against apathy just because a president they may not have voted for is now running the country.

“It’s got to be with resolve and with Michigan grit that we can both be patriotic enough to respect the office and fight the officeholder when he’s wrong,” Whitmer said. “I accept this new president won Michigan, but I do not accept that the voters chose him because of his hateful rhetoric.”

Other speakers included Lavonia Perryman Fairfax, former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus, along with Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown and Ingham Clerk Barb Byrum, former state legislators who were briefly barred from speaking on the House floor in 2013 after Brown used the word "vagina" during a debate on abortion-related legislation.

Farha Abbasi, a Michigan State University professor and head of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, demanded that Trump be a president who represents all Americans, including immigrants like herself.

“Since our new president is very well versed in the ‘Art of the Deal’, let me remind him the American Dream is not a contract that comes with a clause or fine print based on one’s race, religion, immigrant status, gender identity, income level or sexuality,” said Abbasi, a native of Pakistan who moved here in 2000.

“Mr. President, I am the new face of America.”

The Capitol rally drew Democrats, progressives and other allies from mid-Michigan and beyond, including several families and groups of women who spanned generations.

The demonstration was the largest since at least 2012, when union protesters took over downtown Lansing to fight right-to-work legislation. Capitol Facilities assistant director Matt White estimated the crowd at 8,000 “at its zenith.” Some 6,000 people attended an October prayer rally organized by evangelist Franklin Graham, who participated in Trump's inauguration Friday.

Lisa Maciejewski of Lansing attended the rally with her two daughters, who are four months old and two years old, and her mother, who traveled from Gaylord. She said she wants national parks, educational opportunity, peace and clean air for her children.

“I don’t want them to ever learn that cruelty pays off and is rewarded, but that kindness can activate change,” Maciejewski said. “One of my biggest concerns is that if they learn it’s okay for the president to do something, to violently talk about a woman, that’s what they’ll anticipate is normal. That can’t be the new normal.”

Bob Johnson of Lansing attended the rally with his mother, wife and 17-year-old daughter. He wore a pink visor and pink socks in solidarity with the women in his family.

“It matters more about her because she’s the next generation,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen some amazing things happen – a woman winning the popular vote, an African American winning two times – but my daughter is the one that matters.”

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.

Health care, access to contraception and abortion rights were prominent themes at the Saturday rally, which also featured a speaker from Planned Parenthood. Activists held signs calling on Trump to “keep abortion legal” and arguing that “health care is a right.”

Sunday marks the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling holding that women have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, establishing abortion as a personal liberty and privacy right guaranteed under the constitution.

Trump has pledged to fill any vacancies on the nation's highest court with judges he said would "automatically" overturn the federal ruling, suggesting abortion rights would then be left to individual states to decide.

The new president and Republican-controlled Congress have already taken the first steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act, vowing that they will also craft a replacement for the federal health care law. “Obamcare” has helped drive down rates of uninsured residents but has not controlled costs as intended, and even supporters acknowledge it has flaws.

But Dizzy Warren, executive director of Enroll Michigan, suggested health care law has been a success in the state, and she noted the GOP-led Congress has also proposed defunding Planned Parenthood.

“These are the first steps in the process to strip away health coverage from millions of women and their families,” Warren argued. “And they’re doing this without any viable alternative for replacement.”