Bright pink knitted hats dotted the immense crowd that filled the outer edges of East City Park. Signs and flags waved in the winter wind, bearing messages like “We are stronger together,” “Hear me roar” and “We will be heard.” As the conversations and cheers hushed, about 2,500 voices rose and fell together in one simple melody.
“We are a gentle, angry people and we are singing for our lives,” the people of the Palouse sang. “We are a gentle, loving people and we are singing for our lives.”
Members of the Palouse community marched down the streets of Moscow as part of the Women’s March on the Palouse Saturday afternoon. The march was a peaceful demonstration in support of women’s rights and was one of the 673 sister marches across the U.S. that was inspired by the Women’s March on Washington. More than 4.5 million marchers participated in the worldwide event.
“We are not about to back down,” said Elizabeth Stevens, the organizer of the march. “In defense of progress and in defense of one another and for the sake of our future, we will rise.”
The march began at 1 p.m. at Moscow City Hall, with hundreds of residents from Pullman, Moscow and other surrounding cities. The marchers continued east on 3rd Street to East City Park, where human rights leaders and activists from the Palouse spoke about the meaning and mission of the march.
Latah County Commissioner Tom Lamar said the event was the largest rally he has seen in Moscow in the last 33 years. He said the past year has been a frightening and difficult one, and the new changes in the government have brought back many of the challenges women have been fighting to overcome.
“Prejudices and fear that most of us had thought died decades ago have come back to the surface,” Lamar said. “Women have borne the brunt of the insults, threats and assaults by our new and offensive leader.”
Lamar spoke about the challenges to human rights made at both a national and state level that have inspired the Women’s March. He referenced Congress’ decision to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the underfunding of schools in Idaho and legislation made in Idaho to illegalize abortions and direct taxes away from public schools and municipalities.
Lamar said negative impact of these policies have made more of an impact on women than men because of inequality in pay and representation. To overcome these issues, people need to get involved in the government, whether in volunteering in campaigns, becoming a more educated voter or even running for office themselves, he said.
“Like all outrages, we can rage against the problem and the people involved, throw our hands up and quit, or use it as an opportunity for learning, growth and activism,” Lamar said. “Although I have been tempted by the first two options, I suggest to you that we all work together to help the people locally, throughout the state and elsewhere in the U.S. or the world to challenge specific attacks on justice.”
Lysa Salsbury, director of the University of Idaho Women’s Center, spoke about how the challenges faced by a group of UI faculty 43 years ago are still relevant and fought by women today. Salsbury said the members of the women’s caucus had enough of women enduring harassment, alienation and discrimination in the workplace, while being paid significantly less than their male colleagues.
The group filed a complaint with the Idaho Human Rights Commission and the equal employment opportunity commission, resulting in a signed conciliation agreement that ensured payback for wage inequality, equal starting salaries and permanent funding for the Women’s Center. Salsbury said she owes this group her livelihood, and she wants to continue the tradition of taking action against injustices women face on a daily basis.
“I don’t want to spend this time together talking about the many ways in which women continue to be oppressed because what I want right now is action,” Salsbury said, as cheers erupted from the crowd.
UI student Analilia Gomez spoke at the march, reflecting on her time spent as a petition leader for sexual violence in Idaho’s government. She said she not only spoke on behalf of the women facing challenges like sexual violence, but for all people who fear their rights being taken away.
“We are all created equal. It doesn’t matter, we are all humans,” Gomez said.
The march ended with the cheer “we will rise,” as marchers flooded into their streets to walk back to their homes. Moscow Humans Rights Commission Chair Ken Faunce said the march is only the beginning of progress in the protection of human rights.
“We are entering some dark times ahead, at least for the next four years, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring light to this together,” Faunce said. “We need now to end misogyny, to end patriarchy, to end all discrimination. We cannot stop here. We need stand up, speak out and be active.”
Taryn Hadfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org