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In Philly, 'a great progressive giant' awakened as 50,000 (mostly women) march in "peace, love and joy"

Jane M. Von Bergen, Allison Steele, STAFF WRITERS

Updated: Saturday, January 21, 2017, 7:55 PM

Lisa Mangiafico looks at signs that were left behind at the Philadelphia Women Rally January 21, 2017. Cities around the world hosted marches in support of women's rights after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, and Mayor Kenney said Philadelphia's March attracted 50,000 attendees.

Now what?

Belinda Chu of Philadelphia holds a poster on the Art Museum steps during the Women's March on the Parkway. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
The relataively mild weather helped draw crowds, adding to the festive atmosphere on the Parkway. Police reported no problems. JACQUELINE LARMA / Associated Press
Adam, Christine, and Willa Schoon listen to speakers. Topics included reproductive rights, pay, health, and sexual abuse. MARGO REED
Ali Wadiyah, a Philadelphia teacher, used lipstick to write her message on an envelope. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff
Photo Gallery: In Philly, 'a great progressive giant' awakened as 50,000 (mostly women) march in "peace, love and joy"

In many and varied ways, that's the question that Sherrie Cohen, Judy Schwank, Ericka Hart, and other speakers at the Women's March on Philadelphia posed to the crowd of 50,000 who jammed Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday.

The nation voted in November.

Donald Trump became president on Friday.

And on Saturday, more than a million women in Philadelphia, in Washington, and around the world marched in protest, in fear, in solidarity, and so often, in pink hats with pussy ears.

"Today we are making herstory," Cohen, an attorney from the Tenant Union Representative Network, said from the stage at Eakins Oval, where she could see a sea of people stretched along the Parkway all the way to Logan Circle - a peaceful crowd that was more than double what organizers expected.

But, Cohen asked, will it become a movement? "Think of something you want to dedicate yourself to," she urged. "Let's take a moment of silence."

The crowd miraculously grew quiet until Cohen herself broke the silence by shouting "Resist," as others joined in, cheering.

Late in the afternoon, as the gathering thinned and temperatures dropped, speaker and breast cancer survivor Hart sounded a similar rally cry, standing before the audience shirtless, unflinching, the scars from her double mastectomy visible on the gigantic Jumbotron screen.

"Have you noticed who is not here?" she asked, urging the audience to "get intentional" about gathering them into the fold and fighting exclusivity.

"Hold your head up, straighten your shoulders, suck it up, and start moving," said State Sen. Schwank, a Democrat from Reading.

"You have everything you need for this fight," shouted Malcolm Kenyatta, one of a handful of men invited to speak.

"We were made for this," said Kenyatta, representing the Liberty City Democrats, an organization of LGBT party members. "We will not be quiet."

Women's marches in Philly and Washington: Our live blog replay.

Carol Tracy, director of the Philadelphia-based Women's Law Project, told the cheering crowd that they were seeing the beginning of a new movement. "In my 40 years of feminist activism, this might be the most exciting day of my life," she said.

Democratic State Sen. Daylin Leach seconded the sentiment. "Donald Trump has awakened a great progressive giant in this country, and he will rue the day he did so," he said.

'Arm-in-arm'

Saturday's relatively mild weather helped draw crowds, adding to the festive atmosphere on the Parkway. Police said there were no problems. In fact, the day's main hassle involved getting to and from the event, with SEPTA trains so packed that they bypassed riders waiting on platforms.

Mayor Kenney was among the first speakers, drawing a laugh when he said, "I'd like to thank the new president for bringing us here together today." Later, he added, "White guys like me, people of color, women, LGBT members, all of us are perfect human beings. Now more than ever, we need to walk arm-in-arm."

And while men were in the crowd and on the stage, it was an unabashedly female event. Many who addressed the marchers took the time to honor their mothers and to talk about their children. Speakers talked about reproductive rights, birth control, pay inequity, public health, domestic and sexual abuse, education, and peace in a way that seemed to reflect the audience's identification of itself as mothers, daughters, and sisters. Some raised fears that Trump's dismantling of the Affordable Care Act would hurt them and their families.

Waves of support

Many described themselves as survivors – of sexual abuse, of rape, of cancer, of bullying, of heartbreak through gun violence that had killed a child, of discrimination by gender, religion, immigration status, or sexual orientation.

The support that washed up to them in waves from the audience was palpable – for every speaker telling a story on stage, there were hundreds in the crowd with the same story, or a variation on it.

Maybe Nicole Thompson, 34, a communications professor at Lincoln University who lives in Baltimore, has already taken up the fight. She attended both of Obama's inaugurations and said she felt the same motivation to attend the Philadelphia march.

She can summarize her concerns about Trump's presidency with one story: Recently at her local 7-Eleven, she saw a cashier belittle a Hispanic customer for not speaking English. When she objected and asked to speak to the store manager, she said, the manager assured her that he would address the behavior. But it left her feeling disturbed.

"I'm worried that anti-politically correct attitudes are going to transform into incidents like this in my daily life," she said. "I fear I'm going to spend the next four years standing up for people in a way I never had to before."

Devon and Krista Geyer, of South Philadelphia, cut their vacation a day short so they could attend the march. The couple, who married in 2015, said they were concerned about Trump's lack of respect for women's rights. Devon Geyer, who has a rare genetic disorder, said that if she ever lost the insurance she has through her job, a repeal of the Affordable Care Act could make it impossible for her to get health coverage.

Krista Geyer, a small-business owner, said many of their friends in the LGBTQ community are deeply concerned about their futures under a Trump administration.

"We have friends who rushed to get married under Obama," she said.

For Melissa Lucchesi, 35, of Media, Saturday's march was a time to speak against sexual violence. She said that when she was 25, she was drugged in a bar, taken to a stranger's house, and sexually assaulted.

"The day I learned Donald Trump was president was like the day my rapist was acquitted," said Lucchesi, the founder of Voices Inc., a nonprofit to help survivors of trauma. "It reopened wounds I thought had scarred over. I've been so angry and hurt that our country would vote in a predator as president."

Rally organizers said they collected an undetermined significant amount of cash in donation jars. Proceeds will go toward paying for the logistics of the march, and any leftover money to a newly formed nonprofit, Philly Women Rally.

As Saturday's event drew to a close, marchers set up an impromptu archive of their signs, scattering them around trees, as if somehow the messages would take root, and also attaching them to highway overpasses, as if the words would form a bridge to Saturday's theme of "peace, love, and joy."

jvonbergen@phillynews.com215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen www.philly.com/jobbing

Jane M. Von Bergen, Allison Steele, STAFF WRITERS

Read full story: In Philly, 'a great progressive giant' awakened as 50,000 (mostly women) march in "peace, love and joy"

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