Women's March on Philadelphia: Thousands protest for the second time

A stranger called Stacy Shilling her “hero” on Saturday. Dozens of others asked to take a photo of her. That’s because Shilling was donning a “Women’s March on Philadelphia” hat and wearing a sign around her neck that read: “Nobody asks what my rapist was wearing.”

Shilling, a 27-year-old from Green Lane, Montgomery County, was sexually assaulted four years ago by a man she’d met through mutual friends, but she said it was the process of going to the police that “retraumatized” her. Those “victim-blaming” questions – “What were you wearing? How much did you drink? Are you sure you didn’t lead him on?” – are why she attended Saturday’s second Women’s March on Philadelphia.

“I have my voice back,” she said. “And I want to help other women find their voice, too.”

Thousands of women converged on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday morning for the 2018 version of the Women’s March on Philadelphia, the local iteration of a national movement aimed at protesting for women’s rights and, largely, against President Trump and the Republican Party.

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Last year’s Women’s March on Washington, which took place the day after Trump’s inauguration, involved half a million women and was one of the largest protests ever recorded. About 50,000 women marched in the 2017 Women’s March on Philadelphia, which was then dubbed a “sister march” of the Washington event.

Though march organizers in Philadelphia said they believed more women turned out this year than last, the city hasn’t released an official crowd estimate. Earlier in the week, calls grew to boycott this year’s event after organizers announced heightened security measures. Some activists were concerned an increased police presence would amount to “stopping and frisking” and would be dangerous, particularly for people of color.

Despite organizers’ and city officials’ initially saying marchers would enter via security checkpoints, it didn’t appear such checkpoints existed Saturday. While police were present on scene and barricades were placed around rally points, no one entered through a metal detector or a checkpoint, and most folks who carried bags weren’t searched.

The anxiety about police – which snowballed into concerns surrounding the diversity of the organizers – wasn’t lost on the minds of the women who put on Saturday’s march and rally. Last year’s Women’s March on Washington faced similar criticism about diversity.

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Emily Cooper Morse, a lead organizer who founded the Women’s March on Philadelphia last year, stood onstage with her daughter, Izzy, who held a sign that read: “The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman. – Malcolm X.”

“We are fighting for women’s rights,” Cooper Morse said. “Especially in communities that are marginalized the most.”

Salima Suswell, a march organizer who is black and Muslim, said she was dismayed by “misinformation” about the event. She said last year’s organizers reached out to her this year to ask her to join their team.

“The addition of women of color allowed us to diversify,” she said. “We worked hard to concentrate on diversity and inclusion.”

Women of color who attended the march said a lack of diversity wasn’t a reason to stay home. For them, it was the reason to show up.

Camera icon DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Adina Gewirtzman, 17, of Ambler, and Katie Maguire (right), 16, of Fort Washington wait for the speakers to begin.

Shayna Dozier and Alexis Snyder, both students at Philadelphia University-Thomas Jefferson University who are originally from York, Pa., said they attended Saturday’s demonstration to fight for racial justice. Dozier, 18, said she missed last year’s march – this time, she felt she “had” to attend.

“If we can make a difference,” Snyder, 19, said, “we should.”

Dozier, who is black and sported a “Black Lives Matter” button, said she’s heard concerns that last year’s Women’s March wasn’t inclusive of women of color. She said those worries are part of the reason she was there.

The march “is focused on women,” she said. “That means all women.”

Cheers erupted during the march portion of the event while Jamie Williams was leading a chant. The 17-year-old from Blue Bell held a sign that read “Black Girls Rising,” and chanted with friends about being strong, smart, and bold.

She was there with about a dozen other girls who are part of the local chapter of the Girls Incorporated program, a national organization that aims to empower young women.

“As girls of color, it’s important to get our voices inside this movement,” she said, adding that she aspires to become a computer engineer – but not for herself. Williams wants to one day run an organization aimed exclusively at teaching minority girls how to code and program.

Camera icon Anna Orso
Girls involved with the Girls Incorporated organization stand at the Women’s March on Philadelphia 2018.

Another group of young women was close by – this one called Camp Sojourner, a leadership camp in Philadelphia that serves about 80 girls. ages 8 to 17, every summer. Alisha Berry, 43, the director of the camp, said it serves largely girls of color – which is why it was important to bring a contingent to the march.

“We’re bringing our girls out,” she said, “so we could make the space what we want it to be.”

One of the girls served by Camp Sojourner is now an intern with the company, giving back to other young women. Princess Rahman, 18, of the Oxford Circle section of the city, said she attended last year’s march and couldn’t wait to come back this year.

“There’s always a fight,” she said, “for equality for women.”

Camera icon ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Participants join hands at the end of the Women’s March in Philadelphia on January 20, 2018.

Saturday’s event also featured a healthy contingent of local politicians, including City Councilwomen Jannie Blackwell, Cherelle Parker and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, as well as the newly sworn-in Rebecca Rhynhart, Philadelphia’s first female city controller. Rhynhart spoke to the crowd about her unlikely bid, saying she was inspired to run after Trump’s election.

“When you see a wrong in the world, stand up and resist. When someone tells you you can’t, stand up and persist,” she said. “We must be bold, and we must be brave.”

But Rhynhart wasn’t able to stick around long after her short speech. She had to leave to get her hair done. Her wedding was less than five hours away.