Community huddles for women’s rights


Molly Dotson

Local women hold up signs to protest inequality and show support for immigrants and other minorities during International Women’s Day Wednesday along Lincoln Avenue.

Mallory Kutnick, Campus Reporter

Sixty community members gathered at Morton Park Wednesday afternoon to support equality on International Women’s Day.

Inspired by the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., the Charleston Women’s Huddle Actions Group has worked since its launch in February to promote women’s rights.

The group held signs reading such messages as “She persists” and “We will not go back” for people traveling along Lincoln Avenue. In under an hour, up to 39 cars and a semitrailer honked.

Women’s studies coordinator Jeannie Ludlow and regional Sexual Assault Counseling and Information Services executive director Erin Walters stressed each woman’s individuality.

“We are many and multiple and different, and that is our power,” Ludlow said repeatedly throughout her speech.

Walters addressed the group and acknowledged the men among them.

“We are not going this alone,” Walters said.

One of the men at the rally was Brian Reardon of Mattoon, who began attending group meetings last week. Reardon began attending rallies two years ago and took his two children to a local Women’s March in Champaign while his wife took to the streets of D.C. in January for the biggest single-day demonstration in U.S. history.

“They’re both very interested in politics and current events,” Reardon said of his 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.

Children can be impressionable, and Walters said she has seen how President Donald Trump has impacted them. She said when she spoke in classrooms, students, however young, argued with her about rape and sexual assault.

Jessica Mertz, a Charleston resident, holds a sign during the International Women’s Day protest Wednesday along Lincoln Avenue.
Molly Dotson
Jessica Mertz, a Charleston resident, holds a sign during the International Women’s Day protest Wednesday along Lincoln Avenue.

“You do not have a right to someone else’s person,” Walters said, baffled by how kids could argue otherwise.

It all comes down to Trump’s “locker room talk” teaching students that it is ever acceptable to fondle anyone against their will, Walters said.

Marty Misenheimer of Mattoon said she has been to a couple of rallies but that Trump’s rise to power has made the Women’s Marches particularly important.

“I think he’s working on fulfilling campaign promises, whether they make sense or not,” Misenheimer said, citing Trump’s proposals to defund Planned Parenthood and build a wall on the Mexican border.

Ludlow said she attended the same march Reardon and his children did and was surprised by the turnout.

“It was way huger than (I) thought it would be,” she said. “There were people there from all walks of life with signs that reflected all kinds of concerns and resistances and empowerments. The speakers represented a wide range of feminist activists and allies.”

Despite this, Ludlow expressed concern that the speakers isolated non-binary and transgender people by saying they needed “women and men.”

“I happened to be standing near a trans-identifying person who was there to protest sexism, to protest a system that devalues some people because of who they are,” Ludlow said. At the same time, however, the person in question was forced to endure reinforcing stereotypes against transgender individuals, she said.

Ludlow called for the oppressed to embrace allies regardless of identity, be they men fighting for women or cisgendered individuals – those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth – fighting for the transgender community.

“A politics of love reminds us that changing the world means changing ourselves, too,” she said. “May we continue to work together – truly together – to love this amazing world toward justice.”

International Women’s Day became official in central Europe following over a year of protests for women’s suffrage. Less than a week later, a fire killed 123 female employees locked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, spreading International Women’s Day to the U.S.

Mallory Kutnick can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].