As hundreds of thousands of people in cities around the world rallied this weekend on the anniversary of the 2017 presidential inauguration, local residents turned out for their own march through the streets of Soldotna.
“We all are trying to get our voices heard, and bring attention to the public that just because we’re in Soldotna doesn’t mean we’re going to be quiet, and stand back, and not fight for rights for all sorts of things,” event organizer Naomi Barker said.
One year ago, women around the world came out in force to voice support for women’s rights and oppose the election of Donald Trump — whose derogatory comments about women, immigrants and racial minorities on the campaign trail caused outrage among many. If Saturday’s protest is any indication, a year later those voices are still determined to be heard.
“I think I was outraged when Trump became president,” University of Alaska student Kiana Harding said.
Harding, who attended Saturday’s protest, voted for president for the first time in 2016. She said the outcome of that election, in which the winner of the popular vote and first female candidate lost, was a catalyst for her political action.
“I thought I need to speak out and I need to support women globally,” she said.
Saturday’s Unity and Justice Walk was not explicitly a women’s march, but was meant to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Many Voices project, a local political movement sparked by last year’s women’s march, Barker said. Following on the heels of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Saturday’s march also celebrated the civil rights leader’s legacy.
Since its inception one year ago, Many Voices has organized around some of the country’s most divisive issues, from immigration to the recent #MeToo movement.
“Unity and justice have a different meaning for everybody,” Michele Vasquez, a member of the Many Voices steering committee, said.
Indeed, demonstrators at Saturday’s event rallied around everything from gender equality, reproductive rights and environmental justice to access to health care, civil rights and support for immigrants.
“There’s a moment going on right now where a lot of people standing up for equality, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Kenai resident David Brighton said.
Brighton joined Saturday’s demonstration to show support for women’s rights, particularly the right for equality in health care.
“I think that women’s health care is a big issue. It’s not okay when contraception isn’t covered by insurance when we have things like Viagra covered by insurance.”
Kenai resident Kristine Schmidt attended the local 2017 women’s march, and said she came out again this year to speak against the dramatic policy shifts that have happened under the new administration.
She said she opposed many of the executive orders signed in the last year, and didn’t agree with the recent tax reform legislation passed by Congress.
“I wanted to show support for all the resistance to what I consider to be the rollback of civil rights — and other rights that people have had in this country before the current administration,” Schmidt said.
The gaggle of about 75 demonstrators set out just after noon from the Soldotna Public Library and snaked their way along Kenai Spur Highway with handmade signs bearing slogans like “united we stand”, “refugees welcome”, “save the ACA”, “I’m with her”, “dissent is patriotic”, “love is love” or simply “equality.”
Marchers solicited both friendly honks and the occasional disapproving engine roar as they made a loop back to the library for some hot food and folk music.
Soldotna resident Charlissa Magen, who also attended last year’s women’s march, said she wanted to spark a dialogue among all the members of the community, especially those with divergent political views.
“I encourage people who didn’t do the walk, and who aren’t doing walks, to still educate themselves,” she said. “Knowledge is power.”
She said she hopes that members of the community will reach out and listen to one another to tackle issues that affect everyone.
“We have a wonderful community,” Magen said. “And there are so many people who just want us to do the right thing, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”