The People Will Not Back Down or Be Silenced, St. Petersburg Council Member Says
More than 20,000 people gathered Saturday (Jan. 21) at Demen’s Landing for the Women’s March, St. Pete.
By SHELLY STECK REALE, TB Reporter Correspondent
ST. PETERSBURG – They came. Babies in strollers.The elderly in wheelchairs. And all ages in between.
They came. All races. All genders. Different religions.The physically fit and those on crutches.
They came. More than 20,000 of them came to Demen’s Landing, they said, to stand firmly together for civil rights, the environment and other issues that span all ages, races and genders.
“I’m here to show solidarity. Solidarity for all the different issues that are integral to our fundamental core beliefs and values,” said Katie, 29, whose last name was not available.
Katie came from Riverview with friends to take part in the Women’s March, St. Pete. Katie said she wanted “to show that, regardless of what happened with the election, we can stand together and fight for those key issues that are so important to us. We are here because what matters to you, matters to us, and together, we can’t be silenced.”
St. Petersburg council member Darden Rice, one of the event’s speakers, echoed her, saying, “The fight is just beginning. We won’t back down, we won’t be silenced.
“Today, we march. Tomorrow, we strategize. Tomorrow, we organize. Tomorrow, we build. And, my friends, tomorrow, we resist. I don’t know about you, but this genie ain’t goin’ back in the bottle.”
The march Saturday (Jan. 21) was a mirror event of the main Women’s March in Washington, DC, and sister to hundreds worldwide. With more than 20,000 attending, it was the largest event of its kind in St. Petersburg history, officials said. The crowd was so large that it overflowed Demen’s Landing. Once the march, about 1.3 miles, began, the leaders were returning to Demen’s before those toward the end of the line had left the park.
Ben Chamberlin, 55, who carried a sign that read, “This is what a feminist looks like,” said he came from Temple Terrace for his family.
“I have a daughter and I have a wife, and I am doing everything I can to take my white privilege and use it to raise them up,” Chamberlin said. “You’re gonna be stronger, better, wiser if you lift others up. That’s why I’m a feminist. And that’s why I am here.”
Gina Valdez, 24, was there for her students. “I teach at a low-income renaissance public high school in Tampa, and I have a big majority of immigrant students that just came to this county. They don’t speak any English, but they’re such hard workers. And, I’m scared”, she explained, choking back tears. “I’m scared they won’t be here anymore. I’m scared they’ll take them away from me. They just want to work hard, so I’m here for them today.”
The event also brought support from elected officials including State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson, Hillsborough County Commissioner Patricia Kemp, and St. Petersburg City Council members Amy Foster and Karl Nurse.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman issued a proclamation declaring Jan. 21 “National Women’s Rights Day” in the city of St. Petersburg.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, said, “I think it’s important to be here. We need to express our views about freedom, about fighting for women and women’s rights. I was raised with three sisters and a beautiful mother, and I think women are incredibly important. That’s why I’m here and that’s why I will be marching.
The event opened with entertainment and a rally. Speakers covered a wide range of causes, from immigration rights to gun control; from reproductive rights to racial equality.
Suzie Prabhakaren, of Planned Parenthood spoke of the need for women’s health care. “Flora,” a mother of three who lives in Immokalee, is one example, Prabhakaren said.
“Transportation is difficult for Flora, Prabhakaren said. “She was able to see us at Planned Parenthood because we have a center in her community. She was able to afford the life-saving pap-smear because she got the kind of help that some people in Washington want to take away.
“We diagnosed Flora with pre-cancerous cells of the cervix; cells that, if left untreated, can lead to cancer. We were able to treat Flora, and today she is healthy and cancer free. We believe health care is a right; it shouldn’t matter where you live, how much money you have, or what you look like.”
“Voting access is critical to fulfilling the nations promise of equality and ensuring that all citizens regardless of their race, gender, or ethnicity are able to fully participate in the democratic process,” Rouson said. “But the right to vote is increasingly under attack. At the national level and across the country efforts to limit who can vote, when they can vote, and where they can vote has fueled highly partisan debate.”
Julie Kessel, president of the League of Women Voters, addressed violence against women and gun safety.
“Patriotism does not mean obedience,” Kessel said. “The leaders in our new political climate have use fear, intimidation, and aggression to garner power and control. When misogamy, sexual aggression, and sexual assault are modeled by our powerful leaders, there is no doubt that women will bear the brunt of this new reality. Be assured, we will not stand idly by.”
After the rally, the crowd moved down the Bayshore Drive. Many marchers carried homemade signs with slogans, such as
- If my uterus fired bullets the GOP would fund it
- Stay focused, this is only the beginning
- Girls just want to have fun-damental human rights
Some chanted: “Build bridges, not walls”; “We go high, they go low”; and “This is what democracy looks like.” Some stopped to thank St. Petersburg police officers. They filled the sidewalks and streets around Demens Landing for nearly two hours, greeted by bystanders who cheered them on before the last person passed by.
Tyler Prince, a Trump supporter, wearing the iconic red “Make American Great Again” baseball cap, held a giant flag emblazoned with the word “Trump” stretched between this arms. He stood quietly while the marches jeered at him as they passed by.
“We just want a fair shake,” Prince said. “It hasn’t even been 24 hours yet. I’m on their sides, I believe in women’s rights, I don’t believe in over-turning Roe v. Wade, that’s not what I’m here for. I’m just here to say, ‘give the guy a chance.’ And, believe me, if he screws up, I’m gonna be right here marching with them.”
For information about the Women’s March, St. Pete, go to facebook.com.
Photos by Shelly Steck Reale, TB Reporter Correspondent.
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