This Saturday, tens of thousands are expected to gather in Civic Center Park for the Women’s March on Denver—one of more than 600 sister marches to the Women’s March on Washington that are happening worldwide in response to Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.
While expected attendance for the local event continues to swell (about 35,000 people have RSVP’d on Facebook as of press time), the movement, like many similar crusades through history, started with just a few local women who wanted to make a difference.
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The morning after the election, Cheetah McClellan, one of the March’s organizers, was moved by the reaction of her 16-year-old daughter. “When she was 13, she came out as a lesbian. For her, the election was terrifying—seeing all the hateful rhetoric that was going around,” McClellan says. “I was talking to her about it and she squeezed me so hard that it hurt. She said, ‘Mom, I’m so scared.’ And that’s when I thought, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to do something.”
McClelland received a message from the friend about the Women’s March on Washington, and while it sounded like something she’d like to be a part of, she realized that it was financially and logistically unfeasible. “I told my husband, ‘What if we start our own march here in Denver?’” she says. “He said, ‘Oh, someone else will do it.’ Taking that as a challenge, I got online and looked for about 30 minutes and couldn’t find any here in Denver that was—as we’re now calling them—a sister march. So at 10:30 on a Tuesday night, I created a Facebook event, sent it to some friends, posted it in the Pantsuit Nation and a couple of other groups. The next morning, 800 people said they were coming. I thought, oh my, what did I do?”
McClelland, a math interventionist at Colfax Elementary School, was soon connected with Karen Hinkel, a local real estate agent, and Jessica Rogers, a librarian and book conservator, through the national Women’s March organizers. The trio got to work, securing permits from the city, ordering port-a-potties, lining up speakers and performers, working on security details, and fundraising through t-shirt and button sales and donations. (The March is estimated to cost around $25,000, and so far they’ve raised close to $40,000.)
But first, they had to decide on a mission. The women read the “Guiding Principles” from the March on Washington and pulled out a few items that they agreed with, but from the beginning, they decided that they wanted to have their own voice that was unique to Denver. “Part of our organizing ideals was that we wanted to be independent,” McClellan says. “We really wanted it to be organic and genuine as possible, and we felt that wouldn’t be possible if we decided to follow what everyone else was doing or have corporate sponsors.”
The mission they landed on (which you can read in its entirety) is threefold: 1) Protecting women’s biological and reproductive health; 2) Supporting and protecting the diverse communities of America and condemning hateful rhetoric and actions; and 3) Treating all people, regardless of gender, gender identity, race, disability, religion, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, equally and equitably.
That may seem like a wide focus, but McClellan, Hinkel, and Rogers wanted to make it clear that the event is for everyone—all demographics, genders, ages, and even political affiliations. There is no mention of political parties or specific politicians in the March materials.
“Yes it’s organized by women, put on by women, all our performers and speakers are women, but we’re just the sponsors. It’s for everyone,” McClellan says. “It’s a great opportunity for solidarity and connection with people who care about all the same things you care about—social justice, human rights, and equity and equality. It’s a pretty big umbrella, but we’re hoping it will make a lot of people feel welcome. No matter what their cause is, this is a platform for them to share that.”
In order to bring more communities into the fold, McClellan says they have liaisons dedicated to reaching out to diverse and ethnic communities. “That has been a big issue across the marches—oh you know, it’s just a bunch of white women,” McClelland says. “We had to come from a position of recognizing that, as white women, we do have privilege. We recognize that privilege and we’re using that for the good of everyone. It’s not just sharing our message; we’re trying to give a voice to all people.”
Throughout the planning process, McClellan says they’ve seen great support from men, diverse communities, volunteers, and even the city of Denver. She would like to see conservatives or Republicans at the event, as the issues at hand affect all of us, regardless of politics. But most of all, McClellan hopes that, through this March, women will learn to better support one other—because we need it now more than ever.
“I know a lot of women are like, man, we still have to fight for our rights. Yeah, we do,” McClellan says. “Human rights and relationships within communities are a lot like relationships in general. They don’t just flourish and blossom overnight. They take a lot of work, a lot of time and effort, and people working together. Until we get to the point as a society where that just happens naturally, we’ll have to keep fighting for our rights and making sure that they’re not taken away from us.”
If You Go
When: Saturday, January 21, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; March begins at 9:30 a.m.; rally takes place from 11:15 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Civic Center Park; The March will start at the Voorhies Memorial and end at the Greek Auditorium
Parking and Transportation: Parking will be limited. Organizers recommend taking public transportation or carpooling. Find more information here.
Signs and Slogans: Event organizers encourage creative and peaceful signs. Find more info here.