The Resistance, Day Two: The Women’s March on Raleigh Brings 17,000 Downtown | News Feature | Indy Week
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The Resistance, Day Two: The Women’s March on Raleigh Brings 17,000 Downtown 

Protesters amass in downtown Raleigh.

Photo by Ben McKeown

Protesters amass in downtown Raleigh.

There was a moment during Saturday's Women's March on Raleigh when everything seemed to fall into place.

Carly Jones, one of the rally's organizers, climbed on the stage in a bright green jacket, short brown curls bobbing as she maneuvered her way to the microphone. Beaming, she told the crowd that as many as five hundred thousand people were in attendance at D.C.'s march and asked if they had any idea how many people had made it to Raleigh's. From her vantage point, it was hard to tell. Aerial shots later showed thousands of people spilling onto the side streets of downtown Raleigh, but none of them were visible in the tightly packed Moore Square, then a sea of pink hats and tongue-in-cheek posters.

Jones did not wait for them to guess. "Seventeen thousand!" she boomed. "Isn't that amazing?"

The crowd erupted.

An elderly man with a shock of gray hair stood up and roared. "Hallelujah!" screamed a middle-aged woman with corkscrew curls and fuchsia gloves, thrusting a fist in the air.  A small dog barked. A Raging Granny hooted.

And just like that, the resistance landed in Moore Square.

The crowds weren't just raucous in Raleigh. From New York City to Nairobi, sister marches all over the world were shattering expectations. Millions of people, representing every continent on the planet, rallied in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington. A remarkable photo gallery from The New York Times showcased concurrent marches from Antarctica to Georgia (the country), from Brazil to Spain ("I march for America," read a young girl's sign in Barcelona.) Saturday's marches were a shattering global repudiation of a man who can't stand rejection, a deeply insecure high school bully, for once, put in his place. Its reverberations will be felt for years to come.  

There was a feeling in Raleigh that Moore Square was a part of history in the making. But the march was distinctly North Carolinian. Speakers talked about many of the themes animating marchers on a national level—abortion and reproductive rights, equal pay, higher representation of women in office, "the casual misogyny displayed by our current president"—but many made a point of talking about these issues as they related to the Old North State. Hailing from groups such as Progress NC, Public Schools First NC, Lillian's List, Spirit House, AFL-CIO NC, the Carolina Abortion Fund, the UNC School of Social Work Latinx Caucus, and more, they talked about gerrymandering and fair elections, HB 2 and cuts to school funding, labor and immigration policy.

Artist Laila Nur paid tribute to the Fight for $15 movement with a song about the minimum wage: "Seven twenty-five. How do they think that I'm supposed to survive? They spend a half a mill so we don't unionize, so the heat stay off 'cause the bill's too high." Asatta Goff, a high school student and poet, asked each person in the crowd to visualize who and what they're fighting for.

And when Minister Michelle Laws of Durham's Union Baptist Church took to the stage and thundered, "Either you stand with women or you stand in the way!" the ground shook.

The moment perfectly encapsulated why organizers chose to name the marchers the Noisy Majority. It was a nod not just to the countless attendees who shouted themselves hoarse, but also a reference to Trump losing the popular vote by about three million. "This is a minority-rule administration," said organizer Anna Grant of Carolina Jews for Justice, "due in part to racist voter suppression. North Carolina has been ground zero for that. And I think that part of our responsibility as North Carolinians is to draw attention to that. To say we are the majority, we refuse to be silenced, and this is about a fundamental issue of democracy."

Indeed, North Carolina, once a tolerant home for the progressive intelligentsia, has of late become a petri dish for Republican extremism and authoritarianism. That, the marchers warned, could be a harbinger of what's to come nationwide under the Trump administration. "If the rest of the U.S. wants to see what happens when separation of powers is ignored and partisanship takes over governance, then look here," said organizer Shana Becker. "You have a legislature that usurps the power of the judiciary, usurps the power of the governor, and disrupts our system of the balance of powers."

Still, if North Carolina is a microcosm of the United States, then residents' activism here in the face of executive overreach could be seen as a bright spot in an otherwise dark political climate. However tiny that fleck of optimism may be, it was surely the rally's unifying force. The march's supporters weren't monolithic. Among others, I talked to a war veteran who fought in Afghanistan, an immigrant public school teacher, the mother of a disabled child who said Trump's mocking of a disabled reporter made it "personal," an undocumented visual artist, and a young girl with a Black Lives Matter sign who shyly said the march made her feel "proud of herself and proud of the world."

Everyone in the diverse crowd had a different answer to Goff's question: "Who are you fighting for?" But so much of the group's energy seemed to be an expression of collective rage over all of the crap anyone deemed The Other has to deal with in the course of a lifetime. For them, Trump's victory was a triumph of cruelty, a symbol of the humiliations marginalized people are forced to endure. Those indignities stack up over the years, lodging themselves in your memory and gut-punching you in your most vulnerable moments.

On Saturday, they bubbled over.

This article appeared in print with the headline "The Resistance: Day 2 [Raleigh]."

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