Amid rain, snow and cold winds, the 2020 Lansing Women's March took place on the front steps of Michigan's Capitol Saturday. The rally was held by the Blue Brigade of Lansing, a group that volunteers for campaigns at the local, state, and national level.
Keynote speaker Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and special guests Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin, from Michigan's eighth district, were in attendance.
This event marked the fourth-annual Women's March, which began in Washington D.C. the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017, then started a worldwide movement where supporters marched in protest of Trump's presidency.
The upcoming 2020 presidential election was a major talking point among the speakers.
Whitmer approached the podium on the steps of the capitol, asked the crowd to show their signs, and began discussing how women will determine the outcome of the upcoming presidential election.
“Last year a reporter asked me, ‘Governor, do you think angry women are going to decide this upcoming election?’" Whitmer said, "I said 'I think smart women are going to decide this election.' Women like Susan (Anderson, a volunteer from Whitmer's 2018 campaign) are going to decide this election.
"Women like my daughter Sherry, who turns 18 in March, are going to decide this election. Women who care about the environment will decide this election. Women who need quality, affordable healthcare will decide this election." Whitmer said, "Brown and black women will decide this election. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer women will decide this election. Women whose families immigrated to America will decide this election. Women who have served their country will decide this election.
"And the women who are marching across America today and the men who are here with us, we will decide this election." Whitmer said, "So it’s on all of us to make sure that we show up for one another, that we volunteer and hit the doors, and run for office so that the decisions that are made reflect what we want and need and deserve to see in our country and our state.”
Slotkin emphasized that 2020 will be "probably the most pivotal years of our political lives."
Slotkin spoke to the importance of women in politics. She gave an ancedote about a campaign volunteer's daughter who was inspired to run for fourth grade class president after witnessing the victory of Slotkin's campaign.
"What have you done and what can you do to find at least one younger woman, whether you're a man or a woman, what can you do to mentor that woman, to pull that woman up, to say I'm going to help you become a leader, become a dynamic voice?" Slotkin said. "Think about what you can do concretely, because it doesn't happen by itself and it doesn't happen unless we care about the voices of women in every level of government in every level of our community."
The upcoming 2020 presidential election marks an opportunity to reflect for those who have supported the Women's March since the beginning. Nessel said the 2017 Women's March gave her a sense of hope that others like her believed in equal rights and equal protection for all people, after the election of President Trump. Nessel said that after participating in protests around the Lansing area, she was inspired to run for Attorney General.
Among the speakers, women's reproductive rights were a common topic of discussion.
“My veto pen is the only thing preventing Republicans from putting legislation on my desk that would take away women’s right to autonomy over our own bodies, and my veto pen is loaded with ink and ready to go,” said Governor Whitmer.
Attorney General Dana Nessel said she exercises prosecutorial discretion, which allows a prosecutor to decide what charges to bring to a case and how to pursue each case, when it came to cases regarding reproductive rights, despite calls for her impeachment.
"When it first started to look like Roe v. Wade could very well be overturned, I went out and I said, you know, we still have abortion laws on the books right now that make it a felony offense for a woman and her doctor, in the event that an abortion procedure is performed, so I said, you know what? I am never going to prosecute a woman or her doctor for making the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy," Nessel said.
Nessel said she vowed when she ran for Attorney General that she would sue Trump each time it was necessary to protect the people of Michigan and the United States of America.
Stabenow referenced the women's suffrage movement. This year marks 100 years since the 19th amendment was passed and women gained the right to vote.
“I hate the word given, because nobody gave it to us. Because 100 years before that, women fought like hell to get the right to vote. Our grandmothers, our great grandmothers marched in the streets, raised their voices and literally put their lives on the line to gain the most basic right that we now have," U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow said. "The women and children and yes, some really awesome men, are here today because we’re picking up the torch. We’re picking up the torch lit by the suffragettes and running with it.”
Alexie Milukhin, an MSU freshman, was inspired to participate by Miss Michigan 2018 Emily Sioma's 'I Believe You' initiative, which supports survivors of sexual violence. Milukhin, who introduced herself as Miss Jackson Crossroads, said she also values women's rights.
“I’ve never been sexually assaulted myself, however I have experienced sexual harassment and honestly, it just needs to stop, really," Milukhin said. "It’s the 21st century, this is stuff that women really shouldn’t have to deal with. Women’s experiences really should be valued and held to the same esteem that men’s are.”
Sisters Katie Delia of Ypsilanti and Lisa Purvis of New Hudson said they drove out to the rally to show their support before the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
“It’s important to keep the momentum going now that we’re in 2020 and we have a chance to actually get him out of office,” Purvis said.
David Rowland, who is running for the State Representative position in the 65th district, arrived on crutches to be a part of the rally.
“I wanted to be here for the women in my area to know that I stand with them,” Rowland said. "My personal opinion, I’m pro-life but I never affect a woman’s choice to choose.”
Penny Gardner, 78, accompanied by Marilyn Bowen, 61, said they were there to gather signatures for Elissa Slotkin, but also to be a part of the women's movement. Gardner said she has been a part of "ERA things forever," referencing the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I just will not miss a chance to be disruptive,” Gardner said.