Black Hills women's march proclaims civil rights, respectfully

Last Updated by Kevin Woster on
Faces and signs from the Women's March on Washington-Black Hills

There were a thousand reasons to be inspired and only a few reasons to be disturbed in the Women’s March on Washington-Black Hills Saturday morning in downtown Rapid City.

Let’s deal with some unpleasantry first. A young mom with small children — including one in a stroller — was packing several signs, including one with a scrawled F-bomb followed by the word “Trump.”

I noticed the sign only after state Rep. Jamie Smith strolled over and engaged the woman about it. They briefly exchanged some pointed words, and the woman suggested that Smith could mind his own business.

Smith said: “OK, it’s just that you could choose more intelligent language, especially with kids present.”

It’s pretty hard to argue with that. And the young mom didn’t, for long. A few minutes later, I learned that Smith — a first-term Democrat from the heavily Democratic District 15 in Sioux Falls — had been encouraged to say something to the young mom by his wife, Kjerstin, who said such language went “against the intent of this activity.”

The intent of the rally and march, held on the second day of the Donald Trump administration, was clear on the Women’s March on Washington-Black Hills Facebook page: “To raise awareness for women's rights, network, and foster a community of folks willing to step up and advocate for gender equality.”

That’s just what the event did, drawing more than 1,000 people, from infants to seniors, mostly women and girls but a wide scattering of men and boys, too. And almost all followed with impeccable uniformity important rules of engagement that included: no criticism of specific politicians or political parties; no verbal or physical violence or defaced or damaged property; and holding each other accountable for creating a “ tone of respect, honesty, transparency.”

Everywhere I looked, those rules were being observed by people who cared enough to gather on a pleasant winter morning in the most American of ways.

“There are a lot of things for us to be concerned about,” said Cheryl Rogers, 58, a Rosebud Tribe member living in Rapid City. “So we’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”

Without naming Donald Trump specifically, Rogers said she was worried about language in the campaign that denigrated women and the potential for new policies and laws and regulations that could deny equal rights. The idea of deconstructing the Affordable Care Act, more often referred to as Obamacare, without a clear-and-timely alternative also has her deeply worried.

“I don’t take advantage of the ACA myself,” she said. “But I know many people who really need it and would be devastated without it.”

Standing near Rogers, Rapid City resident Robin Zephier, a 55-year-old member of the Cheyenne River Tribe, held a sign that on one side advocated for women in English and on the other proclaimed in Lakota “Unci Maka,” or Grandmother Earth.

It is implied within the words that Grandmother Earth must be protected as well. So, too, Zephier said, must the rights of all women.

“I want to stand up for all the women of the world, obviously,” he said. “Women are the foundation of our humanity. Grandmother Earth was the original woman. We will stand with our mother, with all mothers and daughters and sisters, against the tumultuous winds. We will keep hope alive.”

And it was, indeed, a hopeful demonstration of collective concern and unified commitment to human rights, not just of women but of all people, including gays, lesbians and transgenders.

Abortions rights were high on the list of those rights being heralded, of course, with the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade on Sunday. But it wasn’t a smack-you-in-the-face pro-choice message  here as, perhaps, it was in some larger cities in other states. At the main march in Washington, D.C., women's groups with anti-abortion sentiments were rejected as sponsoring organizations, while Planned Parenthood and NARAL were among the leaders.    

That was a predictable-but-unfortunate complication for the event and the cause, since some women with anti-abortion feelings nonetheless share many of the other concerns about President Donald Trump and a variety of human-rights issues other than abortion coming off the presidential campaign. And, of course, some women concerned about human rights might argue that the right to life for the unborn is among them.

If the conflict was there at the Rapid City rally, I didn't discern it. And abortion rights didn't seem to stand out among all the others, including a very common call to accept and embrace the differences in human beings.

“Being in the community I thought it was important to be here,” said 29-year-old Jessie Schneider of Rapid City. “I hope some voices are heard that haven’t been heard. This is a way to show that people who are different from you are human beings like you, important parts of the community.”

That message was proclaimed in signs that read “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of understanding” and “Stronger together” and “Practice aggressive kindness.”

There was only a spattering of scribbled profanity, and some soft-edged rule bending with signs like “Love Trumps Hate” and, well, OK, “Not up for grabs.”  Most were offered with a smile rather than a scream.

And the environmental issues surrounding oil pipelines and uranium mining inspired “Water is Life” and “Love your Mother” and related messages.

And who could argue with Love your Mother?

After a rally at the city administration building, the marchers were led by retired teacher Dorothy Brewick two blocks south to the sculpture of George Washington outside the Hotel Alex Johnson, where many left messages on the statue, appropriately enough, proclaiming American freedoms.

Then the highly energized, undulating ribbon of humanity moved north three blocks to re-unite for another rally in Memorial Park. There Brewick — who apparently was so warmed by the energy of the message and the crowd that she never felt the need to put on a coat  — continued to lead chants through her megaphone.

“What do we want?”

“Human rights!”

“When do we want them?”

“Now!”

With assistants flashing signs that read Health Care, Safety, Economic Security and Representation, Brewick told the crowd: “We believe that we should never be afraid to be who we are.”

She said the rally was “putting faces on this message — to respectfully join together to defend our rights.”

She called for a “together, respectfully” chant. Then she inspired a familiar call from a campaign message that helped power Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008.

“Yes we can. Yes we can. Yes we can!”

They could and did on Saturday in Rapid City, just as they could and did in Sioux Falls and in other communities large and small across the nation.

And I’m pretty sure they’ll do it again.

Hopefully together, respectfully.

 

 

 

 

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