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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Women’s march brings reproductive rights to the forefront

Bellingham heard from a wide range of speakers in this year’s women’s march

By Riley Kankelberg

The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the first Women’s March was held in Washington D.C. The protests spread until over four million people were marching through the streets of Washington D.C.; the march is now a national event. On Jan. 18, protesters took to the streets of Bellingham for the fourth year in a row.

Attendees wore pink hats and shirts and held signs reading, “Our bodies, our choice,” “My superpower is voting” and “Flush Trump” with a picture of a toilet bowl.

The march began in front of Bellingham City Hall, where activists from youth empowerment programs, teen councils and other leadership programs introduced speakers. One of the speakers was 19-year-old Sophie Wagner, a reproductive rights activist and Planned Parenthood volunteer. Wagner spoke about the first time she went to Planned Parenthood for birth control at age 17. She said although she was nervous, the trip was an eye-opening experience.

“Before that first appointment, I hadn’t had much in the way of sex ed,” she said. “I thought the only type of birth control available to me was the pill. That day, I got the best sex education of my life and learned things about my body I hadn’t even known. I left the office knowing my world had just been forever altered and that I had been handed the key to my own reproductive health and well-being.”

Wagner called for change heading into the new decade. She encouraged the crowd to stand up to politicians and fight for health care that supports women instead of limiting them.

The march had nine speakers, six of whom were politicians. Washington State Sen. Liz Lovelett was impressed by the turnout and engagement.

“We always fill up the joint,” she said. “Obviously people care, this community is very engaged. This makes it really easy for me to know [I am] heading in the right direction with what I’m doing with policy and the demonstrations.”

Part of that engagement was the makeup of the crowd. Every generation was in attendance, from elementary schoolers with their own handmade signs to older marchers in pink ensembles.

“It takes that merging of all of the generations to bring these causes forward,” Lovelett said. “And what’s great is we have not only the ability to [be a] role model for younger generations, but we have the incredible expertise that comes from the older generations. So I’m so glad they’ve been fighting as long as they have and as hard as they have.”

Washington State Rep. Sharon Shewmake said she was impressed by the turnout and what she’s seeing in younger generations of women.

“Young people know so much more than the rest of us do,” Shewmake said. “I interact with Western students all the time and the things that I took for granted, you guys aren’t putting up with … You guys know better. You know how to push back and how to say no, and that you don’t have to be a nice girl to get the boys to like you, and maybe you don’t care if the boys like you or not. It’s just so refreshing.”

The march wasn’t only focused on reproductive health. Washington State Rep. Rick Larsen took the podium to discuss climate change and immigration.

“We need to continue to push back against this administration’s efforts to undermine our economy, to undermine our environment and to undermine our efforts against climate change and on immigration,” he said. “We are a nation of immigrants, whether you come from Norway, like my ancestors did and settled out in Deming in 1878, or folks from Guatemala or India or Ukraine or Iran or Mexico, wherever immigrants come from looking for the basic things in life.”

Lee Che Leong, an activist and Planned Parenthood board member, also spoke about immigration.

“As the daughter of immigrants, I’m proud to say on behalf of Mount Baker Planned Parenthood, that we are better than the cruelty and corruption of this last year,” she said. “We are better than locking kids in cages. We are better than pardoning war criminals … Our values are freedom, justice, equality. The United States is a democracy and the numbers are on our side.”

Before the march, the crowd heard a charge from Wagner: “We have to stand up for each other and for the things we believe in, because if we don’t, we know full well no one else will,” Wagner said. “So to everyone here today, let me leave you with one final call to action. Be outspoken, be kind, support women and everyone out there trying to make a difference in this world.”

When the march began, youth activists led the march through streets blocked off by police cars. People watched through windows and stepped out of stores to watch as the sea of pink made its way through a mile-long loop downtown.

Chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Trump and team have got to go,” “What is democracy? This is democracy!” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” started at the head of the line and cycled to the end.

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