Chicago Women’s March centers intersectionality, pushes for midterm turnout
Demonstrators marched through the streets of Chicago during the Women's March Chicago on Saturday, Oct. 13. | Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times via AP

CHICAGO—The Chicago’s Women’s March launched this year’s annual gathering with a “march to the polls,” hosting thousands at Grant Park on Saturday and encouraging attendees to participate in next month’s midterm elections. Several Women’s March volunteers escorted registered voters to the polls for early voting, while others helped new voters get registered.

The pre-march festivities were led by Melissa Duprey, a Chicago native, actress, and Afro-Puerto Rican activist, and featured a number of versatile musicians and speakers. The lineup was noticeably more diverse than in previous years, indicating the ongoing efforts by the Women’s March to create more intersectional spaces after facing criticism for a lack of inclusivity.

Duprey says she was initially surprised that she was invited to emcee the event, especially given her history of outspoken political activism. “I don’t typically shy away from saying things,” said the veteran performer, who was told she had free range to express her political views. One of the main reasons the Women’s March recruited Duprey was for her natural charisma and ability to connect with youth. “They said we want our young Black and brown audiences to feel connected to you.”

Melissa Duprey, at podium, was emcee of this Saturday’s Women’s March Chicago. | Chicago Sun-Times via AP

There was a strategic effort to garner a more youthful crowd this year; organizers hoped it would encourage younger community members to vote. University of Illinois at Chicago Prof. Barbara Ransby, author of Making All Black Lives Matter, spoke on the crucial nature of voting during her speech to the rally. “I hope you remain energized until Nov. 3, 2020, so that we can give Donald Trump an eviction notice,” Ransby said. “Take his entire racist agenda and all of his corrupt cronies and get the hell out of Washington, D.C.”

The Women’s March consistently attracts large crowds, but Duprey says that it’s important to expand on the movement’s work by centering young Black and brown youth voices. “The reality is that a lot of young people feel the existing system doesn’t represent their views,” Duprey said, while speaking on the “march to the polls” theme. “We want to encourage people to vote while maintaining their autonomy—not dictating who they vote for.”

The 33-year-old artist also spoke extensively on stage about Chicago’s local activist scene. She mentioned organizations such as Assata’s Daughters and the Let Us Breathe Collective, who opened up the “Breathing Room” community center in Back of the Yards just last year. “There are plenty of young people who have already been doing extremely intersectional work in the city.”

Other speakers echoed Duprey’s statements. Amani Johnson, a student at De Paul University and co-founder of BRAVE youth collective, spoke on stage as well. BRAVE is a peer youth council geared towards violence prevention. They were part of the march that shut down the Dan Ryan interstate last summer. Johnson says the goal of the march was to get the attention of elected officials and bring awareness to the desperate need for resources on Chicago’s South and West sides. “Our communities have been neglected for far too long.” While they received some initial backlash for halting traffic, Johnson said that they are doing necessary work for their communities. “Maybe you should ask yourself what you are doing to uplift your communities or those around you because we are working.”

While the women’s march has made great strides this year, there is still a lot of work to be done. “It can’t just be about bringing me in,” said Duprey. “I represent multiple intersections, but I can’t just puppet for all voices.”

Duprey wants to encourage people to participate in future marches while continually challenging their own politics and centering youth-led activism. “I don’t think it’s up to us to reinvent or reform what already exists,” she said, “but instead reimagine our own movements.”


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.