PITTSBURG — On Saturday, hundreds of people marched down the sidewalks on Broadway Street in support of victims of sexual assault, the LGBTQ community and women’s rights.
The Southeast Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women hosted the event.
The theme for this year’s march was “#metoo” a movement which, according to the the “Me Too Movement” website, was started by Tarana Burke around 2006 and about a decade later the phrase “me too” began spreading throughout social media.
“We are here today for support of survivors, so #MeToo,” Pittsburg State University Assistant Professor of the Department of English and Women’s Studies Sandra Cox said. “We have all come together to talk about the varied ways that systems of oppression affect women.”
Although some people are affected by sexual violence and oppression more than others, Cox said the group of marchers are particularly concerned with women who have experienced domestic violence,“intimate partner violence” and other sexual trauma.
Cox said marching down the streets is a way to get people to pay attention instead of talking privately and so “educate, organize and agitate” is the best option.
“We are committed to the tradition of nonviolent demonstration,” she said. “So we think it is better to occupy the public space and be open about our message instead of privately, because I think that it contributes to a system that silences women and make them feel alone in their experiences.”
Cox said they are also including women who are not accepted into the community because of improper documentation and people who have gender identities which are not widely accepted.
“This is a way to work to protect and empower each other,” she said.
Despite the title “Women’s March” some marchers said they were there for all people.
“We are here for equal rights, regardless of race, gender, sex or sexual orientation,” Pittsburg Resident Catherine Hooey said.
Each participant had different views on what they believe to be contributing factors to women’s rights and rights of all peoples.
Hooey’s said her interest in environmental science goes hand-in-hand with Saturday’s march.
“The lack of respect of science by decision makers is very disconcerting,” she said.
A father, Parsons resident Andrew Rausch, brought his daughter along for the march. She was one of the many of the children who walked down the street that afternoon.
“The main reason I’m here is I think it is important for this little girl,” he said pointing to his seven-year-old daughter. “I want her to be around strong female role models that show women have a voice.”
Rausch said he wants to stress facts are important, “where a world where facts have become questions.”
“I think the moment we start normalizing things that are happening in government today we are giving up what was the ‘American ideal,’” he said.
Pittsburg Resident Todd Madl came to the march with his wife.
“Women are people and I’m here to support them,” he said. “I’m not just here for women, if we stand up for rights of women, I really think it would be good for everyone.”
Madl said he believes money and political parties may be the reason some of women’s issues are put on the backburner or are disadvantaged compared to other issues.
“People compromise their values because they gotta get money,” he said.
He said politics and campaigning is a “competitive system” and he believes people certified to deal with mental health or experts in technical fields should be in current politician’s places, not people who are “vested at all cost.”
“Candidates — I don’t want to use this word — ‘pander’ to certain interest groups to get money,” he said.
Pittsburg Resident Mary Wehrman referred to herself as someone who has part of “Title 9.” During her childhood she said she experienced what it was like to not be on sports teams because she was a girl, including having fewer funds for the “girls’” team versus the “boys” team.
Although times have changed since then, Wehrman said, she encourages people to stand up for the women who are still dealing with oppression, whether in relationships, the workplace or school.
“We have to get through this together,” she said.
At the end of their route, at the Pritchett Pavillion, they listened to speakers — including Kansas State Representative Monica Murnan, Pittsburg City Commissioner Sarah Chenoweth, former Kansas State Representative Julie Menghini, PSU Students for Violence Prevention Coordinator Ali Smith, Cox, Safehouse Crisis Center Shelter Advocate Stephanie Spitz and community organizer Cynthia Hernandez.
Murnan who spoke about her experience in the Kansas legislature — often being the only woman representative — and investing in social and emotional development for children.
“We have to have good policies and procedures and practices in place to create cultures in work and learning environments that keep people safe, productive and can go home to their families in a very good place in order to share that with them,” she said.
Hernandez spoke about standing in silence and finally speaking about sexual assault and Huston shared about the girl who inspired her to be who she is today — herself, after overcoming the obstacles and being and treated differently because of who she is.
“Living your own truth and staying true to it is worth more than making a society and strangers happy,” Huston said.
A transgender woman also spoke to the crowd.
“I tend to not trade my authenticity for the approval of anyone,” she said.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.