To show solidarity with their sisters across the state and nation, hundreds of women, men and children gathered around the Orange County Courthouse last weekend seeking a moment to have their voices heard.
With other rallies and marches planned in nearby Raleigh and Greensboro, organizers weren’t sure about the turnout for the rainy Saturday morning event but were met with hundreds of people searching for camaraderie and a chance fight against attacks on women’s rights.
Orange County has a history and long-standing tradition of sharing ideas openly and “working for common causes even if you don’t agree with everything,” said co-organizer Christina Benson.
“I hope they feel something larger than themselves and motivated to actually make a difference in whatever way they can,” she said. “In actions, and not just words.”
Despite multiple anti-Donald Trump signs and references to remarks Trump made during the 2016 campaign, Benson said the rally wasn’t meant to be partisan.
“It’s meant to inspire people to watch out for each other and take care of each other and in the end that has to be done on a community level, so I love there is this national movement and helps gain visibility but the actions of helping people on the margins has to happen in our own community,” she said.
Throughout North Carolina, marches and rallies organized by women against Trump and attacks on women’s rights brought bigger crowds than expected with tens of thousands of protesters spilling into the streets in the state’s biggest cities.
Authorities estimated more than 10,000 people in Charlotte and Raleigh for protests that police expected to be half that size. Several thousand people showed up at separate rallies in Greensboro, Wilmington and Asheville. The demonstrations have been generally organized by liberal-leaning women and representatives of groups promoting agendas around government health care, labor rights, gay rights and abortion rights.
Marchers in Charlotte held up signs that read "We Will Not Be Silenced" and "My Body Belongs 2 Me." In Wilmington, signs read "No Hate In My State" and "Women's Rights Are Human Rights." Marchers in Greensboro held up signs with "Respect Works Both Ways" and "We're All God's Children + Equal In Her Sight."
In Hillsborough, signs that read “I Stand With All My Sisters” and “Women are People Not Objects” and many more were scattered through the crowd with women cheering and dancing as speakers and musicians shared their insight and hopes for the future. One that drew the cheers from speakers was the sign that read “I Won’t Sit Still and Look Pretty,” held by 11-year old Kelly Peterson.
“It was in a song and I just thought that a lot of people think that girls are just supposed to sit around and look pretty,” she said. “That is not what we are here for. We are strong and independent.”
Her mother, Chris, said those were Kelly’s words and her choice to write them on the sign.
“They, especially Kelly, have really been plugged into the election and the rhetoric that has been spewed and I wanted them to see that that’s not how it’s supposed to be,” she said. “I want them to feel empowered and to speak out when they disagree with what is being said.”
Gladys Moore and Violet Schonhardt were two of the hundreds of people in the crowd Saturday. It’s at the grassroots level, they said, where change can and should be made to help their community.
“We shouldn’t allow negative talk to overwhelm us,” Moore said. “And we shouldn’t allow politics to divide us because we are all people who love and will continue to love what this nation is doing.”
Rachel Schipull and Kristl Yuen, both from Chapel Hill and holding signs that read “Chin-Up and Fangs Out” and “You Haven’t Seen Nasty Yet,” said they wanted to build off the energy and momentum from Saturday’s event.
“To be in community and solidarity with people who are fighting for a more just and diverse America,” Yuen said.
Mysti Mayhem of the Mysti Mayhem Trio was one of the performing artists at the event and said she wanted to be here because she believed in the cause and believed “in diversity and the rights of all people and as a human rights activist, it’s my job to come out to events like this and support people.”
“I want people to feel empowered and hope they feel encouraged to make a difference and know they are not too small to make a difference,” she said, adding she felt encouraged and empowered by the people who attended the event Saturday.
Brigitte Schubert, of the Boogie Holler Drum Maniacs, was another performer who said she wanted to be in Hillsborough because it was their town and community.
“To be honest we wanted to support our local town. Raleigh, of course, was an option. Washington DC was an option. But when it comes down to seeing the faces you see shopping at Weaver Street, it’s about seeing these faces and answering the question ‘What are you going to do?’ If I am going to do something it’s with these people.”
Teresa Bunner, a former Orange County educator who now works in Wake County, was one of the speakers at the event and challenged the attendees to strive to be better.
“I leave you with another challenge today,” Bunner said. “I challenge you to hone your voices. It is easy on a day like this to muster the enthusiasm and come out for a couple of hours to chant, to cheer, to sing, to clap, but the change we are seeking takes work. We will not achieve equity for all through name-calling and violence or perpetuating falsehoods that support a bias narrative. But we will win with facts, resolution and listening to others and seeking common ground. And we will win through a persistent and unrelenting pursuit of what is right and good for all people.”