CHAMPAIGN – On a day when Women’s Marches took place all across the country, hundreds of people gathered at West Side Park in Champaign on Saturday afternoon to participate in the movement. The C-U event was the only one registered in Illinois, outside of Chicago.
The rally kicked off with a series of speakers, including State Representative Carrol Ammons, who talked about the importance of representation of all groups, including women, in politics. She also acknowledged the importance of showing up to these kinds of events.
“Many African American women are struggling to figure out what to do with their children because they have to work service industry jobs right now,” she said. “We have to stand in the gap for our sisters who cannot be present for whatever reason.”
The all-female roster of speakers also included 16-year-old Madeline Garbacz, a junior at Urbana High School. She discussed her frustration with her inability to vote, due to her age.
“It’s important to me that I at least share my message, and maybe convince that one person who can vote, but who’s not sure yet,” she said.
Garbacz said she’s excited that she will turn 18 in time to vote in the next election.
“I’m definitely looking forward to voting. I’ve done all the math and the countdowns, so I know I can vote in the next midterm election,” she said.
Attendees to the rally also heard from speakers about environmental issues, immigration, racial justice and the importance of politics in our day-to-day lives.
The grassroots event was organized by two local Champaign-Urbana women, Lisa Burgoon and Susan Kundrat. Not affiliated with any specific organization, the two were inspired to mobilize the night that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.
“We just were like, ‘You know what, we’re women here who are very interested and concerned about getting the vote out,'” Burgoon says. “There are significant issues around women’s rights, and around lots of civil rights that [Kundrat] and I are firmly interested in moving forward.”
Burgoon says her hope was to amplify the voices of women and reach people who aren’t involved in the women’s rights movement.
“We may be preaching to the choir at this event. You know, that happens a lot of times at rallies — it’s like-minded people. But not always, and sometimes it can really make a difference, and that’s what we hope will happen,” she says.
After the series of speakers wrapped up, the crowd was divided into four groups to begin marching around the perimeter of the park. The division was made in order to keep in compliance with COVID-19 public safety guidelines. Marchers raised their signs and chanted things like, “This is what democracy looks like.”
Women made up the majority of attendees to the rally, but there were men present as well. Drake Materre said he felt it was his moral obligation to attend the rally and support women, specifically Black women.
“My mother’s a Black woman, my grandmother’s a Black woman, my sister’s a Black woman,” he said. “So I stand in solidarity with Black women first.”
A handful of local female politicians were in attendance, including Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin and Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen. Co-organizer Lisa Burgoon says all 18 female politicians who are on the Champaign County ballot this election cycle — both Democrats and Republicans — were invited to attend.
Dana Cronin is a reporter for Illinois Newsroom. Follow her on Twitter: @DanaHCronin