'We've kept the ball rolling': Canadians mark 1 year since Women's March

Thousands took to the streets in U.S. cities Saturday for the second Women's March, on the anniversary of U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration. Canadians who marched in solidarity with Americans say this year their focus is on local and Canadian issues.

Canadians say they're rallying with a new focus on women in politics

Mother and daughter, Sofia Rizzo, right, and Cathy Rizzo, from Toronto, demonstrate at the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017. (Della Rollins/Canadian Press)

One year ago Sara Bingham was part of a caravan of Canadians on buses heading to Washington, D.C., for the historic Women's March in protest of Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president.

An emergency phone number was written on her forearm with black marker. The travellers were unsure what to expect when they arrived and were prepared for conflict, just in case.

That's not what they found as they spent the day mingling around the protest site, which was crammed with an estimated 500,000 people, many sporting pink hats.

"It was really a feeling of being at a festival," Bingham, who lives in Kitchener, Ont., said in an interview this week.

At the march, she waded through the tightly packed crowd toward the stage and heard Madonna and other celebrities, activists and elected officials rally the jubilant crowd.

"It was exhilarating," said Bingham. "It will be one of our remember-when moments."

Bingham was one of thousands of Canadian women who participated in the Washington march and solidarity marches across Canada last Jan. 21.

Concrete actions

What was next for Bingham was becoming executive director of Women's March Canada, one of the global chapters of the U.S.-based Women's March, to fight for women's rights and social justice.

A separate organization was also created: March On, whose members describe themselves as more grassroots than Women's March.
Sara Bingham, wearing a red scarf, went to Washington for the 2017 march. She became executive director of Women's March Canada. (Sara Bingham)

Despite some discord over the last year, the groups are working together to organize rallies across Canada on Saturday to mark the anniversary. At least 40 are planned from coast to coast to coast.

Bodil Geyer, a March On organizer in Vancouver, and other activists interviewed said Trump's election and the Women's March spurred Canadians to get involved in their local communities.

"It created this massive groundswell of everyday people who wouldn't normally be political to get involved," said Geyer.

That interest has not let up, according to Geyer. There is a rally every month, fighting for one social justice issue or another, and people have remained active on social media and kept the conversations going.

"We've kept the ball rolling," said Geyer.

'This isn't about Trump'

Ottawa resident Catherine Butler had never been politically active. But when she heard about the Women's March in Washington she was keen to express solidarity with American women.

She organized a local rally instead that attracted thousands in Canada's capital. Butler said this year's event on Parliament Hill will have a different focus.

"This isn't about Trump," she said. "We have a lot of things we can focus on at home."

Supporting Indigenous women, particularly throughout the troubled inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, is a priority, said Butler. People are being encouraged to talk to Indigenous women in their communities to understand how to help.
Protesters take part in the Women's March in Ottawa last year following the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. president. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Another priority for the Women's March and March On is getting more women into politics.

Butler said with an Ontario election in June and municipal elections across the province in October, their message to women is either run or join a campaign for a woman candidate.

After Saturday's march in Ottawa there is a workshop focused on women in politics. Campaign schools are also being organized in various cities to prepare women to run.

Butler said last year's march was organized quickly in reaction to Trump, and the organizers had to take a deep breath and decide where to go next.

'Renewed optimism'

"What we are going to be when we grow up is now well established," she said.

Organizers of Saturday's marches say the #MeToo movement that emerged at the end of last year and put a spotlight on sexual harassment and abuse has helped their cause.

Kavita Dogra, an organizer of Toronto's march, said #MeToo has prompted even more women to speak up and get involved.
Protesters in Toronto march in support of the Washington Women's March on Jan. 21, 2017. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"There's renewed optimism that change can happen, and I think people want to show their support for that," said Dogra.

The Toronto event is emphasizing young women leaders on its speakers list. The idea is to support future leaders who will help shape the city, Dogra said.

Toronto organizers, like those in other cities, are also focused on educating men and women on how to be politically active. 

"We are hoping to keep people inspired to take action, to keep the movement going forward, trying to build a city that is great for everyone," she said.

Janelle Hinds, a 25-year-old engineering graduate, is one of the young women speaking Saturday. She said the Women's March and #MeToo provided openings for her work in advocating for more women in science and technology.

She's been doing that for two years, and "I'm starting to feel it now," said Hinds. "I think there is a lot of momentum."

Hinds said the inaugural Women's March helped women feel more empowered, and #MeToo has carried on the feeling.

"One hundred per cent, I do not think it fizzled out, if anything it's only gotten stronger," said Hinds.
Janelle Hinds, from Mississauga, Ont., poses within an iron ring, a symbol of the engineering field. Hinds, 25, is an engineering graduate who is working to advance women and racial diversity in science and technology. (Mobolaji Adeolu)


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitz_meagan