The Future is Female

Thunder Bay Women’s March a massive success

By: Sam Mathers, News Editor

More than a hundred people of all ages (and a few furry friends) gathered Saturday at the Ka-Na-Chi-Hih Centre for Thunder Bay’s first Women’s March. Thunder Bay’s was 1 of 30 marches in Canada, and 1 of 673 around the world. Last year, the first Women’s March was held in response to the inauguration of America’s 45th President, Donald Trump. Making it the largest single-day protest in the country’s history, it is estimated that five million people participated worldwide.

PC: Sam Mathers

This year, Women’s March U.S. continued to protest many of the Trump administration’s policies on immigration and healthcare, and encouraged Americans to get out and vote, with the theme of “Power to the Polls.” The theme for Women’s March Global was “Look Back, March Forward.” With three approaching elections, Thunder Bay’s march was also heavily focused on the importance of voting, and the involvement of women in politics.

PC: Sam Mathers

After opening remarks from event organizer Nancy Johnson, the event began with drumming led by Sheila Karasewicz. She along with three other women, played the very fitting, Strong Woman’s Song. Karasewicz shared the origin of the song, which was initially played by a group of women who gathered outside a penitentiary after hearing of a woman inside who was contemplating suicide. The song grew so loud, that it reached the woman inside, and saved her life.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Hon. Patty Hajdu was in attendance, who also served as the Minister on the Status of Women until January of last year. Before the march, Hajdu spoke of her work as Minister on the Status of Women, which included the creation of a federal gender based violence strategy as well as a gender statement in the national budget. She said: “These are the kinds of things that happen when women step up. When they take their place. When they decide, even when the odds are against them, to run. To challenge leadership. To seek an opportunity to have their voice heard. Not just for their own perspectives or their own community, but [for] women all across the country.”

The group set out to march up Balmoral Street, carrying signs that read: “Ok Ladies, Now Let’s Get in Formation,” “Equité Salariale,” “Respect,” and “I Can’t Believe I Still Have to Protest This Shit!” to name a few.

Upon returning, the group heard from many inspiring women within the community, who shared personal stories and encouraged more women to get involved in politics. Lise Vaugeois, a recent NDP nominee for Thunder Bay Superior North, and a contract lecturer at Lakehead University, said: “I [want to] pay tribute to the other women in the room who are active in politics. I think we all know that it’s not easy, and I think we’re all in it to try and make our communities better. Perhaps where we differ is in how we analyze what holds systems of oppression in place, and being able to have those conversations in our activist groups and with each other at whatever level we are active is important.”

Vaugeois spoke of the Me Too movement, and of the backlash that comes with challenging power, noting: “We can’t be afraid to talk about power. We need to also recognize that when we push back against power there’s always a backlash. We’re already starting to see the backlash from the Me Too movement. We’ve seen the backlash from minimum wage…but these backlashes are predictable, and we should anticipate that they are going to happen and be ready for them and we should also recognize that part of hanging on to power is to discredit those who step up and challenge it.”

One of three female City Councillors in Thunder Bay, Rebecca Johnson, wondered when the fight for equality will finally end, and remarked, “thirty some odd years ago, you know what? We were burning bras… and we’re still, all these years later working on this.” She reminisced about a conversation she had with Judy Davies, an attorney and wife to former Lakehead University President Brian Stevenson. Davies expressed concern for her daughters’ futures, so the two brought together a group of eight women who were trying to encourage more women in Northwestern Ontario to enter politics. Today, their group of eight has grown to a group of fifty-five. Johnson is often told that women can’t work together, to which she says, “Hold it! We work together. We work together really, really, well. And we accomplish all kinds of things together. So, don’t tell me about ‘women can’t work together,’ we do, and we do well… you can discuss things in a different way. And women have power. Women definitely have power.”

Brandi Hale, a Grade 12 student at Churchill Highschool, spoke to the crowd about her experience with feminism and the decision to change her career path from forensic psychology to women’s studies, which she will begin studying at Carleton University in the Fall. Her decision stemmed from her experience in a philosophy class, where a particular scenario posed by her teacher on International Women’s Day really opened her eyes to the double standards and disadvantages facing women: “because the women in my life – teachers, family, friends, they are all so strong and powerful and independent and I could not imagine somebody denying them of an opportunity or underestimating them just because they were a woman.”

Since then, Hale said: “More than anything, I’ve really started to question a lot of the things that I thought were true…we as a society and as a community need to keep asking these questions and challenging these expectations that are placed on us, because it’s not enough to be complicit with what we have. We can, and we should expect more than what we’ve been given, because it’s what we deserve but have been denied of for so long.”

A lawyer and lead organizer for LEAP Thunder Bay, Joy Wakefield, shared a series of deeply moving and poignant personal experiences which brought the audience both to tears and to their feet in applause. Despite the many hardships she and her family have faced, Wakefield also recognized her privilege, saying: “many women suffer like me – except without all the resources, the support, or a way out. Many women suffer not like me, in ways I will never understand or experience.”

Wakefield went on to discuss Kimberlé Crenshaw’s basement metaphor. Containing all the disadvantaged people in the world, the people in the basement are stacked feet on shoulders, with those at the bottom disadvantaged by multiple factors and those at the top disadvantaged by only one. The floor above the basement holds those individuals not disadvantaged by society. Wakefield said: “As a woman who has climbed steadily out of this basement, my question should not only be how far can I go, but what is my responsibility to those whose shoulders hold me up, to those still in the basement? And ultimately, how can I raise the floor so that my sisters and mothers and daughters can stand with me and not under me?” She asked, “When was the last time that you took your eyes off the glass ceiling to look down at the shoulders of the women you occupy?”

President of the Political Science Student Association at Lakehead University, Jacqueline Forbes Dyck said that the two most important things she has learned in university are “that politics is the relations of power on large and minute scales and feminism is needed in every one of those power relations.” She made reference to Miriam Webster’s Dictionary’s word of 2017, saying: “we are the word of the year. One hundred years after the suffragette movement came to Canada and the word of the year is finally feminist.” Dyck also discussed the misconception that “feminism is dead,” giving a list of horrifying quotes from world leaders this year, before saying, “these are the men in power. And they are talking about women like this.” Ending on a hopeful note, Dyck made a call to action: “let’s make some goals for our word of the year in 2018. Let’s make the word of the year reconciliation. Let’s make it equity. Let’s make it equality, or education, or empowerment.”

Thunder Bay’s first Women’s March was a huge success, and plans for next year are already in the works, with participants volunteering to help with the organization in 2019. Organizer Nancy Johnson closed the event with a quote from Maya Angelou: “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” It was easy to see that people leaving the march felt empowered, motivated to take action, and hopeful for the future. With more than 600 marches globally, there is no doubt that those positive feelings reverberated around the world. Change is coming.

The Ontario General Election is set for June 7, 2018. The next municipal election will take place on October 22, 2018, and Canada’s next federal election will be held in October of 2019. As Rebecca Johnson put it: “Educate yourself. Go out and vote. And make sure that your daughters go out and vote.”