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Wichita Women’s March: one crowd but a range of reasons

Across the globe, and in Wichita, millions turn out for women’s rights marches

People gathered at the Keeper of the Plains in downtown Wichita to take part in the Women's March. Similar marches were held across the globe, with an estimated 500,000 turning out for a similar event in Washington, D.C. (Jan. 21, 2017)
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People gathered at the Keeper of the Plains in downtown Wichita to take part in the Women's March. Similar marches were held across the globe, with an estimated 500,000 turning out for a similar event in Washington, D.C. (Jan. 21, 2017)

Among the many who marched to City Hall on Saturday were people carrying any number of clever protest posters, and explaining a range of reasons for being there.

Most of the Women’s March – Wichita Air Capital protesters on Saturday were wearing T-shirts or carrying signs that communicated a feminist or left-of-center political view. A few took digs at President Trump: “You can’t over-comb hatred,” one sign said.

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But march organizer Brandi Calvert said people of varied beliefs were welcome, including people opposed to abortion, for example. So standing beside Calvert on Saturday, before the march began, was Sybil Strum.

“I’m marching for women who are pro-life,” Strum said. “And for women who have been attacked.”

The marchers walked in a long, winding loop from the Keeper of the Plains monument to City Hall, singing, chanting and carrying signage: “I Am Woman.” “Real Men Support Women’s Rights.” “End Misogyny.” “Truth Matters.” “Pray for the Continued Separation of Church and State.”

Most women interviewed during the march mentioned women’s rights issues as the reason they showed up. Organizers said the demonstration was “pro-women,” not “anti-Trump,” but people in the crowd said Trump’s behavior often disappointed them.

“I am a mom and want both my children to feel equally safe in this world,” said Aubray Burnett, a massage therapist in Wichita and mother of a son, 7, and a daughter, 4. The daughter walked with Burnett in the protest but declined to be identified for this story, and refused repeated requests from passersby to get her picture taken wearing her cute pink hat.

I’m marching for women who are pro-life.

Sybil Strum, marcher on Saturday

She held a pink sign that said, simply, “Be polite.”

Some walkers rode in wheelchairs; some carried children on their shoulders. They ranged in age from Burnett’s 4-year-old to 72-year-old Jane Burns. “All of this is a huge act of trust,” Burns said at the Keeper footbridge, with hundreds of fellow citizens gathering around her.

All of this started, Burns said, with two single-mother neighbors and friends, Calvert and Adriane Dahl, who suggested the march on social media in November. “Amazing,” Burns said, as hundreds of walkers streamed past.

A crowd estimate was difficult. But the protesters filled up the footbridges and grassy areas on both sides of the Keeper of the Plains monument near downtown, and then walked five and six abreast to City Hall, in a thick line that stretched out to nearly a mile.

Calvert estimated the crowd at 3,000.

All of this is a huge act of trust.

Jane Burns, marcher on Saturday

Dahl said they thought at first, in November, that they might entice five to 10 people to march with them. “But there are so many here now that they’ve made me cry, a lot, today,” Dahl said.

Thousands of protesters marched Saturday in hundreds of similar gatherings around the country.

A Washington, D.C. official says the estimated turnout for the Women's March in the city now stands at a half a million. It is about double the amount of people who showed up to President Donald Trump's inauguration.

A number of Wichitans, including teacher Sonja Sommers Milbourn, rode buses to the women’s march in Washington, D.C.

“It’s been a long ride,” she said from outside Indianapolis on Friday evening. There were 54 Wichitans on her bus, she said.

“People are visiting, reading. I knit,” Milbourn said. “It’s been a good experience.”

The Wichita marchers gathered outside City Hall and listened to speakers including Karen Countryman-Roswurm, director of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University. A number of the protest signs touched on themes of sexual assault and harassment of women.

At one point in her talk, Countryman-Roswurm asked the crowd how many of them had been inappropriately and sexually touched at school, in the workplace or in the home.

Hundreds of women raised their hands.

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