Islanders support women’s issues with worldwide march

KAGAWONG—The bitter cold temperatures of January 19 could not deter about 50 people from attending the first annual Kagawong Women’s March on Saturday morning.

“I was getting all these phone calls and Facebook messages from people saying ‘really? Are we really doing this?’ and thinking, it’s okay, 10 of us will march on the hill, it doesn’t matter. But to see more than 50 people show up in the freezing cold and happily, cheerfully band together and march down the hill. I’m just so excited, it was a wonderful march,” says march organizer Meg Middleton.

The event saw people from as far away as Espanola come to Kagawong to support the cause.

“It’s pretty awesome because I’ve had a chance to meet all kinds of amazing women that I didn’t know from across Manitoulin,” says Ms. Middleton.

The Women’s March protest began in 2017 in Washington, DC, one day following US President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Many of his past comments have been considered to be negative against women so the date served as an important counterpoint to growing cries for equality across the sexes.

The march aims to advocate for a number of causes, including human and women’s rights, environmental crises and tolerance. The 2017 event is estimated to have drawn over seven million participants around the world and the 2018 event was supported by millions as well.

The event began at 9 am in the Kagawong Park Centre, where eager participants had gathered early to make signs in support of the cause, an idea that marcher Susan Snelling had suggested.

“I suggested that we might get together and make some signs and make hats just to really create an occasion for this women’s march. And I think we did that,” says Ms. Snelling.

Despite the frigid temperatures, Ms. Middleton says the energy from all the eager marchers kept them feeling warm.

“I wasn’t even cold because I just felt so amazing that we could all come together to make sure that we address these issues and the things that we all share in common that we want to change and make better. I feel like this is going to happen, we are going to actually make those changes moving forward,” says Ms. Middleton.

The march extends beyond women’s rights to include making what Ms. Middleton describes as important political changes.

“We want to raise awareness for people. You could talk about feminism and you could talk about equal rights, but it’s more than that. It’s all of the political things that are happening and coming down the pipeline all the time and our lived experience every day. That’s where we really need to see change,” she says.

A few minutes before the start time of 11 am, people began to gather at the Main Street Café parking lot where they started their march towards the lake. The many coloured signs hung brightly over their heads as they chanted empowering slogans such as “whatever I wear, wherever I go, yes means yes and no means no.”

Their route took them along Highway 540 past Bridal Veil Falls and then down into the village, with a final destination of the Aus Hunt Marina. There, the group paused for a photo and then walked up to the Kagawong Park Centre to defrost and enjoy some light refreshments.

Ms. Snelling says the feeling of solidarity from the event was very motivating.

“There are people marching in Washington, DC, in Chicago, in Seattle, in Owen Sound, in Sudbury. We’re not alone. Every step that we’re taking, women are taking in other places, too. So it really gives that sense of being part of something bigger,” says Ms. Snelling.

“What I’m hoping happens from this conversation is that people decide that they’re going to take part in these issues, not just one day a year, but make it a part of their everyday lives,” says Ms. Middleton.

For Ms. Snelling, just by participating, the marchers are showing their hope for a brighter future for women and other marginalized groups.

“Everyone who comes here today sees the potential for a better world and wants to find a way to contribute to that,” she says.

Ruth Farquhar is one of the participants who came to march through the cold. She says she has been a feminist for years and that the women’s march is very dear to her heart.

“Any time women get together, it’s important. It’s like a community, like a family. If anyone’s having issues they know who to turn to. There’s so many issues going on in the world right now and politically and I think it’s important to have support no matter what’s going on,” says Ms. Farquhar.

Another marcher, Carrianne Agawa, says events such as these are important to give Indigenous women a voice.

“We don’t often get the opportunity to use our voice, and so when there’s events like this I think it’s very important to participate,” she says.

D’Arcy O’Neill took part in the march alongside some members of the Redrum Motorcycle Club. He says old ways of thinking have to change first in order to create better conditions for others.

“Stop the fighting. Stop the abuse. Stop thinking ‘I’m better because I’m a guy.’ Nonsense. You know, patriarchy. Forget about it. That’s how we got there, let’s call it what it is.”

With all the marchers now in the Park Centre to warm up, Ms. Middleton addresses the room by sharing some of the services offered at Manitoulin Family Resources.

“I wanted to make sure that everybody knows some ways that we can help women in our communities,” she tells the crowd. She makes note of its new phone number (705-368-3400) and mentions that it has a 10-bed emergency shelter for vulnerable people in need.

“In the meantime, give everybody who you know some love and some big hugs. Let’s just keep this amazing day and this great feeling moving forward,” she says.

Ms. Middleton says she plans to host another march for International Women’s Day on March 8 and hopes to see even more people out then.