It isn’t uncommon for parks to draw people on nice days, but the crowd filling Watson Park on Wednesday was of a different sort. All afternoon, speakers broadcast speeches, poetry and live music to a crowd of mostly women dressed in red.
Meghan Heriford, owner of Ladybird Diner, was one of more than a dozen presenters at the event, held in honor of International Women's Day and in solidarity with women’s strikes also being held Wednesday.
Heriford, who closed her downtown restaurant for the day, said she realized the event would not bring the world to a grinding halt, but that it allowed participants to have a conversation about the world they want to live in.
“I can’t do anything to change the mindset of Donald Trump or his Cabinet, but I can actively chip away at what put them in office,” Heriford said. “Every day, we reject the culture that made him possible and found no fault with language that’s misogynistic, racist, anti-immigrant — anti everything that isn’t rich and white and male. I reject that culture and lend my resources to the counter-culture.”
International Women's Day — not officially designated by the United Nations until the 1970s — was first associated with the women’s labor movement at the turn of the 20th century, and has since expanded to include various issues, from the pay gap to violence against women.
At midday Wednesday, more than 200 people gathered in the park, and crowds kept steady throughout the seven-hour event. In addition to speeches and live music, the park was lined with informational tables from groups such as the Kansas organization of the Women’s March on Washington, American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, and The Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center. Among the tables, one stood out.
The stand that Marylin Hinojosa was behind had fliers like the others, but was actually an ironing board propped open on the grass. Hinojosa said the ironing board represented all the women, such as those in the service industry, who weren’t able to take a day off for such an event. Hinojosa is a member of a group for local artists, Women of Color Makers, and said she was there to support women who wanted to advocate politically for issues such as equal pay, and access to child care and health care.
“We’re not asking for a reward; we’re asking for equality,” Hinojosa said.
Grier Starling, a Black Lives Matter activist and University of Kansas student, was there with a group of friends. Starling said he was there to show his support for women’s rights and to acknowledge issues such as sexual assault and domestic violence.
“I know for one thing, me showing up for women is a first step of many,” Starling said. “And so my goal was mainly just to show that I care.”
The event was organized by three local women: Melissa Johnson, Paulette Blanchard and Meghan July. July said the goal was to have an inclusive solidarity event that combined speeches about issues and music. In a long breath, July went through a list of the issues facing women, including economic inequality, reproductive rights, transgender rights and retaining civil rights.
“We have a long fight ahead of us for justice,” July said. “And we need to come together and have positive experiences and share space, so we know what we’re fighting for. We want to practice creating the society that we wish we lived in.”