Joining worldwide protests, more than 5,000 people rally for women’s rights in KC

Kansas City rally coincides with Women's March on Washington

Several thousand people gathered Saturday in Washington Square Park as Kansas City joined in rallies around the world for women's rights.
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Several thousand people gathered Saturday in Washington Square Park as Kansas City joined in rallies around the world for women's rights.

Thousands crammed Washington Square Park on Saturday as Kansas City joined in a day of women’s marches around the county.

In messages clearly aimed at the new president, speakers railed about reproductive rights, immigration, equal pay, religious freedom, rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and the urgency to fight any attacks on human dignity for all.

Rabbi Doug Alpert of Congregation Kol Ami drew one of the day’s biggest cheers when he addressed religious freedom and President Donald Trump’s talk of a registry for Muslims in the country.

“If Muslims are forced to register, then meet Muslim Rabbi Doug Alpert,” he said.

Before the event, organizers predicted about 2,000 people would attend. There appeared to be far more than that as a diverse crowd gathered early and grew during the event in a shoulder-to-shoulder mass that covered nearly the whole park at Pershing Road and Grand Boulevard.

According to a Facebook post by Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté, more than 5,000 people attended the march. No arrests were made, he said.

The day began with a mass singing of the national anthem. Kansas City Mayor Sly James then welcomed the crowd, saying how he was proud of the city’s turnout and encouraged everyone with a saying he learned in the Marine Corp — “Adapt, improvise and overcome.”

Some signs in the crowd: “I will not quietly go back to the 1950s,” “Girls just Want to have Fundamental Rights”, “Michelle 2020” and “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance.”

Caroline West attended with her daughter and granddaughter.

“We thought we’d fought these battles a long time ago,” West said. “But you remember that song, well, it’s time to roar again.”

She mentioned the Affordable Care Act, abortion rights and equal pay as issues she most worries about.

What did she think of Friday’s inauguration?

“I didn’t watch it, I couldn’t,” she said. “It was a terrible day for the country.”

Luisa Fernandez of Kansas City said she loved seeing the diversity in the crowd.

“Because I believe that women’s rights aren’t just for women, they are basic human rights,” she said. “Everyone is here today because they believe in something.”

On stage, speaker Zoya Khan, president of the KU Muslim Student Association, pushed the crowd to resist hateful winds in the country.

“Complacency is not an option,” she said. “And regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum — human dignity is not up for debate.”

Taylor Hirth, who said she was a victim of sexual assault, called for stronger laws against rape, and in doing so called out men for not making the country safer.

“You have collectively failed to do so,” she said.

Judy Sherry, of Grandparents Against Gun Violence, called for the need to eliminate loopholes for gun purchases and to increase background checks. She also slammed new measures calling for a reduction in the age required to buy a gun.

“Does anybody know a 19-year-old,” she asked to laughter and applause.

Kansas City Council member Jolie Justus, who identified herself as a gay woman, said she started getting calls immediately after the election from people worried about gay marriage and other LGBTQ issues.

“Your fears are real,” Justus said. “But we are strong when we stand together. There are 1,380 days until the next election — harness this energy today.

“Call journalists. They are the ones to hold this administration accountable.”

Sophia Durone, 15, a student at St. Teresa’s Academy, said she was very excited to be part of the event. She said she’d been dismayed by the post-election tone of the country.

“Hate does not make America great again,” she said.

Sofia Khan, an immigration activist, talked about the need to support refugees.

A day after President Trump called for an end to the Affordable Care Act, Melissa Robinson from the Black Healthcare Coalition pointed out the disparity that African-Americans and other minorities face and she called on people to fight for equality in health care.

“People don’t change because they see the light,” she said. “They change because they feel the heat.”

The Star’s Toriano Porter contributed to this report.

Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182