At least 600 people rallied at the state Capitol Wednesday to observe International Women’s Day, participating in a day of strikes, protests, lobbying and walkouts that event organizers titled “A Day Without a Woman.” The civic action in Madison was part of a nationwide movement designed to show the contributions women make to the economy and call attention to the injustices women endure around the world.
People of all ages, including a sizeable number of students who walked out of area high schools around midday, showed their support by marching from different parts of the city to the Capitol, where speakers bemoaned not just threats to women’s rights, but also to the rights of immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ people and people of color.
A group of about 50 UW-Madison students met on Library Mall to hear a speaker from the university’s socialist organization at 11 a.m., after some walked out of classes to join the protest. As they marched down State Street to join the citywide rally, they shouted chants that celebrated the intersections of social justice movements.
“Gay, straight, black, white; same struggle, same fight!” a member of the International Socialist Organization’s Madison chapter shouted through a megaphone, as the marchers drew the attention of unsuspecting passersby.
As the UW-Madison students arrived at the Capitol, about 25 minutes before the event was scheduled to officially start at noon, a modest group of community members lingered around downtown Madison. But about 15 minutes later, a large swarm of high school students, along with some teachers, flooded the Capitol after staging a walkout from a number of area schools.
The students, who came by the hundreds, chanted, “this is what a feminist looks like” and “women united will never be defeated” as they made their way up the steps of the Capitol.
“I have the privilege to be able to skip out on school and work, and this is about speaking out for people who don’t have that chance,” Rose Caplan, a Madison East High School student who attended the rally, said. “Some people don’t have as much security as me, like undocumented immigrants. Me coming here is me trying to give them a voice and stand up for their rights that they might not have the chance to talk about.”
Other students cited the wage gap, high rates of sexual assault and general discrimination as reasons they felt it was important to attend the protest.
“I think it’s backwards that a victim [of sexual assault] should be blamed for what happened to her or him,” Zoe Svanoe, a La Follette High School student, said.
Jagoda Swallop, also from La Follette, added that the rally was not just about women, but all marginalized people.
“I never had the chance to go to a protest, but it’s an extremely important issue,” Swallop said. “People have to deal with discrimination all over—not just women, but people of color and many others.”
Speakers at the event continued the rally’s theme of intersectionality.
Jessica Williams, an advocate for survivors of gender-based violence at Freedom Inc., pointed to the story of Cierra Finkley as an example of a minority woman being failed by a system that is insensitive to women’s issues. Williams said Finkley was a victim of domestic abuse, and was punished for acting out in self-defense after several disregarded 911 calls.
“If you are a black woman, you don’t get mentioned when women are discussed,“ Williams said. “Patriarchy is not just personal or private, but also structural.”
There were political undertones to the rally, with many of the speakers denouncing the Trump administration for what they considered misogyny and insensitivity to women’s and minority issues.
“I don’t think a march like this has happened before that I can recall on International Women’s Day. Maybe I’m more aware this year because of the new administration,” Barb Klich, a nurse in Madison, said. “I’m here today for reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood and the ACA.”
Some protesters entered the Capitol after the rally to voice support to their representatives for women’s issues. The day of action continued later Wednesday evening with an event titled “International Women's Day Against Trump,” held at UW-Madison's humanities building.
UPDATE March 8, 9:15 p.m.: This article was updated to include information about an event Wednesday night.