Numbers may have been diminished at the third annual Philadelphia Women’s March on Jan. 19, but high spirits remained as thousands amassed on the Parkway.
Organized by grassroots Philly Women Rally, Inc., the event that started at Eakins Oval and ended at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s steps not only battled cold temperatures, but also faced a divided front with a newly formed Women’s March at Love Park. Headed by Women’s March Pennsylvania, the separate march had ties to the nationally organized Women’s March.
The national march has been under fire for alleged anti-Semitism amongst its organizers, particularly in relations to their support of Nation of Islam leader and outspoken anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.
“Our organization has not ever been affiliated with the national organization because of some of the concerns that everybody’s already written about,” said Beth Finn, a founding board member of Philly Women Rally, Inc. “I am very disappointed, as a Jewish woman myself, that they have not been more clear about denouncing anti-Semitism and being more inclusive of all women. I personally don’t feel welcome in their organization and that’s one of the reasons why we have our own organization.”
Philly Women’s Rally, Inc. also faced backlash after a recent transition of a number of board numbers and last year’s misunderstanding over police presence.
Yet even with setbacks, the locally organized march featured an impressive speaker lineup of important figures, among which included Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
“I think it is a great statement about the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection that we’re all gathered here fighting for equal rights for all, bringing lots of different issues to the table with a common theme being we must be heard, that everybody’s voice matters in this process,” said AG Shapiro to Philadelphia Weekly. That’s why I’m here to let people know, I’m fighting for them.”
Shapiro gave a rousing speech with Berks County native Mary McHale, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse. Shapiro has pioneered the efforts against the clergy’s abuses since the Grand Jury report went public in August, accusing 301 priests of sexual misconduct. However, victims coming out the woodwork have little to no legal recourse due to the statute of limitations and the bills that have been blocked in the PA Senate to allow an extended window of time for older victims to come forward against their predators.
“Her powerful voice is going to be heard by tens of thousands of women here,” continued Shapiro to PW. “And I got to tell you, the folks in Harrisburg are going to hear Mary and all of the other survivors, and I’m confident that they will pass those reforms.”
Another powerful moment of the march was when three of the “Fab Four,” the term coined for PA’s largest contingent of women to ever be elected to the House, took the stage together. U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Delaware County, U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Chester County and U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County shared the mic to speak on an array of issues, including women’s rights and their collective victory for more gender representation on the federal stage. U.S. Rep. Susan Wild of Lehigh Valley was not in attendance, since she was present at the Women’s March in Bethlehem.
“It’s pretty remarkable. Two years ago I organized a bus to go down to Washington DC. There were fifty three of us on the bus. Two years later, I am standing here with the opportunity to serve us in Congress,” said Rep. Houlahan to PW. “I’m only two weeks in, but it’s a pretty remarkable journey in just two years to be able to take the energy that I got from the marches that I participated in and bring that energy and those issues to Washington for all of us.”
As Congresswoman Houlahan noted, it has only been two weeks since the swearing in of the new House and Senate, but the congresswomen have been busy at work as the partial government shutdown heads into its fifth week. Congresswoman Dean explained that the shutdown was an added “fuel for being here,” and a situation she hopes will be rectified soon for the impacted families and for the security of the nation.
Congresswoman Scanlon, who also spoke at the furloughed workers rally on Jan. 8, agreed to PW that the spirit of the day needed to be honed in on fixing the issues on Capitol Hill.
“I think we need to keep the pressure on the senate,” said Congresswoman Scanlon, who was sworn in back in November. “Madeline [Dean] spoke about courage being in the air. We need Mitch McConnell to have some of that courage.”
This was the first Women’s March that State Rep. Morgan Cephas of Philadelphia County had attended, but she was excited to see the momentum of the day and to hear the three congresswomen speak in solidarity.
“There are so many more women going to the House and it just really represents the ability to have a seat at the table and to fight for change,” said Cephas before giving a speech to the crowd. “Just as a young African-American female growing up in the city of Philadelphia getting into politics, I recognize when we don’t have a voice as women at the table, things are just on the chopping block.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney explained to PW that women in office, both in elected and appointed positions, is paramount for the continuation of women’s rights.
“We have to continue to promote women and allow women to have the opportunity to move up the ladder into leadership roles,” said Kenney, who added that he retains an administration of 60 percent of appointed women. “We need to continue to encourage our young women, our young school children to understand that nothing should stop them and nothing should be in their way.”
PW reached out to Women’s March Philadelphia, but did not receive a response in time for the publishing of this article.