Hundreds of women flooded St. Paul’s Union Depot on Sunday with a new mission aimed at political change in lieu of the raw emotion and march that galvanized a much larger gathering a year ago..
The 2018 version of the Minnesota Women’s March took a different shape — an indoor rally with speakers, entertainers and a politician meet-and-greet — which limited attendance to 2,500 and required that tickets be bought ahead of time.
The changes disappointed some, who said it was less inclusive and lacked last year’s momentum. But organizers said that one year into the Trump presidency, the movement warrants a new approach.
“This year, the purpose and intent behind the event is different,” said Alicia Donahue, the local event’s co-founder and vice chair. “Here in Minnesota we know that 2018 is going to be a tide-shifting political year.”
A year after Donald Trump’s inauguration, organizers of the national march marked the anniversary with a Sunday rally in Las Vegas. More than 300 cities and towns also planned anniversary marches and rallies throughout the weekend.
Nationally and locally, the focus shifted to registering voters, connecting people to female political candidates and urging attendees to get politically involved.
Donahue said that her group wanted to book a larger venue, but Super Bowl organizers already had tabs on every space accommodating more than 3,000 people. The event sold all 2,500 available tickets, which had to be bought online.
That left some people disappointed. Amy Bligh and a friend saw the event was sold out but came anyway.
“I think it leaves people out,” Bligh said of the need to have tickets. “What if someone doesn’t have internet access or just found out that they didn’t have to work?”
Rita Warner didn’t know she needed a ticket. Luckily, another woman in line gave her an extra.
“I was still going to observe and take pictures,” she said. “But now I get to be a part.”
Those who had tickets could buy food, mingle and watch speakers and local artists on stage.
Around the room’s perimeter, representatives from dozens of groups, from Women Winning to Planned Parenthood to Think Self, a deaf advocacy nonprofit, chatted with the mostly female crowd and recruited volunteers, who filled out commitment cards.
New and returning female political candidates introduced themselves to potential constituents.
“Raise your hand if you’re running for office. Find these women!” local activist and businesswoman Nancy Lyons said from the podium. “Don’t just find them, find out what you can do!”
A bevy of Minnesota artists took to the stage, including St. Paul rapper Maria Isa and two local Aztec dance troupes.
“We’ll come in solidarity but please, please make sure we’re not entertainment,” said Maryanne Quiroz of the Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli group. “We are here with our own voice.”
Minneapolis City Council Member Andrea Jenkins, the first transgender woman of color elected to public office in a major U.S. city, told the audience that she donned purple not for the Vikings, but to represent the voices of queer people and the challenges they still face.
“Resistance is ours, 2018 is ours,” Jenkins said. “Let’s get it.”
The crowd roared loudest when state Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, came to the podium. Omar linked the Women’s March to the #MeToo movement, the two-word hashtag women began using this fall to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment.
“With our resistance, our movement, was born a new movement,” Omar said.
“I’m an immigrant, a refugee, from one of those ‘shithole countries,’ but I am proud of who I am,” she added, as the audience cheered.
While more than 90 percent of the crowd was female, men and children showed up, too. Many children held homemade signs.
Volunteer Tom Ett voiced support for the event.
“I wanted to send a strong message that we’re still here. The elections are coming up and we need to be listened to.”
Dawn Cameron brought her two young sons to “show them what it looks like to take action,” she said. “It’s a women’s event, but women’s rights is everyone having rights.”