‘To the polls we must go’ carries the day for area activists
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Power to the PollsArea activists come out in storm for Women's March

‘To the polls we must go’ carries the day for area activists

This year's Women's March had nearly 30,000 participants. The theme, Power to the Polls, was focused on increasing voter registration and participation.

A woman holds a sign in Market Square during the Women's March on Washington Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
A woman holds a sign in Market Square during the Women's March on Washington Sunday. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)

Pittsburgh activists took to the streets on Sunday to call for equal rights for women, to protest discrimination and inequality that they argue is being perpetuated by the current federal administration and to encourage more people to register to vote.

With chants of “hey hey, ho ho, to the polls we must go” and holding signs that read, “Today we march, tomorrow we run,” local protesters contributed to the national focus of the Women’s March on Washington — Power to the Polls. Kicking off a campaign to increase voter registration in Allegheny County, the goal was to spread awareness about who is eligible to vote, how to register and how to spread the word about the importance of voting.

“Pittsburgh has been a stand-up city,” Women’s March director Tracy Baton told the crowd in Market Square. “In Pittsburgh, we’re a city that knows when you gather together, when the people speak, the politicians and wealthy will have to listen. We are saying yes to electing the things we believe.”

Women’s March director Tracy Baton encouraged every resident at the march to ask ten other people if they were registered to vote. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
Baton encouraged the estimated 30,000 people who attended the march — beating last year’s attendance of close to 25,000 — to each ask 10 people if they are registered to vote. The activists were focused on the midterm elections in November, with several signs reading “Grab them by the midterms.”

“Your job is to talk to people even when they have an attitude about it. Your job is to talk to people who don’t want to be bothered. Your job is to talk to people twice, maybe three times,” Baton said. “In my America, every citizen is excited that every other citizen can vote.”

The marchers gathered in front of the City County Building at 11:30 a.m. to make posters and listen to speeches focused on the upcoming elections, especially the race for Tim Murphy’s empty seat in the House of Representatives between Rick Saccone and Conor Lamb on March 13.

There was also a focus on the March 6 election to fill Dan Gilman’s District 8 City Council seat among Democrat Sonja Finn, Republican Rennick Remley and independents Erika Strassburger and Marty Healey.

Nearly 30,000 people walked the streets downtown Pittsburgh Sunday for this year’s Women’s March on Washington. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
The protesters then marched through downtown Pittsburgh with chants of “power to the people, power to the polls” and “people united can never be defeated.” They ended in Market Square to hear speeches from influential activists about the importance of a single vote and the push to redistrict parts of the state to more accurately represent voters.

Mayor Bill Peduto touted the importance of staying unified and encouraging more people to spread their efforts to diverse groups.

“We will see victory in this next year if we stay together as one and make sure everyone votes,” he said. “It feels like there’s a fist right up to your face and you want to fight back and you want to take that swing. Remember this, you can’t fight fire with fire.”

A blow-up doll depicting Donald Trump takes center stage in Market Square. (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
With chants of “no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” and references to solidarity between the Women’s March and the Black Lives Matter movement, the marchers also brought attention to issues of discrimination and inequality for minority groups.

“It was amazing to see on the signs how many different thoughts there were, how many issues that women are really dissatisfied with,” said Cantor Michal Gray-Schaffer from Congregation B’nai Abraham in Butler.

Gray-Schaffer, who teaches a confirmation class at her congregation, said she attended the march because she wanted to model for her students that it was important to act on your values. “For me, social action is a big part of who I am as a Jew and as a spiritual leader,” she said.

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz of Congregation Beth Shalom said he attended the march to “help raise women’s voices.” Wearing a sign quoting the Talmud, reading “Silence equals ascent and I will not be silent,” he said he was there not to speak, but to listen, marching in solidarity with women.

Two protesters stand in a tree in Market Square, with signs reading “love, not hate” and “I am not free while any woman is unfree.” (Photo by Lauren Rosenblatt)
Suzi Neft, public relations director for the Pittsburgh Women’s March, said she marched last year because of her fear that the federal administration would take “our country backward.” Now, she says she’s even more frightened than before.

“Prejudice on all levels against all people — racial prejudice, religious prejudice — has just come out so strongly,” she said. “I don’t want us going back to the 1950s, to the ’60s. We fought this battle, we don’t need to fight it again.”

Neft, a poll-worker trainer, said she learned the importance of voting from her 90-year-old mother who has never missed an election. Every election day, Neft said, she receives a call from her mother checking to make sure she has been to the polls.

“If you want to get out a certain party and maybe change an area from red to blue or blue to red, you make sure your vote counts,” she said. “We have to stand up now, and we have to keep standing up.” PJC

Lauren Rosenblatt can be reach at
lrosenblatt@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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