More than 9,000 join march in Memphis

Posted on Jan 21 2017 - 10:32pm by Zoe McDonald
Memphis Women's March

People fill streets near the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, for the Women’s March Saturday. (Photo by Zoe McDonald)

People filled downtown streets Saturday for the Memphis Women’s March, one of the many sister marches to the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.

More than 9,000 people filled streets once occupied by civil rights workers, civil disobedience protestors and Martin Luther King Jr. himself. They bore an array of signs ­– some bright pink, tongue-in-cheek, feminist messages to the newly elected president and some with simple slogans, like “rise up,” “respect” or “equality.”

Organizers worked to keep the Women’s March intersectional, nonpartisan and, in a key word, united.

At 10 a.m., the sun beamed down on the steps of the Judge D’army Bailey Courthouse, where speakers Terri Lee Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum, and Adrienne Leslie Bailey inspired the crowd to begin the march. The museum, built around the former Lorraine Motel, was the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot.

Memphis Women's March

Phoebe Driscoll, Ginger Woods and Amanda Crist (left to right) show off their signs at the Memphis Women’s March. “Sixty-six percent of white people voted for trump, and I find that absolutely abhorrent,” Crist said. “I was born in the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed for protesting, and now I am standing on the lawn of the place where he was killed. And I know that “The time is always now,” as James Baldwin wrote, and I have to use everything in my power from my privileged position…I have to be able to do anything that I can do, even if that means holding up a sign and shouting. Being there is half the battle.”

As women in Memphis, Tennessee, began the trek down Second Street, women across the nation also walked, bearing similar signs and chanting corresponding war cries. A worldwide coalition, if you will, marching across the world for a bounty of reasons, both broad and personal, that include women’s rights, LGBT rights, climate change and immigration.

Some women marched with family in a different part of the world. Phoebe Driscoll, a Los Angeles transplant who now lives in Memphis, said she marched in solidarity with her mother, sister and adopted sister, who walked in Washington.

Others traveled to Memphis to join family or to march in a city of much significance to the progress of civil rights. Many who marched today witnessed that turbulent era, whose legacy lies rooted deep throughout Tennessee and Mississippi, firsthand.

The Kriegels, a mother and sister trio, rested together in the shaded grass outside the museum after making the mile-long march down Second Street.

The Kriegels cited a grave concern for the country under the current president but said they had reasons close to their hearts to march in Memphis.

Memphis Women's March

Lara Kriegel and her mother, Reva, rest in the grass after the Memphis Women’s March. (Photo by: Zoe McDonald)

“We also chose to march in Memphis since it’s our hometown, and we really wanted to honor the long legacy of civil rights and our mom who marched back in the ’60s, during the garbage worker strike and right before Dr. King was shot,” Lara Kriegel, who drove from Indiana for the march, said. “We thought this would be a great place to do this together, to tie our family history and our various struggles together.”

Mothers pushed strollers, families walked in clumps and mother-daughter pairs abounded.

Alice Shands marched with three generations of her family­– her daughter and 4-year-old granddaughter.

Memphis Women's March

“I’ve been marching since 1966, I believe. I did a lot of Civil Rights marching. I grew up in Mississippi. My father was active in civil rights, and I was always interested in that. This election just threw me for a loop. We have to get active again. We can’t sit at home and go, ‘Oh, somebody will take care of it,'” Alice Shands (pictured) said after the march Saturday. (Photo by: Zoe McDonald)

Shands, who advised organizers for the march, said planning for an event began right after the election, and through conversation and community groups like Together We Will West Tennessee (Shands’ group), the plans were put into motion to form a women’s march.

“I was in on the beginning of it,” Shands said. “I did not organize it. I’ve become the grand old lady of these things, where I can say, ‘Great, you all take off and do it. Then, tell me what you need me to do.”

Thursday, Shands organized an interfaith pre-inauguration prayer service at the Memphis Theological Seminary. Shands said a handful of Jewish women, Muslim women, Christian women and Athiest women came together for a unified service that ended in a singing of “We Shall Overcome.”

At Saturday’s march, Shands marched alongside women of all faiths, all who are defined by their unique intersections in society.

Debora Black and Nevada Gates of Memphis marched, mother by daughter, after taking in the election results, which they said left a bitter taste in both of their mouths.

“The first day or two, the both of us, we sort of had a meltdown,” Gates, Black’s mother, said. “But we said, ‘We can’t stay

Memphis Women's March

Nevada Gates and Debora Black carry signs in front of the National Civil Rights Museum on Saturday. (Photo by: Zoe McDonald)

down; we have to get up.’ But I didn’t want to go to Washington because I didn’t want to be in that number. That makes him greater, a big number. When I heard about this march here, I said, ‘We have to go.’”

A youthful group converged after the march at the museum, chanting a few more lines in unity, each emphasizing individual lines with a fist pump or a wave of their sign.

What do we do? Stand up fight back!

When queer people are under attack?

What do we do? Stand up fight back!

When immigrants are under attack?

What do we do? Stand up fight back!

Memphis Women's March

A group chants in front of the Civil Rights Museum Saturday. (Photo by: Zoe McDonald)

Nearby, Karen Spencer McGee stood with a Black Lives Matter banner, burning a stick of sage.

“I fight for education for Memphis. I fight for LGBT — everybody that is marginalized, everybody that is pushed to the side

Karen Spencer Mcgee, who works with Black Lives Matter, talks about why she's at the Memphis Women's March. Photo by Zoe McDonald

Karen Spencer McGee, who works with Black Lives Matter, talks about why she’s at the Memphis Women’s March. (Photo by Zoe McDonald)

and mocked,” she said. “I was born here in ’63. I shouldn’t be fighting the same fight my mama was fighting while she was carrying me. I came to Memphis to live. This is my Memphis… and we need to heal Memphis. This isn’t a colored issue– this is a human issue.”

Participant numbers continue to climb among the women’s marches, vastly surpassing projected numbers. Before the march in Memphis, Shands said organizers felt positive about a few hundred people showing up.

“What happens in Memphis, what happens in Little Rock, what happens in Nashville and what happens in Jackson, Mississippi,” Shands began. “When you start adding this up, all of us that could not go to Washington but felt compelled to say, ‘Wait a minute, these issues matter to us!’ That’s what this is about.”

Signs are left on display near the National Civil Rights Museum after the march. Photo by: Zoe McDonald

Signs are left on display near the National Civil Rights Museum after the march. (Photo by: Zoe McDonald)