A year ago, organizers of the Charlotte women’s march were as shocked as anyone when an estimated 10,000 people packed the streets.
“Maybe we’ll get 100 people,” Autumn Watson told her husband when she created a Facebook event for a Charlotte march because she couldn’t get to the big event in Washington, D.C.
On the eve of the 2017 march, about 3,400 people had responded online.
This year about 7,000 people have replied that they’re coming to Saturday’s march, either on the Charlotte Women’s March website or Facebook page. So it could be even bigger than last year’s – and organizers say it will definitely be different.
In January 2017 the city and the nation were reacting to an election that stunned people who had expected Hillary Clinton to become the first female president. Now the focus is on local, state and national elections that lie ahead.
“To effect change you have to act. You can’t just march,” said Jan Anderson, an organizer of this year’s march. “The march is just to energize you.”
Residents from York County, including Rock Hill and Fort Mill, will make their way to Charlotte to participate, said Amy Hayes with the York County Democratic Party of South Carolina.
Hayes is also a part of a politically active women’s group based in Fort Mill called Allies for All who will take a charter bus to the march. She said the bus is full and others will be following in cars.
“I feel it’s a good way to keep our momentum going in terms of our movement and staying focused,” Hayes said.
Hayes said she hopes to see the march inspire people not only to get out and vote but to consider running for office or supporting someone who is running.
The York County Democratic Party is also sending a bus from the Glennon Center in Tega Cay and expects about 70 people from the area to head to Charlotte, said Cherie Mabrey.
Here are five things to know about the latest incarnation of a march that sparked enthusiasm, controversy and a national push for women to be heard and respected.
1. It will be better organized.
Charlotte’s 2017 march was thrown together by five women who didn’t know each other beforehand, ranging from their 20s to their 60s, said Watson, a 32-year-old mother of two with a full-time job. “Last year was such a knee-jerk reaction,” she laughed.
Now that crew has added the organizing power of a group of retirees, professionals and executives who chartered a bus to Washington last year. Anderson, a retired engineer, and others have spent weeks planning Saturday’s event.
While the 2017 event had a couple of people speaking with a microphone that hardly reached anyone, this year there are two hours of scheduled speakers and a better sound system. City officials, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and the park department now have a better idea of what to expect as well.
2. It will be more diverse.
Organizers are sensitive to local and national criticism from groups such as the Black Lives Matter movement, who questioned the diversity of participants and issues encompassed by the first march.
The Charlotte roster of speakers includes representatives of Planned Parenthood, the Poor People’s Campaign, Muslim Women of the Carolinas, the Black Women’s Caucus, the Latin American Coalition, the League of Women Voters, the National Organization for Women and the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice.
“I think everyone has blind spots,” said Anderson. “I think the way you overcome that is having people who are different from you speak, and listening to them.”
3. You’ll need a strategy for parking and walking.
The speakers will be at First Ward Park, 301 E. Seventh St., from 10 a.m. to noon. After that the group will walk about three-quarters of a mile to Romare Bearden Park, 300 S. Church St.
No street closings are scheduled, but if the crowd is too big to walk on the sidewalks, as it was last year, police may clear the streets. Anyone planning to be uptown during the middle of the day Saturday should be aware of that possibility.
4. Expect to see a range of causes.
The wide array of signs and messages was one of the most intriguing things about the 2017 march. There will be traditional women’s issues, such as reproductive freedom, access to women’s health care and empowerment in the workplace, with the recent #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment almost certain to crop up.
But also expect messages about an array of environmental, economic and political causes. Charlotte Women’s March, a group created by Anderson and others to build on the momentum of the 2017 march, includes education, LGBTQ issues, gerrymandering and immigration among its themes for study and action.
Last year’s march, coming the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, was heavy on anti-Trump messages. There are bound to be plenty again this year, but Anderson says that’s not the focus.
“It’s bigger than Trump,” she said. “It’s about dignity, respect, equity and equality.”
5. The unifying theme for marches and rallies across America is “Power to the Polls.”
In Charlotte, expect to hear calls to get voters registered, encourage new and diverse candidates and energize a massive turnout in November. Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s first African-American female mayor, is one of the speakers. The roster of young newcomers elected to Charlotte City Council in November is likely to be celebrated as a sign of what the 2018 elections could bring.
Women’s marches are also scheduled for Raleigh, Asheville, Winston-Salem and Hillsborough, as well as locations across the country.
And Charlotte’s march will go on regardless of weather. The snow and ice locking up the region midweek should be gone, with forecasts calling for Saturday to be sunny with a high in the 50s.
Herald reporter Amanda Harris contributed to this story.