Suburbanites join the thousands at Women’s March Chicago

Thousands of people gathered Saturday at the Women’s March Chicago, with many sporting pink hats, bearing punchy signs and seeking electoral change.

An energized crowd that included a cross section of Chicagoans and suburbanites reacted as speakers urged them to vote and as they watched a performance by the “Hamilton” cast in Grant Park.

Dawnn Basaraba of Carol Stream carried a “Love Trumps Hate” homemade sign.

“Your own backyard — that’s where you have to start to change the world,” she said.

Retired Lombard teacher Laura Font thinks “getting more people out to vote is imperative.” She was encouraged by the turnout estimated at 300,000, and “by seeing a lot of young boys and girls out here — the future.”

The first Women’s March Chicago, held the day after President Donald Trump took office in 2017, attracted an estimated 250,000 to Grant Park, a reaction to the turbulent election and the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the first woman to run for the nation’s highest office. Similar actions took place across the country.

This year’s theme of “March to the Polls” reflects a new zeitgeist, with organizers asking participants to continue the “fight for women’s rights and social justice” through the ballot box.

“I was surprised that there were so many participants who came with families, senior citizens and infants,” said Liz Ambrogi, an Elmhurst woman new to the march Saturday. “It was great to see so many men supporting women.”

Wendy Olson of McHenry, who was at the women’s march in Washington with her daughter in 2016, called that experience “very purposeful but positive.” This year, she feels “very hopeful that we’re going to retake a lot of seats. I feel like everyone is just done, and we have one goal in mind.”

“The resistance is strong,” is how former state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook, a Democrat, described the vibe.

“We’re more determined this year; last year we were a little in shock,” said Democratic state Rep. Robyn Gabel of Evanston, who accompanied Nekritz.

The primary election is March 20 and the general election is Nov. 6.

The event began at 9 a.m. in Grant Park, with a rally at 11 a.m. and a march to Federal Plaza about 1 p.m.

Signs ranged from raunchy, like “Grab Them by the Midterms,” to pointed: “History has Her Eyes on You.” Some were issues-related, such as “The Oceans are Rising and So Are We.”

Fermilab scientist Cathy Clarkin of Naperville brought a handmade sign focused on climate change.

“We’ve gotten away from facing policies based on evidence and facts,” she said. “We’re living in this alternative facts universe.”

Among the politicians walking the parade were Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls state Sen. Daniel Biss, Madison County School Superintendent Bob Daiber, developer Chris Kennedy and billionaire J.B. Pritzker.

Unlike the GOP primary where Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton is running against Gov. Bruce Rauner, no Democratic women are running for the top state spot on the ticket.

That’s unfortunate, Kennedy said as he walked to the march, noting his sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, unlike male politicians, was scrutinized for her fashion choices when she was elected lieutenant governor of Maryland in the 1990s.

“The first three articles about her after she became lieutenant governor were dedicated to how she was dressed,” he said.

Democratic organizers like Kristina Zahorik of Oakwood Hills in McHenry County, where Republicans delivered a strong victory for Trump in 2016, said their base is fired up this time.

McHenry County Democrats brought five buses to the march that, combined with Metra riders, totaled about 250, Zahorik estimated. “Those participating are committed to supporting Democrats and in particular Democratic women in 2018.”

Democratic State Sen. Julie Morrison of Deerfield said Friday the theme “of going to the polls is concrete. It gives women an action item, not just a sense of empowerment but something actionable to do.”

• Daily Herald staff writer Katlyn Smith contributed to this report.

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