Suburban women, a teen boy on why they're marching in Washington

 
 
Updated 1/21/2017 9:46 AM
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  • "It's about us uniting," Noor Raheemullah Hasan of Naperville says. "It's about celebrating each other's uniqueness and our individuality."

      "It's about us uniting," Noor Raheemullah Hasan of Naperville says. "It's about celebrating each other's uniqueness and our individuality." Mark Black | Staff Photographer

A 40-year-old mom from Naperville on a mission to "normalize" Muslims.

A 14-year-old boy from Itasca who's passionate about women's rights.

A "privileged" white woman from Bloomingdale who says she should stand up for her less fortunate sisters.

A Bolingbrook retiree and native of Puerto Rico with little history of activism who impulsively booked her trip.

They are among the hundreds of thousands planning to attend the Women's March on Washington -- similar demonstrations will step off in Chicago and Elgin -- on Saturday, the day after Donald Trump is sworn in as president. Here are their stories.

'Normalizing' Muslims

When she talks about her work or motherhood, Noor Raheemullah Hasan circles back to the same goal.

"This is what I've got to do," she said. "I've got to normalize Muslims."

That might be the first step toward understanding. As a mom, she wants her children to feel comfortable praying, sometimes in public places, five times a day. So she welcomes, even invites, conversations about her faith.

"We need to be able to all identify with one another," the 40-year-old from Naperville said.

At the Washington march, Hasan will advocate for religious tolerance and human rights, just as she has since helping create the Muslim Women's Alliance, a group that reaches across the suburbs and Chicago.

"We all want to stand up for each other's rights, whether it be Latinos, whether it be Muslims, whether it be black Americans, whether it be LGBT Americans," she said. "We're all Americans and we're going to be all standing here for our God-given rights. And so I think that's going to be beautiful."

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Hasan was born in Park Ridge. She grew up in Carol Stream, where a neighborhood kid called her "Gandhi." Hasan "dealt with it," but she hopes for a different future for her four kids.

"What I'm doing for God is my decision, my family's decision," she said. "It doesn't make us less American because we decided to pray a certain way."

Through the alliance -- Hasan is its executive director -- she confronts misinformation and stereotypes about the "oppressed image" of American Muslim women. The group connects Muslim youths with older mentors and organizes an annual conference in Oak Brook during Women's History Month in March.

Hasan, who is taking a bus to Washington with about 50 others from the Oak Brook and Villa Park area, wants to urge continued activism in the Islamic community.

"This is not about us hating on one another. It's about us uniting," she said. "It's about celebrating each other's uniqueness and our individuality."

15-year-old activist

Jay Harrison, a freshman at Lake Park High School, will turn 15 the day of the Women's March on Washington. He's attending to show his support for women's issues.
Jay Harrison, a freshman at Lake Park High School, will turn 15 the day of the Women's March on Washington. He's attending to show his support for women's issues.

When Jay Harrison's mom asked if he wanted to go to the Women's March on Washington, the Lake Park High School freshman answered with an enthusiastic, "Oh yeah!"

Jay, an Itasca resident who turns 15 the day of the march, has strong opinions about politics and women's issues, including pay equity, the need for accessible health care and human rights for women around the world.

He regularly talks about these issues with his mom, his 16-year-old sister, and the girls from his theater and choir groups, who sit at his lunch table at school.

"After this march, I hope that the president-elect will not be too radical in his ideas on abortion and Planned Parenthood," Jay said.

He says the unrest in the country since Trump's election has spurred him to get more involved. At the march, he'll be carrying a sign that says, "I am 15 today and I love ALL women."

"People need to realize that they have the power to change what should be changed," he said. "Being anti-Trump doesn't really help. Having an honest-to-God conversation with people is what helps."

'Privileged' mom stands up for others

Bonnie and Jessie Vozar, who live in Bloomingdale, are among many mother-and-daughters going to the Women's March on Washington on Saturday.
Bonnie and Jessie Vozar, who live in Bloomingdale, are among many mother-and-daughters going to the Women's March on Washington on Saturday. - courtesy of Bonnie Vozar

There's a famous quote by Margaret Mead that resonates with Bloomingdale mom Bonnie Vozar:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Vozar has thought a lot about that quote lately, as well as what she calls her "privilege" as a white suburban woman. It led her to join the Women's March on Washington and bring along her 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, a seventh-grader at Westfield Middle School.

Vozar said it's important for women like her to stand up for the rights of less privileged women and families. This will be the first march or rally that Vozar, 55, has been to since she was a kid.

"I'm going because we're losing touch with the fact that we have to be responsible for communities, not just for ourselves. For the people around us who don't have the same opportunities, or luck," she said. "In this day and age, that we don't have equal rights in this country is absurd."

The Vozars will join hundreds of suburban mother-daughter pairs at the rally. Bonnie is a philanthropist, activist, yoga and meditation teacher, and a court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children. Her daughter also has interest in social justice causes.

"I want her to have this experience so it feeds that interest," Vozar said. "This is important."

Retiree gets involved

"We have come this far not to go back and now we're moving forward," says Mari Pont of Bolingbrook. "We're moving forward -- not back."
  "We have come this far not to go back and now we're moving forward," says Mari Pont of Bolingbrook. "We're moving forward -- not back." - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Mari Pont saw a note on Facebook after Thanksgiving about what would become the Women's March on Washington -- and promptly booked her flight.

But then, the 61-year-old from Bolingbrook said, she wondered: "Why am I doing this?"

Pont, a shy retiree without much history of political activism, at the time knew of no one else making the trip. It was an impulsive decision to take part in likely the largest demonstration coinciding with Trump's inauguration.

But in the weeks since, Pont has no longer acted on impulse; she's trained for peaceful protest.

At a recent meeting in Oak Park to prepare for the march, the mother of two learned the logistics.

Wear comfy, waterproof shoes and layers. Pack toe- and handwarmers. Avoid confrontation with anyone who might say "nasty things."

"Just smile and keep walking," Pont said.

She will be walking with handmade signs quoting FDR and Voltaire and expects to volunteer as a marshal to help navigate crowds along the route. She also plans to wear a hat with cat ears, a tactic employed by some marchers as a reference to Trump's crude comments about women recorded in a 2005 video.

"I already feel empowered," Pont said, "and I haven't marched yet."

That empowerment stems from what she believes is the march's core message of unity.

"We're women together to take the country in a different direction, in a positive direction, where we're all one," Pont said. "We are all one. It doesn't matter the color of your skin, how much money you have in your pocket, your gender. It doesn't matter."

A native of Puerto Rico and a retired high school Spanish teacher, Pont worries about the uncertain fate of Trump's calls to step up deportation of undocumented immigrants and to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

But Pont, a Bernie Sanders supporter who voted for Hillary Clinton in November, doesn't see the march only as a rebuke of Trump.

"I think it's more than just a march," she said. "It's solidarity."

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