Why these suburban women are still energized by Women's March

In the year since she marched on Washington with hundreds of thousands of other women, Kirsten Powers has helped lead a group that struck a nerve in Elmhurst.

It started as a way to commiserate about the presidential election and quickly became something much more, Powers says. Progressives for Change now meets monthly, boasts a mailing list of several hundred and welcomes speakers to educate members about health care, immigration and environmental issues.

"We always ask speakers to say, 'Here's the issue. Here's the history,'" Powers says. "'But how can we help?'"

Her group and others like it in the suburbs increasingly have become outlets for women looking to channel the energy and enthusiasm from last year's Women's March and sister demonstrations that drew millions around the world on the day after President Donald Trump took office.

Many of those suburban women are planning to skip this weekend's national rally in Las Vegas in favor of marching Saturday in Chicago. They still hope to sustain a broader movement as organizers turn their attention to getting more women elected to office.

"Our interest is to celebrate the spirit of the resistance that was so strong in 2017 and to mobilize women and allies in the 2018 elections," said Claire Shingler, executive director of the Chicago event. "The Women's March effort isn't about any one particular issue. It's about space for individuals to express their views and what's important to them and seek support."

Ahead of Saturday's march, the Daily Herald spoke with women about the activism inspired by the original event and their expectations for the Chicago gathering. Here are their reflections:

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Last year's march in Washington, D.C., was a "call to action," says Joanna Spathis, an Elmhurst woman who co-wrote a how-to guide to empower teens to become social activists. Joanna Spathis

Joanna Spathis, author and Democratic precinct committeewoman from Elmhurst

Last year's D.C. march: "The march was a call to action. It challenged me to say, 'What are my talents and how can I use them for a greater good?'"

After the march: A former children's book editor, she co-wrote a how-to guide to empower teens to become social activists. Published in October, "Wake, Rise, Resist" is billed as a "progressive teen's" guide with 128 "action steps" for adolescents to build community, stay engaged, recognize their privilege and understand their power.

Why she's marching again: "This has been an extremely exciting year of women finding a new political voice in this country. But these changes just don't come. There has to be boots on the ground, people willing to walk and stand up and make these changes."

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Mary O'Connor, a St. Charles businesswoman, launched a local huddle after participating in the Women's March in Chicago last year. The group strives to promote democracy through education. Courtesy of Mary O'Connor

Mary O'Connor, St. Charles resident, business owner and Republican

Last year's Chicago march: Though supportive of women in the workforce and gender equality, she wasn't politically active until her niece invited her to march.

"It was awe-inspiring. It was peaceful. It spoke to something larger than any of us. And that led me to realize I need to be involved in what is next for our country instead of an observer."

After the march: She was inspired to form a huddle called We Can Lead Change - Fox Valley, a group aimed at preserving and protecting democracy, largely through research and education. Members are helping people register to vote for the March primary and organizing candidate forums.

Why she's marching: "What I know now is this is a journey, not a destination, and getting the country back on track in a collaborative, positive direction is going to be an ongoing pursuit," said O'Connor, who does not believe the current administration aligns with the views of moderate Republicans.

"At the end of the day, the Women's March is the greatest, craziest celebration of women. It's a moment in time when we can stop and say, 'We have a point of view. We believe in equality.' It's so basic."

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"Everybody was just hand in hand," Asma Nizamuddin of Bloomingdale said of the solidarity she witnessed at Chicago's Women's March. Nizamuddin went with her eldest son, Fareed, and her husband, Azam. Courtesy of Asma Nizamuddin

Asma Nizamuddin, human resources professional, Bloomingdale mom and Sunday school teacher at Glendale Heights mosque

Last year's Chicago march: "Our voices (as Muslims) do need to be heard. It is helpful to show we're just as American as everybody else. We support these rights and values. Women's issues that happen all over America happen in our community, too."

After the march: Nizamuddin was struck by the solidarity in "so many people coming together regardless of race and religion." She was long active in interfaith programs at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, but she's stepped up that work and also is involved with the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a group building ties with Muslim and Jewish women.

Why she's marching: Nizamuddin will be going with all her children and other families. She wants her three sons to show their support and her daughter to witness the display of confidence. "I want her to know that having her voice heard is very important and she's not a second-class citizen of any sort."

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Kelli Wegener of Crystal Lake was inspired to run for a McHenry County Board seat after participating in the Women's March in Chicago. Courtesy of Kelli Wegener

Kelli Wegener, Democratic candidate for McHenry County Board and Crystal Lake mom

Last year's Chicago march: Wegener, who has a 15-year-old daughter, was compelled to go after feeling that much of the rhetoric during the 2016 election focused on marginalizing people, especially women.

After the march: She decided to run for a McHenry County Board seat. "I see some changes I think need to be made, and a lot of it is that we need more women in office."

Why she's marching: She wants to "bring conversation and awareness to people who don't know the hardships others have. We need to step up and speak on behalf of those who are silenced and marginalized."

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  Naperville women make signs for Sunday's Chicago march - last year's is seen above - at the home of Anne Stava-Murray, center, who attended last year's gathering in Washington. Stava-Murray is a co-founder of the Naperville Women's March Action group. Daniel White/

Anne Stava-Murray, Democratic candidate for state representative from Naperville

Last year's D.C. march: "The mass scale of people who cared really left an impression on me. And it took away a feeling of loneliness or hopelessness in the face of a difficult situation. It provided energy to go back and do the daily work."

After the march: She co-founded a Naperville Women's March Action group organizing rallies in the city's downtown, including one calling on the president to release his tax returns. She also completed a candidate training session by Emily's List at the follow-up Women's Convention in Detroit.

"There were so many inspiring leaders and speakers, just an incredible positive energy, that I feel like anytime I engage with the overall march movement, it's so strengthening and empowering."

<h3 class="leadin">Patti Werner, health care attorney from Mount Prospect

Why she's marching: "I see myself as a member of a movement, and I think the movement, the march itself, has goals to gather strength, to support other women, mobilize and celebrate."

On possible protest fatigue: "The Women's March, the training they do, the supporting, the postcard campaigns - all of that grass-roots energy is part of lots of other efforts that are under way in our country."

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  Wyn Cain, president of the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff chapter of the League of Women Voters, leads a recent board meeting at the Lake Forest Bank & Trust. Cain and other members of the League plan to attend the Chicago march Saturday. Gilbert R. Boucher II/

Wyn Cain, president of the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff chapter of the League of Women Voters

After the march: In the past year, roughly 50 people have joined her League chapter - a more than 50 percent increase. "This has happened all over the country. People really want to support democracy and be a part of having their voices heard."

Why she's marching: After opting to experience the event through TV coverage last year, she decided to join other League members in carrying signs to emphasize voter registration. "This is a strong issue for us and an important issue. I want to be there."

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Corinne Pierog marched last year in Washington D.C. - an experience that motivated her to start the Kane County Democratic Women advocacy group. Courtesy of Corinne Pierog

Corinne Pierog, founder of Kane County Democratic Women

Last year's D.C. march: "It was a very timely opportunity to go. There was a man in office I felt was not supporting the needs of women and wasn't listening to the needs of our families."

After the march: She was inspired to act on a longtime goal of establishing an advocacy group, Kane County Democratic Women. "Kane County has been primarily a very conservative county, but now people feel empowered to show their voices, to demonstrate and to challenge their elected officials" as a "collective force."

Why she's marching: She wants to share the experience with like-minded people from her organization, county and state. "This is our home. We protect our home."

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