Women's March rallies downtown, highlights stakes of midterm elections

When family members told Rashod Xavier Brown that they did not plan to vote because neither candidate impressed them, Brown said he refused to let that fly. At a rally on Saturday, Oct. 8, he told a crowd of 200 people that voting is more than a personal decision. “That is not only your life that you don’t care about. That is my life,” said Brown, a trans man who serves as the Community Health Specialist at TransYOUniting. “If you love me, then you will go out and vote. I don’t know about you but I love me, and I love you too, so … vote.”

The Pittsburgh Women’s March chapter organized the rally outside the City-County Building. Speakers encouraged people to mobilize for the upcoming midterm elections and warned against increasing attacks against feminism.

Michelle McFall, who chairs the Westmoreland Democratic Committee, told protesters about threats facing Democrats in her region. On Sept. 8, chunks of a sign for gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro were slashed out of its four by eight foot frame. A week later, a gunman walked into a local Dairy Queen intending to “kill Democrats and liberals,” according to CBS News.

“It's hard to be a Democrat in counties like mine,” McFall said. Democrats represent 39 percent of registered voters in Westmoreland County, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of State. “It’s hard to knock doors. It’s hard to do the work. But we do it anyway. Because we know what’s at stake. … Do not sit this one out.” She told protesters that Republican candidates’ extremist rhetoric was not enough to assume their Democratic challengers would slide into an easy win. “We can’t count on just Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. We got to count on everyone in between — every county, every vote.”

This sentiment was emphasized throughout the rally. Tracy Baton, one of the march’s organizers who described Pittsburgh as “a human rights town,” gave protesters clear directions. “Your homework is to go home and call ten friends. Go have ten difficult conversations,” she said. Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and congressional candidate Summer Lee (D-12) also encouraged people to pick up the phone to encourage family, friends and acquaintances to vote.

“We cannot afford to ever again be asleep at the wheel,” Lee said of political activism. “There are people who are on the fence, who are waiting for you to come knock on their door to tell them what’s at stake.”

Gainey agreed. “I don’t want to go backwards,” he said at the rally. “I don’t want our children growing up in a society that devalues who they are, as a person, by telling them they don’t have a right to vote, that they can’t love who they love, that they can’t do what they feel they want to do for their rights.”

Among the messages scrawled onto posters were: “Forced birth is not pro-life,” “I believed Christine Blasey Ford, too,” and “My favorite season is the fall of the patriarchy.” Many people carried signs for Democratic senate candidate John Fetterman. One of the men who attended the rally — which was largely populated by women — held a sign that read, “Real men support women’s rights.”

Obstetrics and gynecology physician Yasaswi Kislovsiky shared “poem in praise of menstruation” by Lucille Clifton. Laura Horowitz — who works with the Women’s Law Project to protect abortion access — also spoke at the march, alongside TransYOUniting founder and executive director Dena Stanley; gun safety activist Dana Kellerman; Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations executive director Jam Hammond; 1Hood Media policy and advocacy director Miracle Jones; and Pittsburgh Democratic Committee chair Leeann Younger.

Maryam Saeedi, an assistant professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon, spoke about the feminist protests sweeping through Iran since the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. Amini was arrested when Iran’s morality police said she did not meet hijab protocol.

“I am not talking about Margaret Atwood’s next novel; this happens every day in Iran,” Saeedi said of misogynistic oppression in Iran. “Believe in Gilead,” because it already exists in Iran, she told the crowd.

Summer Lee urged protesters to channel their energy locally. “If we stand together with our sisters in Iran, let’s make sure we also stand in solidarity with our sisters right here,” she said. “Oppression against women is not a foreign concept.”