Weather doesn’t deter Akron Women’s March

Traci Person, regional field manager for Planned Parenthood, commences the march that turned into a stationary rally due to the weather. Jan. 18 2020

Jay Shah, reporter

The second annual Akron Women’s March began on Jan. 18 with a snow storm. Freezing temperatures forced the march to be moved indoors.

Musica, a local business managed by  Jenn Kidd, was chosen as the venue for the after-party.

“Due to weather we just decided to move everything inside because it wasn’t safe outside for people,” said Kidd. Despite the terrible weather, the turnout was sufficient.

A majority of the original lineup of speakers and performers were unable to attend due to the inclement weather, forcing the organizers to improvise. Beth Vild and Darrita Davis were among the fill-in speakers aside from being core members of the organizing committee.

The march was originally supposed to begin at Grace Park with a variety of speakers and performers. It would have continued onto the Sojourner Truth Building in Downtown Akron for the recitation of the historic “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech and culminated at Musica for the after party. 

This year’s dominant theme for the second Akron Women’s March was homelessness. Summit County has faced a rampant problem with homeless people because of minuscule resources to offer assistance.

Women in particular have a much more harrowing experience due to fewer shelters having vacancies as well as their vulnerability arising from the sex-trafficking, prostitution and drug-trafficking rings according to Lady Katie, a woman directly affected by homelessness in Akron.

Other core topics included refugees, environmental injustice, healthcare access and African-Americans being left out in economic justice.

Traci Person, the regional field manager for Planned Parenthood and a core member of the organizing committee, commenced the rally with a riveting greeting that woke everyone up like no amount of caffeine could have. 

“I’m very happy with the outcome in spite of our weather conditions because the community turnout shows that we do have an interest in finding out what is happening and what we can do to make that change (and) because obviously a change must come,” Person said regarding the turn of events.

Veronica Sims was the first speaker. She is the founder of the spiritual group “Let There Be Peace” and creator of the forum “Peace Talking With My Sisters” aimed at helping women through hardship spiritually. 

Sims was appointed Summit County Councilwoman (District 5) at the beginning of 2020, after having served as an elected member of the Akron School Board as well as an At-Large Akron City Councilwoman. 

Sims touched on issues that the African-American community face with economic inequality, inclusion, infant mortality, gun violence and police brutality.

“So unless you completely live with your head in the sand, you can tell that the world is on fire,” was the beginning of Beth Vild’s speech and a reference to the fires in the Amazon, Australia, California and Africa. 

Vild is the Founder and COO of The Big Love Network, a local organization that is central in creating awareness in the local community regarding environmental issues, sustainability and urban permaculture. 

She continued further speaking about environmental justice − also her area of expertise − with a report from the UN predicting that the planet had 12 more years before entire cities would be displaced due to climate change. 

Vild shifted to the local level to speak about the soil and water contamination due to industrial waste. “Our entire city was founded off of environmental degradation,” she said, referencing the segregation of poor people to the East and South side versus the wealthier West side of Akron. 

“We have a long, long history of doing the wrong thing, but I’m here to say […] that it’s because of people like y’all, that we’re starting to do the right thing,” Vild continued her speech as the room erupted in cheers and applause. 

Apart from her organization’s planned Environmental Health Assessment for 2020, Vild also mentioned the Greater Akron Innovation Network for Sustainability (GAINS) forming a sustainability alliance to push policy-makers in pursuing more sustainable decisions across sectors as well as a newly formed sustainability office. 

The aforementioned health assessment planned by Vild’s Big Love Network, would be a complete assessment of the city of Akron that shall overlay all the health disparity maps, crime rates, income and EPA information together after which members would undertake a door-knock approach to listen to the people in the areas affected by environmental degradation, directly. 

Darrita Davis, core organizing member and president of Stop The Violence Akron Movement initiated another chant, this time a song.

“We stand we fight / All day, all night / For the salvation of humanity,” sang Davis.

Brittney Moore, a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood in Ohio was introduced and launched into a brief explanation of the current state of Planned Parenthood, after having been forced out of the Title X program due to the new laws issued by the Trump Administration. She emphasized how the Trump Administration was attacking all reproductive rights and not just abortion.

The Planned Parenthood that Moore practices out of receives 64 percent of the state’s Title X patients that visit them each year. 

“We’ve lost as an organization, four million dollars due to this,” Moore said in reference to the cost incurred on the organization for annual healthcare visits provided to Title X grantees. 

“We’re always going to stay open, but we can not place that burden on the community to replace that four million we’ve lost due to this,” Moore continued, “I am committed to providing high quality, compassionate healthcare every day when I show up to work at Planned Parenthood and our patients are still coming in and we’re doing what we can to always have our doors open, so we can always see them, regardless of their needs, where they’re at.”

Person informed the attendees about the 22 bans against reproductive rights in Ohio. She emphasized on comparisons using various scenarios to showcase the discrimination against women based on their gender.

“A lot of people think about Planned Parenthood and they think about abortion services. Well, guess what, abortion is necessary,” Person said. 

A voice yelled out of the crowd over the approbation that ensued, “Abortion is healthcare.” Person responded with resolute affirmation that it was her right to do as she pleased with her body and to choose, “how my family’s going to be designed.” Person asserted regarding the Trump-Pence administration attacking Planned Parenthood for giving women their choice without judgement as well as providing complete health-care, regardless of their decision, “and guess what,” Person paused, “our doors are still open.” 

“The Akron Women’s March is a collective of leaders who support the health and wealth and change of the city of Akron. The issues that we uplifted today are the ones that we most care about and are closest to our hearts. I want us to continue to build sisterhood and power and unity,” stated Davis.

Late afternoon, saw the beginning of performances by singer-songwriter, Jeri Sapronetti who is also the front man of local punk band, Time Cat while the famished marchers were served vegan treats by Ms. Julie’s kitchen and Jenuine Cuisines. 

There was also a performance by Rosilyn Jentner and Tessa Gaffney with their excerpt from “The Out of Silence Scripts- Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign” which was originally performed at the University of Akron.  

The last two speakers touched on the remaining two core issues that were centralized at this year’s march. “I might be tiny but, I still have a lot of strength like this,” said Angie Morales Perez, a senior and student ambassador at Akron North High School, and stretched her arms out as wide as they could go. She initiated laughter and she initiated tears, within herself and the marchers as she recounted her experience at Akron North High School as well as her mother’s journey from Guatemala, for the sole purpose of giving birth to Perez in the United States.

“Just because I’m tiny, that doesn’t mean I have a voice too. Because I have a voice, and my voice has to be heard, for other people to know that they can do it too. That we together, we can do anything,” continued Perez with her message of unison for people across all skin colors and races.

The final speaker identified with one of many street names, “Lady Katie,” or “Knot,” or “Not From Around Here,” was a pastor’s wife, living the american dream, teaching Sunday school and raising her child. In the span of the past year and a half, Lady Katie had become “transient,” a term she preferred in lieu of “homeless.”

Lady Katie spoke about the challenges she faced, emphasizing upon how this was never a foremost choice that any homeless person would have picked. She briefly skimmed across the traumas she had encountered since being transient, from being physically and emotionally abused. She had not realized until this day that Akron consisted of such a supporting community that was willing to help a person in Lady Katie’s situation.

“This was chosen by our core team which is a core team of women that are day in, day out committed to this community no matter the national trends that come through and so we wanted to highlight the grassroots organizing that was happening in the area and really focus on it,” stated Vild with regards to their decision to focus on homelessness-as well as the remaining four topics- in Akron as a foremost theme for this march.

“Our goal from day 1 of doing Women’s March in Akron was to bring this national drive home because it’s not gonna matter what happens nationally if we’re not doing something day in day out here and we need the support,” said Vild, Big Love Network.

Contact Jay Shah at [email protected]