A year ago, a group of passionate women gathered at a coffee shop to discuss how they could get involved with the Women’s March on a local level. With just a handful of volunteers and only ten days to complete the task, they pooled enough resources to draw more than 22,000 people who walked the Houston streets and rallied at City Hall.
Since then, the year in government and pop culture has been pocked by disgruntled voters, divisive politics, racist rallies, controversy over Confederate statues, protests over the gender pay gap, high profile firings due to sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement, and Oprah's barnburner of a speech at the Golden Globes. For many, including the Houston Women's March organizers, these events underscored the continued need to recalibrate our country's moral compass. So, as determined women do, the group is amping up their efforts for round two with a call to rise up, unite and vote.
The second Houston Women’s March will take place this Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to noon, starting at the Buffalo Bayou Waterworks Building, 105 Sabine and concluding at City Hall, 901 Bagby. Guests include DJ Gracie, Kim Franklin of The Suffers and several guest speakers, including former Mayor Annise Parker and other community representatives.
Robin Paoli, a steering committee member for the march, says the goal is, “to inspire Houston women and their allies to get more involved with causes and civic life, to vote and to make a difference in the 2018 elections.”
Last year’s Women’s March churned out impressive numbers both in Houston and beyond. Paoli mentioned the Houston Police Department counted last year's event as the largest public march of its kind to come to City Hall. Worldwide, Women's March estimates top 2 million participants.
As a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, Houston Women’s March doesn’t endorse candidates, but it does espouse the values of what it refers to as the Four C’s: Causes, Candidates, Communications, and Casting ballots for the 2018 primaries and general election.
This march is much more than a once-a-year event. The organization almost immediately learned the first demonstration exposed a larger need for engagement, one that would require year-round work and interaction with multiple different demographic groups in the area.
“After [last year’s] march was over that afternoon, I thought I’d sit down and take a moment to relax and reflect on what we just did. Then, my phone just started going crazy,” Paoli said. “People wanted to know what’s next. I realized there was pent up demand for a Women’s March in Houston and a pent up demand that was nonpartisan and would help people connect.”
As a grass-roots and volunteer-led organization, she and the committee members decided to do what they know best: start by listening to the community and the specific needs of each different segment of our richly diverse city.
“We started contacting progressive groups, women’s groups, and reaching all the demographics…people who are leaders in the immigration community, Muslims, atheists, Asian, Indians, Latinos and Latinas, LGTBQ...Every group we could meet with in the city, we did,” she said.
“We asked ‘How can we help you?’ What issues does your community care about?’ Then we started hosting events like town halls with elected officials or trainings on how to contact elected officials,” Paoli added.
Another major request she hears is how people can speak to others even though their values don't align. The other topics are things like healthcare, criminal justice reform, and a litany of social issues. For just about any issue raised, Houston Women's March tried to find a way to provide resources for the public to become more informed and get involved.
All the action within the different pockets of Houston’s population has developed an even more diverse representation in the steering committee, the speakers and the groups providing resources to each group.
“This year, the speakers’ diversity is even deeper. Not just racial and ethnic but also gender, faith, and all the different ways people self-identify,” Paoli said. “We want our speakers to represent the make-up of Houston.”
With last year’s impressive turnout, it’s hard to predict what this year's numbers will be. Registration is not required, but it is encouraged via the group's website. Yet, the organization already knows people have plans to come from near and far to attend the event.
“We know anecdotally that there are groups who are just coming. Montgomery County already has three buses and they’re looking at adding a fourth bus to get people down to Houston. I’m so glad people are coming in to support this,” she said. “What we’re seeing is candidates who are organizing meet-ups before or after the march for their supporters. What’s great is that increases the visibility of people running for office, and we need more of that."
Because of recent weather conditions as well as the unknown number of expected visitors, a specific course has not been determined. It will be decided in coordination with HPD by the morning of the event.
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Once the 2018 event concludes, that’s just the start for the 2019 Houston Women’s March and everything that endeavor will entail. The group has already submitted an application for the third annual march, and more meetings with various community groups to keep finding ways to promote the Four C’s are all but guaranteed.
Between now and then, Paoli mentioned the organization will focus on educating people about the issues that will be on the ballot, teach them how to communicate their values to others, and encourage engagement with the issues. Their hope is to create an unprecedented voter turnout for 2018 both in the primaries and the general election.
Paoli concluded, “We’re very diverse and multicultural. We love Houston, and we love Houstonians, and that drives what we’re doing. We want the best for Houston and the best for Texas. In particular, this seem to be a moment where women feel empowered.”
The Houston Women’s March’s opening ceremony starts at 9:30 a.m. with the march starting at 10 a.m., on Saturday at Buffalo Bayou Waterworks Building, 105 Sabine Street. For more information, visit www.houstonwomensmarch.org. Free.