Downtown Vermillion sees more than 500 for women’s march
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Downtown Vermillion sees more than 500 for women’s march

Hundreds of Vermillion residents, community members and USD students participated in a march down Main Street Saturday afternoon.

This march, like more than 600 of its kind around the world, came about as a reaction to the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Vermillion march organizer Caitlin Collier said she was particularly distressed with the news of Trump’s election.

“I didn’t vote for him, but I am really sorry,” Collier said. “From my generation to yours, I am really, really sorry. We should have done more because this is not what we expected. This is not what I thought things were going to be like in 2017.”

More than 500 people showed up to support the cause, according to march organizer Collier. Participants of the march met in the basement of the United Church of Christ (UCC) at 12:30 p.m., picking up signs, donning “pussyhats” (pink stocking caps) and lining up around the front of the church block on Main Street.

Kaia Nowatzki made it all the way from Luverne, Minn. to join in the march with her family. They were some of the first people to make it to the UCC at about noon.

She said she came because she shares a sense of duty with the women in her life to stand up for her rights.

“I want to support all of my sisters,” Nowatzki said. “I feel like it is my duty to be here and to show them we are not okay with what is going on. We need to make a stand. We are proud and we are not going to go back 300 years. We want to progress to where everyone is equal.”

Nowatzki, who graduated from USD in 2014 with an art degree, noted some of the issues she was standing for today.

“I am standing for gay rights,” Nowatzki said. “I am making sure that everyone has the opportunity to get birth control. It’s a pretty strong message to have.”

Vermillion resident Heidi Hassler shared a similar sense of duty to march for equality this morning.

“I am marching for equality for all,” Hassler said. “I am hoping to send a message of respect to our new leadership. We need to respect women together. I am standing for women’s rights.”

Collier wanted to make sure that march participants observed a minute of silence at 1 p.m. before beginning on the walk to the courthouse.

“This is for equality around the world,” she said.

Collier noted that this march was intended to spread positivity. She instructed marchers to maintain a non-violent approach.

“We are against racism, but for equality,” Collier said. “This is for love, not hate. If someone wanders out of a bar and starts yelling, just keep going.”

For the most part, the Vermillion community was on board with the march. There was no outspoken opposition to the demonstration.

Women's March

Many of the marchers were concerned with what’s at stake in Trump’s presidency. Bob and Deb Valentine, Yankton residents, left for the march at 11 a.m. to stand in solidarity with the women and men of Vermillion.

“You have to stand up for what’s right in this country,” Bob Valentine said.

Deb Valentine, who works for the USD medical school in Sioux Falls, said she and her husband support Planned Parenthood. Some of the services that are at risk of being cut, including cancer screenings and STD testing, relate directly to her line of work.

“It should be a woman’s choice,” Deb said. “Not (Trump’s choice), or Congress’s, or the Cabinet’s. We agree that it should be a woman’s choice.”

A number of men joined arms with their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters in the march. One of those men was Kevin O’Kelley, who works in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs on campus.

“I am married to a woman,” O’Kelley said. “I am the son of a woman. I am a brother of women. When women march, I go with them. I am here to support the women in my life. I want to make sure that the women in my life are heard at all levels of political discourse.”

Collier was grateful for all march participants, including the many men, children and even dogs that joined in support.

“We have seen a proliferation of positive statements about why people are marching, men, women and children alike,” Collier said. “Whether it is simply for a reminder that those who support women’s rights are still here, or a broader statement.”

Co-organizer Susanne Skyrm wanted to express that the stresses of the election cycle would not get to her or any of the women joining in the march.

“We are hoping that it will send a message nationally of unity,” Skyrm said. “We are expressing our desire to not let hate and negativity take over, because the election period was so full of all that. I think that the main purpose of the march was to express the idea that we were not in favor of all this negative stuff and all the hatred that was expressed, especially towards women and minorities. We’re hoping that that message will come through.”

The mood of the day was mostly light. March participants sang “Happy Birthday” to organizers Skyrm and Collier after the march, as it was their birthday. Members of the theater department led the group in song as marchers posed for photos outside the courthouse. Kids marched with smiles, parents joked and dogs barked.

Skyrm noted that there is still work to be done in the next four years of Trump’s presidency.

“After the march, we have to keep fighting,” Skyrm said. “We need to keep going. Do not get discouraged, especially younger people, because you guys are the future. Just keep working and holding the government accountable and standing up for what you believe in. All of us [need to do that,] but especially the students and younger people.”

Collier agreed with Skyrm on the issue of women’s history.

“If we want women’s history to survive, we kind of have to preserve it ourselves,” Collier said.

A previous version of this story reported that more than 250 people attended the march. A more accurate figure is 500. The Volante regrets the error.