The Women’s March on Homer continues to draw large numbers of men, women and children to participate in its fourth year.
Gathering on a chilly Saturday morning at the Homer Education and Recreation Complex, about 300 people listened to speakers and celebrated this year’s theme of the national movement, “Women Rising,” before marching down Pioneer Avenue to WKFL Park.
Major themes at this year’s march were the importance of voting and celebrating the progress of women’s rights. This year is the 100-year anniversary of women getting the right to vote in the Unites States.
However, as one speaker pointed out Saturday, not all women were afforded that right at the same time, and America still has a long way to go until all women are treated equally. Xochitl Lopez-Ayala, one of the event’s three speakers, noted that feminism and the fight for equal treatment is not always extended to minority communities. Feminism has to be intersectional, she said.
“Alaska as a territory granted women full voting rights in 1913, seven years before the 19th Amendment,” Lopez-Ayala said. “While white women in the Alaska territory could now vote, indigenous Native women could not. Activists like us advocated for Native suffrage rights. In 1915 the Alaska territorial Legislature recognized the right of indigenous people to vote, if they gave up tribal customs and traditions.”
She noted that it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that most marginalized communities were afforded the same voting rights as white women.
Lopez-Ayala also used her time to advocate for the importance of reproductive rights and reproductive health care in Alaska.
Another speaker, Rika Mouw, focused on environmental justice, which she said in her speech “directly translates to social justice.”
“Environmental justice is economic justice,” she said. “Social justice, economic and environmental justice are completely intertwined.”
Mouw started by recognizing that the ground the participants stood on was originally taken care of and nurtured by Alaska Native people.
“The foundation of the paradigm I seek is in empowering women to create a new direction forward,” she said. “This means as a maternal system, we embrace indigenous knowledge while we shape resilient economies, serve as stewards of our lands and waters, build more just and equitable communities, and strengthen social structures.”
The third speaker of the day was Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Kelly Cooper, who is president of the assembly and is also running to serve in the Alaska House of Representatives for District 31, representing the lower Kenai Peninsula.
Cooper’s focus was on empowering young people to take up the work that’s already been put in by advocates for women’s rights, voting rights, environmental rights and more. She challenged those in the crowd to reach out to a young person in their life and talk to them about voting or about getting involved in their communities.
“We’re going to stumble, but that’s not what people will remember,” Cooper said. “They will remember your passion, you enthusiasm, your willingness to step up. And most importantly, it’s not what we say, it’s what we do. So tell all the youth here, that they do make a difference. And we need you.”
Cooper also spoke about the importance of voting, and in particular, making sure young people are getting out and voting. She reviewed national and state elections and votes in which the votes were extremely close to highlight the importance for exercising one’s right to vote.
“Bryce Edgmon, our current Speaker of the House, won his primary race in 2006 by a coin toss to break the tie,” she said. “And don’t forget the close race in Fairbanks in 2018, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, with the winner determining which party would control the house.”
Hoisting signs advocating for voting, for women’s rights and for other social causes, the crowd of about 300 then marched down to WKFL Park for a photo before dispersing. Events were also hosted that afternoon at Kachemak Bay Campus.