Over 20,000 women and men came together to flood the streets of St. Petersburg on Saturday in solidarity for women’s rights.
Among the sea of women and men is Lauren Conzelman, 20-year-old USF St. Petersburg student, who stood out in her vibrant lavender “Rosie the Riveter” shirt.
“I’m marching not only for women’s rights, but for everyone’s rights, for anyone who feels oppressed and wants their voice to be heard,” she said.
Protesters led a peaceful march to send a message to President Trump illustrating their concerns surrounding women’s rights. The demonstration marks the largest in the city’s history.
At the heart of the operation is Suzanne Benton, 81, who organized the St. Petersburg chapter of the march. Benton is no stranger to activism, she has been an outspoken feminist for decades. In fact, she was among the 50,000 women who marched down Fifth Avenue in New York City during the Women’s Strike for Equality on Aug. 26, 1970. Forty-seven years later, Benton is still marching as an advocate.
“There are no such things as great obstacles,” she said. “There are just issues that must be dealt with and one by one as they came up we dealt with them.”
When the organizing group first met on Dec. 13, they originally thought only 200-300 people would march through downtown, but little did they know that thousands would join, hand in hand, come Jan. 21. Benton felt it was important to bring the women’s march to St. Petersburg for those who were not able to make it to Washington D.C.
“St. Petersburg is a hip town,” Benton joked, “but now we see it’s a progressive town.”
Protesters gathered at Demens Landing Park before marching. The ambiance that filled the air was one of love, hope and determination. Signs lined the streets with quotes that read “don’t normalize misogyny” and “the glass ceiling isn’t going to shatter itself,” among others.
The event opened with an hourlong block of speeches encouraging marchers to get out and fight for what they believe in, even after the march is over.
In the true spirit of the Women’s March, the protest was inclusive; all religions, sexual orientations, races, genders and ages were welcome to join in making history. Shortly before the march kicked off, Erik Polin, a 15-year-old white male, was waving his sign proudly for all to see. It read “my generation does not support misogyny and racism.”
“I come from a school full of Trump supporters where so many people don’t care,” said Polin, he paused for a moment, “and I care.” Polin also touched on the importance of women’s healthcare. He believes that women should have the choice regarding matters of their own body.
When the marchers lined up at 1 p.m., “nasty females” and “bad hombres” began to march along Bay Shore Drive. Protesters were originally asked to stay out of the roads due to the city’s insurance policies, but that request was bypassed as the thousands of activists peacefully took over the street. Protesters were warned there was a chance of anti-protestors that would be lined up and ready to engage in an argument. The warning was unfounded as only one Trump supporter showed.
Instead of hate, marchers were met with words of encouragement from those standing on the sidelines. Some held signs imploring the marchers to move forward, others waved from rooftop bars, but the bystanders that stood out the most were a group of young men sitting in a tree along Beach Drive, engaging the marchers in a chant of “women’s rights are human rights.” This was one of the many chants that the protesters hollered in solidarity.
“Love, not hate, makes America great” and “Washington, hear our call, women’s rights protect us all” were two other chants heard throughout the procession.
When the march finished, many marchers headed back to Demens Landing where empowering music blasted and tents with information about how to engage in local activism were set up. Some opted to hang out in the grass and soak in the energy of the day.
Among them was Dick Scanlon, 68, and his wife Mary Scanlon who chose to celebrate Dick’s birthday by traveling to St. Petersburg and attending the march.
“My biggest thing is that I’m really upset Trump is president,” Scanlon said. “Women’s issues is a big part of that and I’m in solidarity with [women on that].” Scanlon also noted that he resents Trump’s constant attacks on the media and anybody who opposes him in anyway.
Scanlon was not the only one to celebrate a birthday on Saturday. Benton also chose to ring in her 81st birthday with a message of love and determination. Benton explained that not only was it her birthday, but Mayor Rick Kriseman would also declared it as Women’s Rights Day in St. Petersburg.
“I’ve had many best days,” Benton said, “this is one of them.”