Women’s March on Chicago

Connect. Protect. Activate.

When Liz Radford suggested a Women’s March on Chicago on Facebook after the November 2016 election, she never imagined it would reach a quarter of a million people. She was just looking for an outlet.

“The energy that I had,” she says. “I had to put it somewhere.”

Liz, Jessica Scheller and Ann Scholhamer became the most visible faces of the Women’s March on Chicago as the March’s co-chairs.

“A lot of women wanted this to happen, and wanted it as badly as we did,” says Liz. “We just said we would do it.”

The march sought to amplify diverse voices and issues, with accessibility and intersectionality the priority. The speaking program included immigrant and undocumented women, queer and trans women, women of different faiths and from all parts of the city.

Pulling together a massive demonstration in three months relied on a large network of volunteers and partner organizations. None of the co-chairs had ever organized a protest or a demonstration, and certainly not something of this size. CFW was one of the first organizations to step up to support the march, says Liz, and “gave us the confidence to feel we could do this.”

“Philanthropy acts as the wings to give activism flight,” adds Jessica.

“I have not seen so much energy and passion around the women’s movement in my lifetime,” says CFW President and CEO K. Sujata. With the launch of The 100% Project in 2015, CFW issued a call for women and men in the Chicago region to go all in and all out for gender equity. The Women’s Marches signalled a sea change, with new women emerging as organizers and activists, and a renewed interest in ending the gender bias so many women and men saw in the outcome of the 2016 election.

“The 100% Project is an invitation for individuals and institutions to take action to support gender equity,” says Sujata. “The community involvement and collaboration around the Women’s March on Chicago embodied the values and goals of The 100% Project, and we are proud to have been a sponsor of the Women’s March on Chicago.”

As a “Champion” of the march, CFW helped with planning the march, including providing the institutional backing necessary to secure event insurance. “We couldn’t have had the march without insurance, and we would never have gotten it on our own,” says Jessica.

“Energy and activism can do a lot, but it also takes money,” says Ann.“ CFW was there all along the way to say: we’re going to figure this out.”

When they arrived in Grant Park the morning of the march, they expected 40,000 to 50,000 people. By 9:45 that morning, the bridges connecting the park to the rest of downtown Chicago were flooded with people.

“It was so phenomenal,” says Liz. “These streams of women coming over the bridges with their signs. They were just so fierce, to see this defiance in pink hats.”

Planning + support turned an online post into a historic Women's March. #TakeActionwithCFW Share on X

It is not hyperbole to say that the marches that took place across the country on January 21, 2017 changed individual lives and the course of our nation. The marches have created a new generation of activists and organizers. And the three women who led the Chicago march are beginning to count themselves among the activists.

Ann says her idea of what it means to be an activist has broadened. An activist can be “any woman who feels she’s been called to action,” she says. “Whatever way that is.”

“I’m an activist because I act,” she adds.

They hope that the march and their role in it inspires more women to take action, and to claim the title.

“People need to see themselves in organizations to know that they have a place there,” says Jessica. “That’s why it’s important to have women who are activists in the professional community and women who are activists at the collegiate level. To have young women and women of all colors.”

With a structure and a platform in place, Liz, Ann and Jessica plan to continue to be active, with a focus on civic education and civic participation. Since the Women’s March on Chicago, the organization co-sponsored the Women’s March on Springfield in April 2017, and supported advocacy around the Equal Rights Amendment, reproductive and abortion rights, and equal pay.

Their goal is to continue to bring together diverse groups of women, to encourage and facilitate intersectional collaboration and coalition building across Chicago’s social justice movements.

They know this will come with its own set of challenges. “We are a collection of people with diverse interests and diverse histories and backgrounds,” says Liz. “We were united because we all believed in the same thing on that day. And to me that gave me hope that there are other days that this can happen.”

Adds Jessica, “We’ll keep marching until there is not a need for us to do so anymore.”