In the shadow of Donald Trump’s first day in office, almost 1,000 women and men gathered in downtown Rapid City to march for women’s rights.
The Rapid City Women's March on Washington aimed to raise awareness of issues surrounding violence against women, reproductive rights, equality of women of color, education and LGBT issues, according to event organizers.
“We wanted to make a very clear statement that the people of the Black Hills support women’s rights as human rights,” organizer Lauren Pyle said.
Saturday’s marches began in Washington, D.C., with the Women's March on Washington, and spread to more than 600 cities across the world, with more than 1 million people involved, to send the message that women’s rights are a priority.
The day's marches were flooded with support from A-list celebrities like America Ferrera and Scarlett Johannson, and photos from across the nation lit up social media platforms throughout the day. The Washington rally alone attracted more than 500,000 people by the unofficial estimate of city officials.
In Rapid City, Saturday's march started in the morning in the City/School Administration Center parking lot and proceeded through downtown to the Alex Johnson Hotel and through Memorial Park.
Women at the march were encouraged to write on a slip of paper why they were marching. The slips, many of which bore simple messages like "respect" or "safety," soon adorned the George Washington statue at the corner of Sixth and St. Joseph streets, where the march ended.
Local participants said that while women in D.C. and South Dakota face many of the same problems, some of those struggles are more acute here. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research ranks South Dakota as one of the worst states for women’s reproductive rights, due to the 72-hour waiting period and only one abortion clinic in the entire state, located in Sioux Falls.
The event attracted women of all generations, some who are no stranger to women's rights struggles.
Recently retired Deb Tinker, 61, said she has been fighting for women’s rights since the 1960s.
“Some of us have been fighting for the same issues since 1968. The struggle is ongoing, and it feels like we are stepping backwards for women, minorities and all disenfranchised," she said. "Many of us worked hard for the rights that we have. We’ve made some great progress, but there obviously is still a lot more to be made.”
“I'm interested in the cause because I'm the mother of two wonderful boys, who are walking today, and feel it's important to show them that 'feminism' isn't a dirty, emasculating word," said Nicole Heenan, co-president of the Rapid City chapter of the American Association of University Women. I'm walking to show that my voice, my thoughts and rights are important and have a right to be heard.”
One woman at the march wanted to bring attention to the needs of local women’s shelters. In 2015, Lisa Ricci and her young daughter fled from their home with her abusive boyfriend and sought refuge in a Spearfish women’s shelter.
“I experienced a system that barely had a bed for me and my daughter, and it became really difficult to make these decisions of 'do I go back to an abusive partner?' or 'do I stay in bunk beds with many other women that I don’t know or trust?'" Ricci said. "After experiencing this firsthand, I believe funding is very important for women’s shelters in South Dakota. We need government funding to support women in these situations.”
With the new president in office, Ricci has concerns about the future.
“I am worried about Trump’s negative behaviors. It’s like he’s endorsing male power and control, and that scares me," she said. "I wonder how many women in our community are going to be affected specifically by intimate partner violence, especially when our leader is misogynistic.”