Purple knights fight for rights: SMC students, faculty and staff march in Montpelier in record breaking protest

Around 15,000 Vermonters paraded the streets of Montpelier this Saturday, Jan. 21, during a Women’s March, including students and staff from St. Michael’s College. Around the world more than a million people attended similar marches in protest to the inauguration of President Donald Trump and in support of human rights.

The front lawn of Montpelier High School overflowed with people of all ages, genders, and races. The crowd was a hodgepodge of pink “pussyhat” hats, ranging greatly in shades of hot pink, light pink, multihued yarns and more. Many people sported homemade hats, all with pointy cat-ear like details, symbolizing a rejection of the way President Trump has spoken about and treated women in the past. Protesters held signs declaring “Black Lives Matter”, “Hate Has no Home Here”, “Girls just want to have fundamental rights”, and more. The high attendance of the march forced officials to temporarily close down sections of Interstate I-89 due to traffic.

Kelly Smith, '19
Kelly Smith joins fellow St. Michael’s students and Vermonters at the Women’s March on Montpelier Jan. 21. Photo by Emma Rippe, ’17

“The reaction to this [presidency] is more profound and robust than any of the others,” said Talentino, vice president for academic affairs at St. Michael’s, who attended the march. “There is such a difference of opinion- controversy on all issues. It’s very difficult to be supportive of someone who is so negative and biased. At least I felt [with past presidencies] that even when I didn’t agree with someone, they had people around them that would give them good advice and keep them in check a little.”

Senator Bernie Sanders seemed to share this sentiment as he spoke to protesters in front of the statehouse.

“Donald Trump is a fraud,” Sanders told cheering crowds.

“We are not going back,” he continued, referencing Trump’s interest in reversing many of Obama’s healthcare and social issues at the forefront of Trump’s agenda. “Your bigotry and your ugliness are going to bring us together in a progressive movement.”

It seemed that every topic of contention with the Trump presidency was addressed at the march in some manner. One student observed a reluctance from the crowd to join the Black Lives Matter chant. Manuela “Manney” Yeboah, ’20, said

“Everyone seemed so gung-ho about all these other causes,” said Yeboah. “People weren’t being very responsive. Believe it or not there are women who are black and who unfortunately are killed by police all the time, and even beyond the police brutality issue, black women have, I feel like, had their own separate feminist movement. People don’t want to recognize those discrepancies or that that’s an issue.”

 Many marchers attended the protest in support of the women in their life.

“[There were] limited options for my grandmother and my mother,” said Moise St. Louis, associate dean of students and director of multicultural student services. “They [the Trump administration] will not limit them for my wife, my daughters, and women in the world right now. We will not allow it.”

Talentino also had her daughter in mind.

“I’m marching today for equal rights and I’m marching for my daughter,” said Talentino. “And for all women who are threatened right now.”

Many protesters at the march carried signs, flags, and balloons along the march.

For Sophie Adams, ’18, president of the St. Michael’s student association, the march was about continuing the fight for equal rights.

“I believe in the ideals of strong women and how empowering women and taking a political stand can motivate change,” Adams said. “It’s not just about being angry, it’s about starting productive dialogues, being involved and figuring out where you stand on the issues.”

Yeboah echoed this sentiment, telling the Defender “I think the election definitely brought a lot of [sexism] to light. There were more overt statements of hate, acts of hate towards women. I felt like it was my duty as a citizen of the United States to march and speak out.”

Marchers in Montpelier carried signs supporting a number of issues- from gender inequality, racism, migrant justice, LGBTQ concerns, classism, privilege, and more. Besides Sanders, speakers included Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and previous Vermont Gov. Madeline Kunin.

“I’m marching to make sure that everyone is represented, everyone has a voice,” said St. Louis. “And that our government represents the will of the majority of the people. I want a society where everyone’s rights are respected and people can live freely.

Accusations of “false media” and President Trump’s issues with the press were on the minds of some attendees as well.

“I’m marching for a lot of complicated reasons, including my concern that Trump will erode civil rights, particularly First Amendment rights in the next four years” said Dr. David Mindich, media studies professor at St. Michael’s. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’m old,” he added, remarking on the record-breaking turnout of people in attendance.

About a dozen students rode in two vans supplied by St. Michael’s college to the event, in addition to several groups of students who drove to the march on their own.

Group at Women's March
Several St. Michael’s students and faculty traveled to the Women’s March on Montpelier together in vans provided by the school. Photo by Kelsy Bode, ’17

“It was really motivating,” said Adams. “There were thousands of people here and you could feel a collective energy throughout the entire world,” Adams said. “There are millions of people marching today. Millions of people that took their Saturday and came out and wore these crazy hats.”

“People understand what they need to do to protect rights for everyone,” Talentino said “I think there’s a great feeling of purpose and that people are ready to become active and ensure rights for everyone.”