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Houston Women’s March rallies around theme of justice

January 19, 2019

Regina Moctezuma came to the Houston Women’s March alone on Saturday, excited to attend the progressive demonstration for the first time.

“I just feel like it’s my duty to be here,” the 18-year-old said shortly before the march set off from the Buffalo Bayou visitor center. “People deserve to be equal. It doesn’t matter — gender, race.”

Moctezuma’s parents both live outside the United States: When she was a child, her mother was deported to Guatemala, and her dad was later unable to re-enter the U.S. after leaving to visit Mexico. So it was the hardline immigration stance taken by President Donald Trump’s administration that persuaded Moctezuma to turn out Saturday.

Pinned to her jacket was a button playing off a comment directed by then-candidate Trump toward Hillary Clinton. “Nasty Women Get S—- Done,” the button read.

That message all but summed up the attitude of thousands of pink hat-wearing, sign-hoisting feminists who, even amid a biting wind, assembled for the third straight year to march in downtown Houston Saturday, largely to protest the current presidential administration.

With an unmistakable public enemy No. 1 — Trump — the march brought out people concerned about a slew of issues aside from women’s rights, including climate change, immigration and voting rights, most of which protesters linked to the president.

“We need to make sure that we’re doing stuff that lets everybody have a voice and a vote,” said Todd Litton, who was working the crowd to gather signatures in support of an independent redistricting commission to draw legislative and congressional districts.

In November, Litton lost the election for Texas’ gerrymandered 2nd Congressional District to Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw.

Nearby, Roxanne Taylor, a 68-year-old Katy resident, was holding a sign that read, “Families Belong Together.”

“Immigrants have been a huge part of our nation’s success and I believe immigrants should continue to be a huge part of our nation’s success,” Taylor said. “I would like our immigration laws to be reformed to encourage more immigration, not less.”

Still, for all the other topics, the march’s focus on women’s rights and empowerment was evident. Protesters raised signs with messages including: “Empowered Women Empower Women,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Rights,” and “UGH! Where do I even START?”

Lauren Harris, 23, stood in front of the Buffalo Bayou visitor center early Saturday with a sign that read, “Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die during childbirth than women of any other race! We deserve much better.”

“I’m just very happy to see so much support here in Houston, so many diverse people here with diverse ideas,” said Harris, who studies maternal health at the UTHealth School of Public Health. “It’s very comforting that I don’t have to basically hide things that I believe in. All I want is health equity across all spectrums.”

Despite robust turnout from Houston residents, the national Women’s March movement has experienced a new level of tumult this year, with members of the National Women’s March Inc. facing charges of anti-semitism. An organizer received backlash for participating in an event hosted by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader known for his anti-semitic comments.

On the steps of City Hall, where the brief march ended with a series of speeches and performances, Houston Women March On board member Robin Paoli put some separation between the local group and its national counterpart.

“You may have seen questions about racism, bigotry, anti-semitism in the Women’s March,” she said. “Here’s what I want you to know. This global movement is not defined by one or two people, whether they’re in (Washington,) D.C. or wherever the heck they are.”

“We win by being united and loving our neighbors,” she added. “That’s it, right there.”

After, Abbie Kamin, an associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized what she called “a stunning failure and an outright refusal by national march leadership to denounce anti-semitism and repudiate bigotry.”

“For Jewish people, the lesson of thousands of years of murderous persecution is that there can be no justice if we do not speak out,” said Kamin, who is Jewish. “There can be no justice if we do not speak out for other people.”

For now, Paoli said, Houston Women March On plans to continue holding the annual march.

“As long as there is a system of injustice, we’re going to keep encouraging and registering voters and encouraging them to find causes and candidates to support,” she said. “And we will continue to march and continue to register voters until there’s justice.”

jasper.scherer@chron.com

twitter.com/jaspscherer

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