The day after the presidential election, after the shock wore off, Emily Klehm, a strong Hillary Clinton supporter, made a vow, to herself and to her country.
"Instead of staying in a depressed place I thought, 'OK, I didn't do enough.' I didn't get out there and volunteer. I didn't do what we who really cared should have done," said Klehm, of Glenwood. "And so, for me, there would be no more. It's not enough to just vote. I'm going to put myself out there and work for what I believe in."
That work begins around 5 p.m. Friday, when Klehm and two of her friends will head to Tinley Park's Brookside Marketplace to board a bus bound for Washington D.C. The 70 passengers will travel overnight and arrive the next morning ready to march with possibly hundreds of thousands of others, in the same spirit that inspired Dr. Martin Luther King to take to the streets of the nation's capital in 1963.
The Jan. 21 Women's March on Washington, scheduled the day after President-Elect Donald Trump is inaugurated, began as separate social media posts by women who, like Klehm, were disappointed by the election's outcome, said Amber Hummel, head of volunteer engagement for Illinois.
"Somehow, they were put in touch with each other and joined forces" to form a larger, unified march, Hummel said.
Close to 300,000 people are expected to participate, she said. About 3,000 hail from Illinois, she added.
"It may even be larger than that," she said. "It's hard to get an exact head count because a lot of participants are getting their own transportation."
For example, said Hummel, who lives in Chicago's Ukranian Village, one group from Chicago's Old Town area has chartered its own bus, while others are driving or flying there.Rahaf Othman Gary Middendorf / Daily Southtown Rahaf Othman, a history teacher at Richards High School, will participate in the Women's March on Washington. Wednesday, January 10th, 2017, in Oak Lawn. | Gary Middendorf-Chicago Tribune Media Group Rahaf Othman, a history teacher at Richards High School, will participate in the Women's March on Washington. Wednesday, January 10th, 2017, in Oak Lawn. | Gary Middendorf-Chicago Tribune Media Group (Gary Middendorf / Daily Southtown)
"A lot of people are arriving early because they want to attend the protests on the day of the inauguration," she added.
The march is set to step off at 10 a.m. from Third Street SW and Independence Avenue near the U.S. Capitol, Hummel said.
"For me, the message I'm hoping comes out of this is that people start doing something. A lot of us felt shock and disappointment the morning after the election. That's the answer you get from a lot of people joining the march," she said. "But we also felt that we didn't do enough to fight against Trump winning and getting people out there to vote."
She said the basic message the group hopes to send to Trump and his administration "is that we acknowledge you're president. We're not protesting against that. But we're going to be working hard to ensure that what we believe in is protected. When everybody comes home, we want them to get out there and start helping, volunteering, organizing meetings, whatever they can."A voice for women Gary Middendorf / Daily Southtown Cheryl West and close friend, Emily Klehm (foreground), talk about their plan to participate in the Women's March on Washington Jan. 21. Tuesday, January 9th, 2017, in Homewood. | Gary Middendorf-Chicago Tribune Media Group Cheryl West and close friend, Emily Klehm (foreground), talk about their plan to participate in the Women's March on Washington Jan. 21. Tuesday, January 9th, 2017, in Homewood. | Gary Middendorf-Chicago Tribune Media Group (Gary Middendorf / Daily Southtown)
Hummel said the march is a first step toward change.
"The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us — immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault — and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear," the Women's March website (www.womensmarch.com) states.
"In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women's March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights," it continues.
Klehm said the gathering is a way "to be vocal and present and to put ourselves out there physically. Sure, the (election) damage has been done but we have four years to make it right again. I think we have to speak out against whatever are stated or implied policies that include the destruction of women's rights and that promote racism, homophobia and anti-immigrant feelings.
"I think if many of us are out there walking and talking about what we believe in, it'll be a big step toward making sure this doesn't happen again. And we've got midterm elections in two (years). There's a lot of work that can be done at the local level," she said.
Klehm, who is president and CEO of South Suburban Humane Society in Chicago Heights, will be joined by Cheryl West, of Mount Greenwood.
"For me it is about being a woman," West said. "We've come so far as a group. It is so important to have our voice, to let them know that we are not going to go backward, only forward. But it also goes beyond women's issues."
West is a special education teacher and English language coordinator at Thornridge High School in Dolton.
"I see all of these children as my kids," she said. "We have a president-elect who is blatantly sexist and racist and discriminates against those with disabilities. I really felt I had to do something, to be a part of something big and to show on a national level that we have a voice and will continue to have a voice. We're not just going to sit back quietly while (he) makes racist/sexist comments and surrounds himself with people who agree with him."
Across the nation, busloads of marchers are set to descend on the capital, arriving in time for the 10 a.m. march step-off. In addition to Tinley Park in the Southland, departures will take place in Oak Lawn and Chicago's Beverly community.
Meanwhile, other participants plan to get their own transportation.
Rahaf Othman and her sisters — Rola Othman, director of technology at Saint Xavier University in Chicago; Abir Othman, associate principal of Andrew High School in Tinley Park; and Lina Zayed, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks Prep Academy — plan to fly out of the Chicago area on Friday and stay the weekend with another sister, Ronza Othman, who is a lawyer who works for the federal government in D.C.
Rahaf Othman said, "I am an American Muslim woman who is completely against hate, bigotry and racism and I've got a voice. The Constitution and the First Amendment give us the right to peacefully assemble, so what better way than to take advantage and peacefully assemble?"
A history teacher at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Rahaf Othman said, "At this point, the election has happened, the decision has been made. We have a new president, based off the electoral college, not the popular vote. This march is an action for the future. It's not going to change who's in the White House but it could have an effect, having all these people come out to protest hate, bigotry and Islamophobia."
The goal, she said, "is to say 'Hey, we're not liking this.'"
This won't be the first protest rodeo for Othman and her sisters. They tried to attend the Trump rally at University of Illinois Chicago last March and were told several times by police and others standing in line that they should leave. They held their ground. When the rally was canceled, they went down the street and joined a group of protesters.
"That was an unforgettable experience," she said. "When they made the announcement that (Trump) had canceled, we started chanting, 'This is what democracy looks like.' I got goose bumps. It was a beautiful thing to see all these people come together."
The Women's March, too, is what democracy looks like, she said. "Sure, he has freedom of speech, but we have freedom to assemble."
Rahaf Othman said she and her sisters got their strength and courage from their mother, who she calls the strongest woman she has ever known.
"We came to this country in 1981. Dad got a job working 7 (a.m.) to midnight in a store. Mom singlehandedly raised all seven of us," Othman said. "She is the one who raised us to be strong, to say what's on your mind, to be forceful when you need to be and to always fight for what's right."
The rash of hateful rhetoric regarding women, minorities and the disabled, she said, is not the sentiment of the majority of Americans, but rather a group that might have felt closeted until Trump's own rhetoric "gave them license," she said.
"It represents a minority, I think," she said. "But one that feels threatened and is loud because of that."
Rahaf Othman said, although she has been the recipient of kindness from strangers lately, she still has certain fears that are specific to being Muslim.
"For example, the Muslim registry. I've joked about it but it's a genuine fear," she said. "One of the reasons I'm pushing myself to be involved is because one of my children. My third child, during the campaign process, there were many nights he couldn't sleep. A few times he came to me in the middle of the night and said 'Mom, if Donald Trump gets elected, where are we moving to?' My thoughts were 'No 8 or 9 year old boy should have to be thinking about that.'"
Rahaf Othman said, "I want to do my part to put a stop to hate, to make the world a better place.
"I know it's not going to happen in an hour or a day, but baby steps," she said. "I hope that when my kids grow up, there is less bigotry and hate."
One of the greatest things about this country, she added, "is that it belongs to all of us. This country does not belong to one group. It belongs to everyone. We're all in this together. We've got to love each other. The hate needs to stop. It needs to go away."
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