Alaska News

Thousands of Alaskans join Women's March in solidarity with national events

Snow, frigid temperatures and harrowing driving conditions weren't enough to keep thousands of Alaskans from participating in Women's March events across the state Saturday.

Organizers reported hundreds of people in cities like Palmer, Homer and Juneau. Even remote communities like Adak, located in the Aleutian Islands, reported 10 people in attendance. At least 38 marched in Unalakleet, a Northwest Alaska village of 700 people.

Anchorage and Fairbanks both estimated march attendance in the thousands.

However, exact numbers were hard to find.

Liz Medicine Crow, president and CEO of the First Alaskans Institute and one of five speakers who addressed the Anchorage crowd at the Delaney Park Strip, estimated that roughly 2,000 people were in attendance at the morning rally.

[Photos: Thousands hit the streets for Women's March events in Alaska]

"When I was on the stage, I couldn't see the back of the group," she said.


Anchorage event organizer Celeste Godfrey thought it was closer to 3,500 people. She said the indoor portion of the march at Williwaw quickly reached its 1,000-person capacity.

In Fairbanks, co-organizer Jeannine Haney said Raven's Landing, the indoor portion of the event, quickly met its 340-person limit.

She had thought Friday that maybe 300 would show up. She suspects it was closer to 2,000 based on attendance at Raven's Landing and crowd estimates, despite morning temperatures in Fairbanks dipping down to minus 20 degrees.

"It was incredible," she said after the event Saturday.

Even in Unalakleet, where the temperatures with wind chill hovered around minus 40, about 38 people showed up, according to event organizer Heather Fernstrom. A mix of men, women and children marched down the streets of the village wearing heavy parkas with frosty fur ruffs carrying signs with sayings like "All life here deserves respect."

The events are linked to the larger grass-roots effort that stems from the divisive presidential election. According to the national mission of the march, it is designed to "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."

People gathered on the snowy Park Strip downtown to address a variety of concerns, from climate change to health care. While not officially a political rally, many signs focused on fears related to new Trump administration.

Many attendees also wore pink hats with kitty-cat ears — an unofficial sign of the movement.

Despite concerns about counterprotesters, none were apparent Saturday afternoon in Anchorage. The event did start late, according to Godfrey, only to wait for heavy snow to clear to allow a drone to capture video of the event.

Haney said in Fairbanks a few people drove past the march and yelled "I love Trump" at marchers. But she said the incidents were short and peaceful.

[Millions march in Washington and around the world vowing to resist Donald Trump]

Speakers in Anchorage included Medicine Crow, former Anchorage Assembly member Sheila Selkregg and Mara Kimmel, first lady of Anchorage. People marched around the Park Strip and then down F Street following the speakers, before heading to an indoor portion of the event.

People carried homemade signs with proclamations like "President Trump, I care about your tax returns" and "Hate Ain't Great."

Many were political, but others were inspirational. Some quoted feminist leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Maya Angelou, while others looked to fictional characters like Albus Dumbledore from the "Harry Potter" series.

Bonnie Maroni wore a red baseball cap with the words "Make America Native Again" printed on it while holding a sign protesting the Dakota Access pipeline.

Maroni, 37, came to the Anchorage event with her girlfriend, Trisha Boettger, 40. She said she was surprised to see so many people given the heavy snow and chilly conditions. But Maroni said the solidarity was inspiring.

"It steels up more strength," she said.


Speakers worked the crowd, telling jokes, playing pop music and fueling chants like "people are united, we will not be divided" and "liberty and justice for all."

Reasons for attending were varied. Some, like substitute teacher Tahnee Seccareccia, 28, said she was worried about losing health insurance as politicians plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Janice Swiderski, 66, a member of the Anchorage chapter of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, worries about political actions that could dismantle gun-free zones. Her daughter, Madeline Scholl, 38, joined her and said she was concerned about a shift in culture on how people deal with sexual violence.

All those interviewed said they were encouraged by the crowd on Saturday. Swiderski said she understands it takes more than just showing up to a rally and planned to keep the movement going. She was even prepared to network with other individuals after the rally.

"Obama said to bring my clipboard," she said, a nod to the former president's farewell speech. "So I brought along my clipboard."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the temperature in Unalakleet. It was minus 40 with the wind chill, not the ambient air temperature of minus 26 degrees.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.