Grand Rapids Women’s March coordinator hopes energy continues after January event

women and child participate at march holding signs

Story by Valentina Garcia, News Editor
Photos courtesy of Anna Schlutt

Hundreds gathered at Calder Plaza on Jan. 19 to participate in the 2019 Grand Rapids Women’s March. The local march — organized by Raina Cook — gave local women an opportunity to share their experiences and invited those in attendance to join the work of community organizations.

Cook, who describes herself as a “Grand Rapids gal,” did not have prior experience with the Women’s March; she decided to participate after seeing calls for sister marches across the country. These sister marches were held on the same day as the third annual Women’s March in Washington D.C.

“I looked and saw that there was not a march already planned for Grand Rapids and I really thought there should be. So I just kind of jumped into that role headfirst,” Cook said. Cook embraced the role of organizer with a clear vision for the march.

Eleven Grand Rapids women shared their stories on Jan. 19 before the marching began. The march was promoted as intersectional, and the speeches highlighted this. Women talked about an array of topics, some of which were: mental health, racism, immigration, anti-semitism and the need for safe and affordable homes. The focus on their experiences was intentional.

Raina Cook speaks to the crowd at the women's march.

Cook speaking at GR Women’s March.

“We often see from the Women’s March that there is a heavy political focus. You’ll see a lot of politicians speaking and big names in the community but I thought that, if we really want to bring this community together, that we needed to hear the voices of folks in the community and what they were experiencing. And one of the things we really wanted from the speakers was for them to bring a call to action to the crowd,” Cook said.

Community organizations present at the march included The Red Project, Movimiento Cosecha and Parents for Healthy Homes. At least four of the 11 speakers were involved with these organizations, and they encouraged the estimated 300 people in attendance to become familiar with them.

Cook will not forget the community’s participation at the march.

“I’m sure that, had it not been so terribly cold, there probably would have been a larger group of people there. But the people that did come, just to see the enthusiasm and how everyone while marching was chanting, and then as we gathered at the end of the march and the chanting continued — you could just feel the energy, that folks really took away something from it and were energized,” Cook said.

The march did not happen without its challenges. The start was delayed because the person loaning the sound system was involved in a car accident. And an incident with a driver that ran into crowd safety volunteers after being stopped, by volunteers, left many worried.

Soon after the march departed Calder’s Plaza, a driver wanted to enter a parking lot and was stopped because marchers were crossing the entrance. Cook stated those who witnessed the incident said the driver acted aggressively and believed the incident to be intentional, but that the Grand Rapids Police Department believed it to be unintentional. The incident is being investigated by authorities, according to a FOX 17 report which also includes video from witnesses.

“Everyone was safe. No one was injured in that incident. It’s just unfortunate that that happened. … I think that is a very irresponsible action but we’re just thankful that nobody was hurt,” Cook said. Crowd safety volunteers placed themselves at every intersection between the cars and marchers.

But these incidents did not bring the march down. Cook hopes the energy remains for the long run. And although planning a large event can be difficult, Cook said it was well worth it.

“If we put together something that brought folks into organizations that they didn’t know about before and can maybe help out in that aspect, then I think that we definitely — we won,” Cook said.



About the Writer:

IMG_4545Valentina Garcia is a fourth-year student who loves sunny days, Jane Austen, and preferred tea to coffee until she started college. 



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