A year ago — the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as president — I was covering the “Women’s March on Washington,” and as I made my way through the jammed National Mall I was calling out, “Who is from Chicago?”
One of the people who waved in reply was, I would soon learn in our interview, Cassie Wagner. She drove to Washington from Mount Prospect with her husband, Will; her daughter, Olivia, a student at Prospect High School and one of her classmates.
“We need to show up here in solidarity,” Wagner told me last year. “This is only the first step. We need to come out of this and continue.”
With a second women’s march on Saturday in Chicago and scores of other cities in the U.S., I called Wagner to arrange an interview to find out what she did to “continue” after she went back home.
For Wagner, who had never been involved in politics, the Women’s March launched her on a year of activism.
So much so that when I talked to Wagner again on Thursday, by coincidence it was at the Sun-Times headquarters, 30 N. Racine.
But Wagner, who handles communications for a bank, was not at the Sun-Times because of me.
With her newfound political skills — all honed in the past year — she was at the paper to accompany a Democratic state senate candidate from the northwest suburbs, Ann Gillespie, coming in to appear before the editorial board.
The Saturday march in Chicago musters at Columbus Parkway and Congress Drive near Grant Park. Music starts at 9 a.m. with the rally at 11 a.m. The march at 12:30 p.m. will wind west on Jackson Blvd. to the Federal Building’s plaza on Clark Street.
Last year, with balmy winter weather, an estimated 250,000 marchers flooded downtown Chicago. This year? Claire Shingler, the executive director of Women’s March Chicago said, “The turnout question is anybody’s game.”
The women’s marches were prompted by the shock of Trump’s stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton and enabled by the ability to communicate quickly and cheaply on social media platforms.
This year, with mid-term elections in November, the marches, taking place on Sunday in some cities, are heavily Democratic in nature. The theme is explicit: the “March to the Polls.”
All the Chicago rally speakers are Democrats or with organizations that are Democratic allies. One featured speaker in Chicago is California billionaire Tom Steyer, who is bankrolling a drive to try to impeach Trump.
Another Chicago march organizer, Jaquie Algee, vice president for external affairs at SEIU Healthcare, said Republicans were invited to speak. None accepted.
The women’s marches this year have an added dimension that transcends party politics. They are coming months after the “MeToo” movement was spawned in the wake of a series of workplace sexual harassment and assault revelations.
Last year, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., spoke at the rally preceding the Washington march, wearing, as she told the crowd, her “don’t F with me’” leather jacket.
When I asked Duckworth on Wednesday about the lasting impact of the 2017 march, she told me, “People got used to showing up.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will be speaking at the Los Angeles women’s march on Saturday.
“I think the second year is going to show there is a movement that is in play,” Harris told me.
“The marches that we will see this weekend validate the fact that something has stirred up the women of our country and those who care about women,” Harris said.
Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, a Democrat and one of the speakers at the Chicago rally told me, “Our entire focus is to get more women to run for office and to get more women to vote and get active.”
Back in Mount Prospect last year, shortly after the march, Wagner and some like-minded friends hosted a gathering. To her surprise, 75 people showed up.
“We were shocked.”
After everybody left Wagner said she realized, “I guess we’re doing something with this. So we created a Facebook group. As of this morning we have 997 people.”
For Wagner, this year has put her — and her group of energized activists — on the path to politics.
Gillespie, who also traveled to Washington for the 2017 march, was one of the women who showed up at Wagner’s northwest suburban post-march gathering.
A year later, she is running for office.
Wagner organized two busloads — 55 seats each — to head downtown Saturday from the northwest suburbs.
Said Wagner, a year ago, “Most of us had no idea who our village trustees were.”