BLOOMINGTON — Byron and Cherol Lott were on the hunt this week for ways to stay politically engaged in Illinois after recently moving from Georgia to Bloomington.
They didn’t have to look far.
The couple plans to attend one of the many 2018 Women’s March rallies across the state Saturday to show support for women and minority groups. The theme for this year’s marches is “Power to the Polls.”
“We belonged to Retirees Unite For the Future in Savannah, Ga. We were very active, which we want to continue,” said Cherol Lott.
Several Central Illinois groups are traveling to marches on Saturday. They are at 11 a.m. at Grant Park in Chicago; noon at the state Capitol in Springfield; and noon at River Front Park in East Peoria.
A national rally is planned Sunday in Las Vegas. Last year’s national march in Washington, D.C., has been called the largest single-day protest in American history.
Millions of people marched across the world last year to eradicate discrimination and sexual assault while supporting equality and women’s rights.
The Lotts joined last year’s march in Savannah.
“We were appalled by what was going on in our country. Somebody has to make a difference. Don’t sit and whine about it. Get out there and let people know they aren’t alone,” said Cherol Lott.
She said recent behavior in the White House and across the country “is not what my husband served his country for.”
“It’s important that we use our voice to say we’re not happy with what we’re seeing in the White House. It’s not the American way and it’s not what this country is about,” said Byron Lott, a Navy veteran.
Jodie Slothower of Normal leads the Voices of Reason social justice group in Central Illinois. She’s joining a crowd of more than 30 people taking a train from Normal to Chicago on Saturday.
“I’m more excited about the march this year than last year. Last year, a lot of people were frustrated and angry after the (presidential) election, but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with all that energy,” said Slothower.
Slothower said that as the year passed, she saw that energy become harnessed for political engagement.
“We’re seeing so many more women running for office and more people in the local township races. People are paying more attention to their local elected officials. I’m excited. I’m starting to see a vision of where we’re going,” she said.
Slothower said she’s using this event to celebrate change that is already taking place while encouraging attendees to register to vote to keep the ball rolling.
Groups considered hosting a march in Bloomington-Normal this year, but Slothower said organizers decided to combine local voices with larger, more diverse groups in Chicago and Springfield.
Karla Huffman of Normal organized a bus with 30 individuals from the Twin City area to attend Chicago’s march.
“The march last year was that spark to get everyone to speak up, not just because they were unhappy with the election, but to get involved, start running for office and put their money where their mouth is,” said Huffman. “That has already started, so let's take it to the next step. If we want new leadership, get out and vote.”
“Specifically, it has given women a voice — women who are often in the background taking care of people. Women are now saying, ‘Alright, fine. If we’re going to be the caretakers, let’s get out and take care of everyone,” said Huffman.
Last year’s march, said Huffman, was “a symbolic gesture that led to a lot of action and change.”
“It led me to go on other protests. It led me to be involved in local political campaigns. I’ve donated money to different organizations and volunteered for underrepresented groups,” said Huffman. “To critics, I would say this is what America is about: the right to peacefully assemble and stand up for what we believe in.”
Those interested in attending the march in Chicago are encouraged to join the group taking a train from Uptown Station at 7:30 a.m. Saturday in Normal.
Marchers looking to carpool to the Springfield event can meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Hyatt Place, 200 Broadway Ave., Normal.
Organizers said signs are welcome, but cannot be attached to wooden sticks or metal poles. Attendees are encouraged to leave large bags at home.