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Image: Josh Watkins

Standing at the base of The Water Works at Buffalo Bayou, Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL Houston—an organization with the mission of bettering the lives of immigrants—led the crowd in a series of chants. “This is what democracy looks like!” Espinosa barked into his megaphone, just before Houston’s second annual Women’s March kicked off on Saturday morning.

Last year, 22,000 people marched through the Bayou City’s streets as part of the protests that were staged around the country against President Donald Trump’s inauguration on behalf of women’s rights.

Some feared that Saturday’s protest would fail to muster as much of a crowd, but apparently the people that were angry last year were still indignant enough to turn out once again. More than 20,000 participated in the half-mile walk to City Hall this time around, a march that quickly turned into a giddy demonstration as they rolled into downtown Houston.

While the first protest was focused on women’s rights specifically, this year’s event widened its focus, with speakers addressing immigration, gun control, and other issues.

Former Houston mayor Annise Parker took to the stage in front of City Hall and used her time out front to point out that they needed to all keep the movement going, otherwise the half-mile march would just become a “really nice walk.”

She compared people to spider silk (an awkward-sounding metaphor, based on an African proverb, but it worked). “Spider silk can bind anything,” she told the crowd. “Each one of us is strand of spider silk. We are joining our strands together to implement progressive change in America.”

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Image: Josh Watkins

Rose Escobar, whose husband Jose was deported to El Salvador in March 2017, followed Parker. “When I was a girl, I was a princess, and I was told that one day I would meet my prince,” Escobar said. “Well, last March I had to set my crown down and become a warrior.”

People in the audience responded with cheers and clapping. Calandrian Simspon Kemp spoke about losing her son, George Kemp Jr., to gun violence, and again the crowd responded with supportive applause.

Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, Judge Phyllis Frye, and District Attorney Kim Ogg all addressed the crowd as well. U.S. Rep. Al Green and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee weren’t present—the federal government is currently shut down after all, so most of Congress is in Washington D.C. struggling to deal with that mess—but called in via speakerphone.

But when Mayor Sylvester Turner stepped up, the crowd erupted in cheers. Turner began by applauding and recognizing women in leadership positions in Houston and Harris County, explaining, “it’s important that the glass ceilings in this country are no more.” Then he really got going, delivering a rousing address. 

“Next year I’ll be standing with you as well. And the year after that and after that—until all our voices are heard,” Turner said. “The causes are just, and it is time to stand. I hope this fire will continue to burn. We need to maintain this fire and elect a whole lot of women.”

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