by Kate Rogers

The air around city hall on Sunday afternoon was damp and chill, but that didn’t stop thousands of voices from echoing off the buildings. Shouts, cheers and chants the likes of “Hey hey, ho ho, 45 has got to go!” and “Show me what democracy looks like!” reverberated through Niagara Square. The streets were a sea of pink pussy hats and poster board signs reading slogans ranging from “Viva la Vulva” to “Take ‘Em By the Midterms.” Looking around at the hopeful, determined faces that spanned generations, from rosy-cheeked babies in strollers to beautiful gray-haired women in glasses, it was clear that this was a group more organized, more unified and more determined than ever to use their voice in the most powerful way they can – to vote.

Marches organized across the country this weekend to commemorate a year of frustrations, of roadblocks and…of victories. The #MeToo movement has seamlessly woven into the battle cries of women everywhere, and speeches were made encouraging more women to speak up, speak out and advocate for themselves and those around them who don’t have a voice. More women are running for office than ever before, proving that that voice has only amplified and become more articulate in the past 365 days. It’s called out men who have abused their power and their peers, it’s brought glaring injustices to light and it’s asked for action rather than complacency.

There was a sense of fear after last year’s marches that this movement would settle and lose its momentum. Activism is hard, and the roadblocks are staggering. A government in chaos, a political majority that is threatening rights for so many, the harsh reality that equality is not nearly as close as everyone had seemed to think it was. And it’s true. 2017 was a year full of backslides, regressions and setbacks at every turn. But out of that darkness, this movement has rallied. It’s begun to tip the scales and shift cultural norms that have been accepted for generations. Complacency has not set in; in fact, the opposite has happened.

Women are getting more comfortable speaking up because their rights are actively at risk. The women’s movement rose out of the ashes of the hope that this country was ready to embrace equality. It’s showed, glaringly, how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It is still inherently a movement of hope – hope that this the beginning of a new journey. Women understand the hard work in front of them, and they’re not afraid of it. They’re embracing it. “Just being here, marching and being around those who believe that if we can come together in a peaceful way to get our message across…makes me hopeful. It’s knowing we all have a voice and can use it to make a difference in this world,” says Beth, 32, of Cheektowaga who marched on Sunday.

There are challenges. The #MeToo movement has certainly brought more power, but as one marcher pointed out, it also has the potential to make the larger women’s movement more polarizing. And inclusivity is important. More reach toward diversity is critical to sustaining and growing this cause. “Without ALL women, it will not be as successful.”

So we will all continue to rally. To expand our reach. To vote. To use our voices in the best way we know how – at the polls. But we also need representation we can believe in. Candidates we can count on to carry those voices – those strong, fierce, united voices – to the places that matter, to the policies that will effect change. We need allies. As Dana, another woman at Sunday’s march said, “Men showed up [today] and I hope they continue to join as advocates. Because in this battle, we need male allies in every area to break down long-standing culture norms and inequalities. Women can do it alone but we shouldn’t have to.”

This is not a movement of the few, or the small. It is an entire gender coming together, raising issues that have long lay dormant and will no longer. This voice is growing louder by the moment. It is a freight train taking social media, the mainstream media and far flung corners of the country by storm. And it won’t be silenced.