Roanoke's Women's March takes on new format in third year

Panels, breakout sessions also featured

ROANOKE, Va. – Men, women and kids all across the country marched for change Saturday. The National Women's March started as a response to the election of President Donald Trump, and participants say their message still remains strong. Roanoke and several other Virginia cities were home to marches, as well.

This year is the third year for the National Women's March, and in Roanoke, the rainy and cold weather probably helped play a big part in this year's being the smallest turnout in the three years they've been doing it. But organizers were still hopeful that the new format they unveiled this year makes the event just as powerful.

Chants echoed through downtown Roanoke Saturday as about 500 people took part in the Roanoke Women's March, promising this year to make it more than just boots on the ground.

"What people are really interested in doing is learning, 'How can I make my community better, my state better, my nation better,' and so we are really encouraging people. The theme of our march is Rally in Roanoke for Results in Richmond," Roanoke Women's March co-organizer Ivonne Wallace Fuentes said.

New in 2019 was a series of breakout sessions and panelists, including Djuna Osborne. Osborne co-organized the first Roanoke Women's March, which saw an impressive turnout and helped launch her political career, which saw her being elected to Roanoke City Council.

"Planning that march was just something I had to do," Osborne said. "I think it put me out there, and it really challenged me to do things that I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to do."

Roanoke's march coincided with others in Virginia and across the country in major cities like Washington, Boston and Phoenix. Of the hundreds to choose from, Indivisible Co-Executive Director Leah Greenberg picked Roanoke to march with this year because of action taken two years ago in front of then-Rep. Bob Goodlatte's office. Greenberg said it was the first local Indivisible movement across the country.

"That was actually one of the key sparks for this entire national movement of grassroots activists dedicated to resisting Trump and protecting progressive values, and so it gives me a huge amount of pleasure to be here today," Greenberg said.

The crowds appeared to be down across the board overall as bad weather plagued a good chunk of the country and some drama mounts at the national level for Women's March organizers. But local organizers in Roanoke said their message is still heard loud and clear.

"This democracy, this government belongs to us, and it can only work if the people that we elect know what issues matter to us so that they can make decisions that reflect our values," Wallace Fuentes said.

As to be expected, the group had a few hecklers along the way as they marched through downtown Roanoke. Those folks said they just simply did not agree with the group's message.

"First you march and then you run. This march, despite all of the (national) controversy that we're hearing today, has been incredibly valuable in getting people like me to get out and to work hard and to run for something and really take democracy into their own hands," Osborne said.