By LeShea Agnew
“I am woman, hear me roar!”
Their message was as bold as their impassioned voices.
Saturday morning, thousands of women from all walks of life blanketed the streets of Oklahoma City’s capitol building holding handmade signs and chanting harmonious messages of love and equality. A record-setting 14,000 women and their families braved the blistery winter day for the Women’s March on Oklahoma event. They stood in solidarity with the global movement Women’s March aimed at unifying and empowering everyone taking a firm stand of support in honor of human rights, civil liberties and social justice; at home and around the world.
Registered Nurse and community leader, Devyn Denton, helped organize the event and delivered an especially moving message to the massive crowd of supporters.
Denton sits down with reporter LeShea Agnew to provide a firsthand account of the emotionally charged march.
Devyn Denton: Our vision was to plan a march about women’s health, our rights and to encourage all women to come together in a unified way to promote change. We were not protesting president Trump; this event had a much more profound purpose. We were protesting on behalf of sisterhood and advocating for each other. Originally we anticipated turnout to be anywhere from a few hundred to 3,000 max – more than 14,000 people showed up. In the days leading up to the event, organizers including myself received threatening messages intended to intimidate us. Oklahoma is a red state; you often see confederate flags on trucks and cars. We were worried the response to our march would be hateful. But we pressed on and moved forward, the importance of what we were doing was too great to be deterred. Thankfully, there were no arrests or acts of violence on anyone’s part.
LeShea Agnew: The Women’s March on Oklahoma was so successful the event made the front page of the New York Times.
Devyn Denton: That’s right. Because of the impressive turnout, we were profiled along with a few of the other larger sister marches. Hours before the event even began highway traffic was at a standstill, miles and miles of cars. Additional parking lots at the capitol building that are usually empty were beyond capacity. Everyone had signs calling for peace, love, freedom and equality; even small children held signs. People travelled from Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and beyond to attend. The sea of empowered women and girls was incredible to witness and even more powerful to be part of. Even more amazing was the support we received from our men and boys. One father told me he almost didn’t come to the event because he assumed it was a women’s rally, then he realized all women’s issues are men’s issues too. He said he didn’t want to lose his daughter to inadequate healthcare or watch her rights be taken away by another man in a position of power. He ultimately came to lend his support for the sake of not only his daughter but for daughters everywhere.
Agnew: When it was your turn to address the crowd, what message did you share?
Denton: My message focused on the importance of women’s health, improved medical care and access to proper treatment. People who can afford insurance don’t really care if we have it. People who can’t afford insurance are the ones who need it most. The uninsured are the biggest underserved population in Oklahoma. We’re one of the top five states battling chronic cases of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. Studies show a woman can change the health outcome of her family. The more educated she becomes on proper nutrition and healthy living, the more she is able to effectively instill the same values and behavior in her family.
Agnew: Speak to the decision to wear your traditional all white nursing uniform to the march.
Denton: The decision to wear my uniform was purposeful. I was the only nurse in official uniform to help organize the event and stand on the front lines as we marched through the city. It was important to represent nurses in a positive and meaningful way, to show we are active in our community and represent the populations we take care of. Looking out over the crowd I recognized so many familiar faces. I saw some of my patients and their family members, babies I helped birth and families I consoled during moments of intense loss and grief. It was important for them to see nurses in another compassionate light. We serve our community in many different ways, including policy legislation and organized movement. In the words of Hillary Clinton, “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.”
Agnew: Diversity in numbers.
Denton: Indeed. There were pastors, Muslims, Israelis, natives, members of the LGBTQIA and Black Lives Matter movement. We held interfaith prayers and sang native songs in various languages. All peaceful. No arrests. No violence. Just peace and love. An elder woman at the rally told me she’s been protesting for the rights of women since the 60’s, as long as the fight continues so will we.
Agnew: Moving forward, what’s the next call of action?
Denton: Collective action must follow. The march may have ended this weekend but this is only the beginning. We have outlined specific steps supporters can take in their home states to continue moving the movement forward. Steps include writing letters to members of congress, spreading the intent and sharing the goal. Whether it’s ending gender-based violence, reproductive rights and women’s health, LGBTQIA rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, religious freedom or environmental justice, we must all do our part to protect and promote equality for all. We must pass along our vigor for advocacy to our children as well. I brought my teenage daughter Kennedy to the march and she stood beside me on stage overlooking the crowd of thousands. Seeing advocacy in action inspired her to do the same. Three generations of civil rights marchers in one family. It was a personally gratifying and almost emotionally overwhelming experience, one I will not soon forget. Now I’m marching for civil rights beside my daughter, this is certainly one of the major highlights of my life.