By Emma Vallelunga
About 200 people sent a strong message Saturday in Plattsburgh that women are valuable and deserve a seat at the table.
“There’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t be marching for our rights right now,” event organizer Nicole Berlingeri Nelson said.
In coordination with the fifth annual Women’s March in Washington D.C., the large crowd walked the streets and sidewalks of downtown Plattsburgh for an organized Women’s March titled “Our Future, Our Choice, Our Fight.”
Plattsburgh’s march joined more than 300 marches and demonstrations scheduled across the country this month.
While a central focus of the national march surrounds the contentious presidential election, protesters in Plattsburgh denounced President Donald Trump’s attempt to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat before the election and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the high court.
Berlingeri Nelson, a SUNY Plattsburgh graduate student, co-organized the march after realizing the city and its people deserved a platform to voice their opinions during an important turning point this year.
“There’s a lot of things happening right now that we don’t agree with, but the cherry on the cake was definitely that nomination,” Nelson said.
“Plattsburgh was not registered for anything, and I saw that, and I recognized a need for it because we’re a very eclectic town and city, and we need to make sure we’re a part of this historic moment.”
The rally began at 11 a.m. with a gathering by the gazebo at the US Oval. In order to comply with COVID-19 health and safety protocols, people stood in small groups socially distant and wore masks on the former Plattsburgh Air Force base.
Organizers also brought hand sanitizer and bottled water for the participants before and after the march. Almost everyone came with handmade signs, colorful flags or homemade costumes.
Messages on each sign varied in issues, from women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter to anti-Trump and anti-Amy Coney Barrett protests.
Some participants sat on park benches around the Oval as “benchwarmers,” symbolizing a peaceful protest to keep RBG’s seat vacant until after the election.
“Today, we are marching alongside thousands of our sisters and brothers across the nation to demand change,” Nelson said to the crowd before the march.
“Now more than ever, it is imperative to stand up for what you believe in. Today we march forward because we refuse to step backward.”
City of Plattsburgh Democratic mayoral candidate Chris Rosenquest was there to show his support for the cause and said the showing at the rally was motivating and moving.
“We need to keep highlighting the inequities in our community, and that starts local,” Rosenquest said.
“We still are in a pandemic, and people should still be safe, but we’ll do both. We’ll come out, we’ll protest and we’ll fight for what’s right, but we’ll continue to do it safely.”
Democratic candidate for State Senate Kimberly Davis talked about a woman’s right to be included in politics and how more women should seek careers in local government.
“Women are less likely than men to be encouraged by parents, teachers or party leaders to run for office,” Davis said to the crowd.
“Women underestimate their abilities. They assume there is much needed, and they need to be more qualified than men to run for the same office. My father was a town chair of our local political party for a short time, and even being raised around politics, my parents never discussed a political career with me.
“So talk to your daughters and students about running for office. But it’s also self doubt that prevents women from running. Women are the biggest self doubters. We need to stop that.”
Marchers walked from the US Oval to downtown.
They chanted “Women’s rights are human rights,” “Don’t fill the seat,” “Vote him out,” and “We dissent,” along the way.
They continued down Margaret Street and back to Broad Street to return to the original route. Cars honked in support as the march went by, and one woman continually hit a cowbell to lead the marchers in the right direction.
Brooks Fraser and her three friends drove into town from Saranac Lake and Keene just for the march.
“I was excited that there was a satellite event close enough to get to,” Fraser said.
“I just moved from Manhattan, so I got to go to all the events there, which were much bigger, but I love that there’s enough numbers here to put something together like this.”
Fraser said she didn’t feel unsafe participating in the march during the pandemic. She knew everyone would be outside wearing masks and socially distant, so the fear of catching the virus wasn’t her biggest concern.
“That wasn’t really a thought, to be honest,” Fraser said.
“While it’s in the back of my mind, it’s not going to stop me from coming out and doing something like this to support (the cause).”
Katie Kalluche and her friends Erin McGill, Joshua Kretser and Meghan Lannon made large individual letters to spell out “We dissent” and stood in line together for everyone to read.
“We are trying to honor RBG because it’s so important for women to hold more offices,” Kalluche said.
“We’re not going to be able to do that if we don’t show up.”
Kalluche said her nine-year-old son Cooper, who proudly held up his W and E signs as they walked Saturday, was extremely willing to come with his mother for the march.
She said even with the pandemic, teaching her son to fight for what he believes in was more important.
“I asked my son if he wanted to come today, and he said if it was a regular march or parade, he wouldn’t have come. He said, and I quote, ‘Because we’re marching for women’s rights, I’ll do it.’”
Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the Oct. 20 issue of The Press Republican.