On Saturday, Jan. 18 more than 100 women and supporters gathered in downtown Fredericton to talk about women in politics. Many had made their way to the event in Wilmot United Church Hall under bright skies but -20-degree temperatures for the fourth annual Women’s March in the city.
The gathering began at City Hall, opened by Spasaqsit Possesom (Ron Tremblay), Chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council. He noted that his Wolastoq culture was matriarchal, with political power held by and passed down by women. City Councillor Kate Rogers welcomed the crowd to City Hall and called for more diversity in the municipal council. Kathi Zwicker and Katrina Slade were the March leaders.
At the Wilmot Hall gathering, MC Courtney Steeves introduced Jenica Atwin, recently elected as the MP for Fredericton, the first woman and first Green Party representative for the riding. Atwin shared her thoughts about why politics needs to change so that interactions occur in a more appropriate and caring manner that validates the experiences and ideas of women, gender diverse and all people. She also described her work since the federal election in October 2019.
Kate Rogers, in her 8th year representing the City’s Ward 11 residents and currently the only woman on City Council, updated everyone on the progress of the ad-hoc Committee on Gender Diversity. Rogers commented that for the same reasons that biodiversity is important in forests, diversity enriches and strengthens politics. She invited those interested in the Committee’s work to attend the presentation on the agenda of the Council-in-Committee open meeting at City Hall on Jan. 20.
Following Rogers’ presentation, speakers came to the open mic. First up was Margo Sheppard, a well-known community, environmental and social justice activist. Sheppard’s announcement that she will contest the municipal election in Ward 1 on Fredericton’s northside won sustained applause from the crowd.
Julia Hansen, a local activist and nurse spoke about the important services offered by Clinic 554 to women and the trans community, and the need to support the right of women to control their bodies. Susan Colwell from the CUPE 2745 women’s committee spoke about the struggle of classroom support workers. Kathryn Downton shared her thoughts about women in politics and her community work.
Wolastoq Grandmother Beverly Perley described the struggle to protect the land and waters threatened by the Sisson Mine development. She shared information about what is happening now to the Indigenous land and water protectors opposing the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in BC, with access to their camp being blocked by the RCMP. Perley closed the event by singing the Strong Women’s Song with drummer Trevor Paul.
Everyone was invited to sign up to support women running in the Fredericton municipal election, by joining a discussion group, taking campaign training, or offering general support. Two male politicians also attended the event to demonstrate their support for more women and diversity in politics: Greg Ericson, Councillor for Ward 8 in Fredericton and David Coon, Leader of the Green Party of NB and MLA for Fredericton South.
Co-organizer Rhonda Connell said she was very pleased with the turnout. “It was a great crowd on a very cold day. I am looking ahead to next year, very excited, and encourage anyone interested in organizing next year to contact me.” Connell is thinking ahead to the event in 2021, when she wants the event to feature “diversity, inclusion and fresh ideas.” She believes that equality “is the most important issue of our times” because “participation of women in decision making is key to a hopeful future.”
The annual Fredericton Women’s March is part of the Global Women’s March, a grassroots movement that rose up in 2017 with more than 600 marches worldwide. It began in Washington, DC as a protest the day after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump who, before being elected, had famously bragged about assaulting women. Marches have been held every January since then in Fredericton and around the world. Globally the march seeks to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change. In 2019, more than 33 marches took place across Canada on the same day, including in Fredericton and Saint John. A Women’s March was also held in Saint John again this year.
Anyone interested to help with organizing the 2021 event, or who did not already sign-up to join the women in municipal politics group, contact Rhonda Connell by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan O’Donnell, a member of the editorial board of the NB Media Co-op, co-organized the Fredericton Women’s March with Rhonda Connell and other supporters.