It began on Facebook as these things often do.
Melissa Saucedo, 44, Mexican-American, married to an Italian and living near Monza, shared a link to the Women’s March on Rome, one of many global marches taking place on January 21st to protest the new US president Donald Trump and to show support for human and civil rights.
I wanted to go to stand up for these rights not only for people all over the world, but also here and now in Italy. I wanted to march for all those women who do not have the freedom to do so.
As I looked up the train times to Rome, another friend asked if there was a march in Milan. There wasn't. The idea was sown.
We decided to start our own march in Milan. How and yet was not clear at the start, but Melissa soon contacted the organizers of the global marches, and the Women’s March on Milan became official. Confirmation arrived late Tuesday night.
“I did it because I couldn’t not do it,’ Melissa says. ‘I couldn’t just keep clicking and commenting on social media and expecting change to happen. I couldn’t accept that a campaign of hate and fear was becoming normalized globally. I knew I had to do something.”
Photo: Francesca Perani
She organized the Milan event with two other women; Monica Iyer, 33, an American human and civil rights lawyer who’s been living in Milan for three years, and Marianna Cappelletti, 46, an Italian separated mother of two daughters, living near Pavia.
“I wanted to connect my action with all the people marching around the world against any form of aggression, violence and abuse directed towards women, and for all the people under attack from the abuse of power," explained Marianna. "I live in a world that is not able to support mine, my daughters’ and sisters’ rights as women, and as human beings. I want a radical change, and that’s why I marched on Milan.”
Roughly 250 women, men and children rallied peacefully outside Milan's La Scala opera house. Some wore pink pussyhats, a direct reference to Trump’s comments about "grabbing women by their pussy" in a 2005 leaked tape. Others carried rainbow flags or American flags.
Signs read: “girls just wanna have fun-damental rights”, “Society and the planet must be defended”, “our bodies, our minds, our power”, “men of quality do not fear equality,” “pussy grabs back” and “free America”.
IN PICTURES: The best signs from the Women's March in Rome
One participant, 56-year-old teacher Mariangela from Lissone, summed up the atmosphere of the march: “It was so good to see all these people from countries all over the world united to fight for women’s rights and the rights of minority groups. Even if the majority of these women already have them, they know fully that they have to fight to keep them.”
"Living abroad forces you to be particularly open-minded," explains Gabriella Massaro, 47, from Connecticut. “I’ve been living in Italy for almost 15 years now and I’ve always taken pride in the American Constitution, free speech, the openness of my nation and its citizens. This is the first time I felt that that was stripped away.
"Being raised in a country that embraced differences, learned from them and grew from them has always been a source of strength and pride for me. This is what I’m marching for today.”
Maria Balderi from Arcigay Women’s Group Milan told us that this march felt different from the other protests which regularly take place in the country. “Here in Italy we often protest in the streets," she said. "But lately I’ve noticed that there’s little inclusion and collaboration between various groups for various reasons: sexist separatism feeds this.
Photo: Francesca Perani
"During the Women’s March I not only saw a strong, courageous, and emotional demonstration, but I felt a new energy which I’ve rarely felt during other public demonstrations: togetherness between protesters of different ages, genders, sexual orientations and religions.”
Rose, 52, an Indian-American expat who has lived in Milan for twenty years, told us about her experience of being an immigrant twice. First, she went to the States from India at the age of sixteen, and later she came to Italy with her Italian husband. “Nobody made me feel like I didn’t belong. Nobody made me feel like I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do," she says of her arrival in Italy.
A recent graduate, Sabrina Accardo from Milan, felt that there was no reason for progress to stop now just because women's rights' campaigners have already achieved so much. “I came to the Women’s March because just like I have never known many atrocities of the past thanks to the women that came before me, I don’t want other women to know the following: being taught to stay in the home, being taught to be submissive, passive acceptance, unfair wages, the glass ceiling, silence, sexualization and objectification."
And Antonella Colicchia, 57, from Milan, felt women in Italy had a particular duty to stand up to the Trump administration. "Trump immediately reminded me of Berlusconi. He’s disparaging of women too. After Obama and Michelle, we can’t accept him. This is why I was in the square in Milan, and next time there will be more of us, my dear American sisters.”
It was wonderful to see so many women making their voices heard on Saturday. There were a lot of young women among them, which just shows how a whole new generation of women is willing to stand up and defend its rights.
Rachael Martin is a freelance writer. She came to Italy nineteen years ago and made it her home. She is bilingual and writes in both English and Italian. You can find the complete version of this article on her blog. Contact Rachael on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
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