While some women stay home from their offices Wednesday in support of women’s rights, Mrinalini Chakraborty is working, but she’s still supporting the cause.
The doctoral student in anthropology is a leader of the Women’s March, the organization behind the historic march that took place in the nation’s capital Jan. 21.
Today’s “A Day Without a Woman” event — organized by the International Women’s Strike in response to violence, oppression and other injustices that women face worldwide — is the first massive action she and her colleagues from the Women’s March are supporting since January.
“We want to keep working on initiatives we believe in,” said Chakraborty, an immigrant from India and longtime activist who continues to work for the Women’s March without pay.
She and other Women’s March committee members are speakers at the Pro Bono Institute’s annual conference this week in Washington, D.C., which is why, technically, she’s working. But Chakraborty is still supporting the strike by reducing her economic footprint today — another way, besides wearing red, that women and allies can take action.
It’s important to keep the momentum of the Women’s March on Washington alive, she said.
“During the march, it was incredible, electric,” Chakraborty said, remembering the streets of the nation’s capital the morning of Jan. 21. “Your eyes couldn’t see beyond the crowd.”
That day, she helped the logistics team by handling on-the-ground coordination of volunteers, public safety personnel and plans for parking or transportation. Near the event’s end, Chakraborty had been on her feet for about 21 hours, but that was only a slice of her total contribution.
In the weeks leading up to the march, she worked about 18 hours a day as state representative from Illinois and state co-coordinator on the national committee, gathering estimates of how many people would attend from each state and coordinating bus rides to Washington, D.C.
She was motivated to get involved after the presidential election.
“It was like a direct shock to my system personally,” Chakraborty said, mentioning that she protested on campus when President Trump held, then later canceled, a rally at the UIC Pavilion last spring. “It was like so many people, women, minorities, people with disabilities, the LGBTQIA community, they were just openly demonized and insulted, and [Trump] still won.”
Like Chakraborty, retired lawyer Teresa Shook was determined to rally against Trump. On Nov. 9, she created a Facebook event page for what would eventually become the Women’s March on Washington, but not before volunteers scrambled for weeks, networking, securing permits, booking celebrities and dealing with public scrutiny to make it all happen.
“With the cry of, ‘They don’t know what they’re doing,’ and people constantly second-guessing us, we were very aware of the fact that we didn’t just have to prove this to ourselves, we had to prove, to the world, that we could pull this off,” Chakraborty said.
On Jan. 21, they made history. Half a million people marched in Washington, D.C.; more than 4 million people participated in sister marches around the world.
“Our biggest challenge was time, and we conquered it,” she said. “I was proud to be there.”
Chakraborty said she would continue to work with the Women’s March “until somebody kicks me off.” She laughed before adding, “It’s important to stand up for something, something that is bigger than just yourself.”