Mike Ostermeyer choked up as he remembered the pain that prompted him to show up to the Phoenix Women’s March held on Saturday at the grounds of the Arizona Capitol.
The grief that 59-year-old Ostermeyer still carried six years after the death of his beloved wife was apparent as he described the “extraordinary” person she was and the values she instilled in the family they raised.
“(She) made clear to me … the importance of, the gift of, strong, smart, capable women,” he said.
He still feels an “obligation” to fight for the causes his late wife would have embraced had she been alive to witness the presidency of Donald Trump.
He also has a responsibility to “honor her legacy” by fighting for a better world for the three children they raised over their 30-year marriage.
That includes a daughter, a junior in college, whose mention also brought Ostermeyer to tears.
“I’m responsible for providing her future,” he said.
He echoed a similar statement when talking about his two military-member sons. Ostermeyer said the last four years under Trump have been “absolutely a disgrace to military families.”
He attended the rally alone, standing near a tree that offered a modest amount of shade and relief from 90-degree temperatures. It also offered distance from where a majority of protesters gathered.
Though he acknowledged it’s “a little bit awkward” to attend rallies alone, he encouraged more people — particularly men — to get involved in women’s issues and marches.
“Men like me … should take the time to experience what it means to be in the context of women who are forceful leaders,” he said.
He attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in 2017 with his daughter, calling it “one of the most compelling experiences I’ve ever had.”
Ostermeyer said he felt “reasonably hopeful” when thinking about Election Day, which was 17 days away, adding that he believes it’s “very important” that change happens.
“We live in what remains, for the time being, the greatest republic on the planet, but it is not unshakable,” he said. “We have, I think, come close to the point where those who want to threaten it for their purposes are on the cusp of success.”
‘Love — not hate — makes America great’
Several hundred people descended on the Capitol’s lawn at 10 a.m. for the event’s official start, though an organizer shortly after used a megaphone to say the march along the streets surrounding the Capitol would begin at 10:30.
Nearly everyone wore masks throughout the event, many of which had political messages emblazoned on the front.
There were women dressed as handmaids as a nod to the TV show and book “The Handmaid’s Tale,” young girls chanting alongside their mothers, and men holding signs and wearing shirts declaring themselves feminists.
As the marchers left the Capitol and headed east to eventually circle the Wesley Bolin Plaza, they cycled through a handful of chants that reinvigorated the crowd each time they were repeated.
One of the most common chants throughout the march was “Love — not hate — makes America great.” Other chants centered around their pushes for women’s rights and an Election Day win for former Vice President Joe Biden.
Among those chanting for change was 63-year-old Kathryn Michael, who held up a sign with the image of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the words “May her memory be a revolution.”
Like Ostermeyer, Michael got emotional when talking about why she felt she needed to join others in protest on Saturday morning.
The topic of women’s rights and in particular, the potential confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, hit home for Michael.
“It will affect their whole lives, a difference of how I grew up, where if I wanted to have an abortion, I could have an abortion,” she said.
And she did, when she was 18 years old.
She said a man sexually assaulted her. She chose to abort because she was not ready to be a mother.
“If I wouldn’t have been able to have that right, I don’t know what would have become of me,” she said.
And if her daughters ever became pregnant and were not ready to be mothers, either, she wants them to have the same option she did.
“We’re individual people and we should be able to live our own lives the way that we want to live them,” she said.
She said she worried that having Barrett on the nation’s highest court would move women’s rights — particularly as it pertains to abortion — backward.
Michael said a Barrett confirmation would be doubly offensive to her because of the juxtaposition between Barrett and Ginsburg, the liberal magnate whose seat she would be replacing.
Michael’s daughters, who are 26 and 31, were marching in their respective cities in New Mexico at the same time their mother was marching in Phoenix. Michael said the Trump presidency prompted her to move to Mexico, but that she moved back in recent months to participate in election season rallies and marches for the rights she fears she’ll lose if Trump is re-elected.
‘There’s nothing great about this country’
After circling the Wesley Bolin Plaza, the crowd marched along the north end of the Capitol grounds and then sidewalks west of the building.
They ultimately ended back at the Capitol lawn just before 11:30 a.m., at which point many marchers left, but some remained for a short rally echoing sentiments that’d been chanted over the last hour and a half.
Kirti Dwivedi, 43, said attending the march was a welcomed break from the isolation she and many others have experienced while quarantining in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On top of getting out of the house, Dwivedi said the event offered a chance to be around people who are just as passionate about certain issues as she is. She also said the crowd was “respectful” and tried their best to maintain social distancing and other health protocols throughout the morning.
“It’s just a little slice of human decency in an otherwise mad world,” she said.
Dwivedi admitted to being “anxious” about the election but said she hopes ultimately the country will “ride the blue wave.”
“They’re saying ‘Keep America Great’ … what is America so great about right now?” she said. “We’ve lost over 210,000 Americans and health care is an issue and people can’t afford to pay their rent. It’s not good, there’s nothing great about this country and it’s really disappointing.”
Dwivedi said she hopes a Biden presidency would mean more action to help Americans suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need a change — it’s really hard,” she said.
She works in the food and beverage industry and said she lost 95% of her business since the outbreak. Among the things she cares about most is Congress passing another COVID-19 relief package.
Republicans and Democrats have been deadlocked for months over passing a new coronavirus stimulus package, sparring over issues such as how much money to give in a federal unemployment benefit.
The Republican-controlled Senate is set to act on a roughly $500 billion relief proposal next week, an amount rejected by congressional Democrats as insufficient to tackle the pandemic. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that passing another COVID-19 relief package before the election would be “difficult.”
Dwivedi is a first-generation American and said that’s always been a source of pride for her but indicated that’s been somewhat tainted by the events of the Trump presidency.
“America doesn’t have the respect that we did, even four years ago,” she said.
USA TODAY reporter Jessica Menton contributed to this article.
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