Red shirts were illuminated by the candlelight and caught the eyes of passersby, but the chants and messages of those gathered in downtown Bradenton Wednesday night were intended for a global audience.
The colored shirts, worn in solidarity for International Women’s Day, stood out as people strolled down the surrounding sidewalks. When the group moved to the sidewalk along Manatee Avenue, drivers sounded their horns and waved or shouted out the window in opposition.
About 75 people gathered in front of the Historic Manatee County Courthouse shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday. They gathered to stand in solidarity with women and for women’s rights and lit candles to honor women of the past who blazed the trail for the girls of today.
Christal Brewster, the vigil and rally organizer and area captain for the Women’s March Florida, Sarasota-Manatee chapter, said the event was organized to do something following the march after January’s presidential inauguration that made a statement about women’s rights.
“It’s International Women’s Day as well, so that’s part of the reason why we wanted to do it, just to show solidarity with women, with the LGBTQ community with just minorities. ... Anyone that’s different, anyone that feels left out with the current administration, that’s kind of why we wanted to do it.”
Of the roughly 75 people who attended, there was a mix of men, women and children from Bradenton, Sarasota and as far away as Central Florida who all stood side-by-side.
Looking for an event to take part in while she was in town, 22-year-old Destiny LaMond of Winter Haven said she discovered Wednesday’s rally and vigil through a Google search. She said she likely would have gone to a similar event in Orlando if she were home.
“I just like being a part of a movement, especially when it involves women,” LaMond said. “I just makes me excited there’s a thing I can go to.”
Elizabeth Nichols of Bradenton said her 7-year-old daughter, Carlee, ran out the door to come with her to the event.
“There’s no hiding it, so she might as well learn about it and figure out where she fits in it,” Nichols said.
Bernita Franzel, chair of the Manatee Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s social justice committee, said this is the busiest time for rallies she’s ever seen.
“People are realizing how much the government is doing. ... Taking away rights and benefits,” Franzel said.
Shortly after sunset, Brewster gave a short speech to those who arrived and said they light the candles in honor of women and “countless revolutionaries.”
She also said that many women who led the march in Washington, D.C.. took to the streets of New York City Wednesday, and several were arrested. Brewster did not want the same to happen in Bradenton.
“The focus tonight is just to be peaceful, to stand in solidarity to show support to women’s rights, women’s issues that we’re not going anywhere. ... And to give homage to the women that have come before us that have made such large strides in civil rights and things like that we want to keep moving forward,” Brewster said.
Chants and singing broke out at various times throughout the 45-minute gathering. But the crowd was made up of more than just women. A few men showed up in red shirts carrying signs that read, “Full equality for women” and “Honk for women’s rights.”