CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of activists marched on the Illinois State Capitol on Tuesday, declaring women do not have equality in the U.S., and they won’t stop protesting until they do. Meantime, lawmakers began debating a bill to allow abortion coverage under Medicaid, which the governor has promised to veto.
Rev. Jesse Jackson helped kick off what stands to be Springfield’s biggest rally of the year.
“Say ‘I am somebody. Respect me,’” he implored the crowd on the steps of the capitol building.
Maaria Mozaffar, an attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations, helped set the tone for the event, which closed streets around the statehouse.
“In the White House, there’s a president who’s unfit to serve as the president,” she said.
State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Chicago) said, if you’ve noticed a lot of activism since Donald Trump was elected president, it’s no coincidence.
“Since November 8th, a lot of people have said, ‘It’s time for me to get out of my doldrums, it’s time for me to get out of my house, and it’s time for me to do something.’ And the people here today are going to do something to make a difference here in the state of Illinois,” he said.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said the United States has become something she doesn’t recognize.
“It was in my face, it was personal when we heard people decrying immigrants; attacking Muslims; attacking women; attacking people of color, people who are poor, people who are in need. That’s not my country. That is not my America,” she said.
At the rally, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) vowed the General Assembly would pass House Bill 40, legislation to allow Medicaid and state health insurance coverage of abortions, and remove a so-called “trigger provision” in existing law that would make abortions illegal should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the historic Roe v. Wade ruling.
Despite saying during the 2014 campaign that he wanted to reverse the state law restricting abortion under the state’s Medicaid plan and state employees’ health insurance program, Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he would veto House Bill 40.
“Expanding taxpayer funding is a very divisive issue. It’s a very controversial issue. What we need to do is focus in Illinois. We need to protect existing Illinois law, but we need to focus on jobs. We need to focus on reducing property taxes. We need to focus on education funding. We need to focus on getting term limits on elected officials. These are difficult issues. We need to focus,” he said.
Rally co-organizer Jennifer Lee said she’s not sure the governor really will veto House Bill 40.
As for the rally itself, Mozaffar explained how the demonstrators will measure their success.
“I think we already can measure that we have a very successful crowd out there, and a lot of enthusiasm,” she said. “We have so many people that are here from coalition groups that are going to be lobbying on bills that we expect to see passed in the legislature. So I think you can see some of that work being done there.”
In addition to House Bill 40, demonstrators have been pushing for Illinois to become the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which passed Congress in 1972, but has not been ratified by 38 states to become part of the U.S. Constitution.
Jessica Scheller said, even if Rauner does veto House Bill 40, and even if there’s no Equal Rights Amendment in Illinois, 2017 can still be a success for women’s issues.
“I think that we are demonstrating gain, and if these measures don’t pass in 2017, then we have more work to do in 2018, and we’re going to keep on working until it’s done,” she said.