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Baptized By Fire — Women’s March Austin Rally

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By Cy White, photos by Brandon McKinney.

On Saturday, Oct. 17, the Austin chapter of national equal-rights organization Women’s March hosted a rally to honor the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Women’s March had various marches all over the nation. These demonstrations protested the Senate move to replace Justice Ginsberg’s seat on the Supreme Court. Organizers Anna Sweeney, Mady Morneault and Lauryn Ott sought to be a part of these peaceful protests. So they aligned their march with others around the nation. Their first time ever organizing a rally.

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They went through all the proper channels with the city of Austin to ensure everything went smoothly. Cleared Wooldridge Square Park as their location. Checked for permits for public demonstrations. Enforced a strict mask policy. Stayed on the sidewalk as instructed. They took every precaution with the safety of march participants (many of whom were children) at the forefront.

However, things took a dramatic turn. In a statement written by co-host Morneault, just as their rally was getting underway, a group of armed men who identified themselves as the Proud Boys stormed the gazebo where Women’s March was set up. The three women weren’t caught completely unawares. According to Morneault, they received a private tip via Facebook messenger about the impending pushback. A member of another organization in attendance informed Morneault that the same group had infiltrated one of their rallies. They stated this group had created their own event in response.

October 17 Timeline & Organizer’s Statement

“It just seemed very aggressive and jarring to see this group of armed, large men in tactical gear,” says Morneault. Their presence wasn’t merely one of visual intimidation, however. The Proud Boys unapologetically identified themselves. Their clothing, weapons and shouted slogans as they bombarded the rally provided enough proof. But their crude behavior was a visceral example of who they really are. “They were telling us to take our clothes off. They were telling us to shake our asses,” Ott says. “It was sexual harassment.”

Throughout the interview, each woman described the illicit, at times violent, behavior. Citing that even the police liaison and the group of officers acting as security were bowled over. The liaison himself suffered a minor injury.

Despite the overt attempts to derail the rally, however, Women’s March managed to execute a perfectly safe and inspiring event. “I felt like we really got to take back what was ours,” Ott said.

On Friday, Nov. 6, Austin Woman presents the exclusive interview in full. In it, Morneault, Ott and Sweeney go into detail about the events that occurred that day. We get an in-depth look at three women who went through the trenches together. They take us through each moment of the rally. From set up to public responses, the Women’s March Austin rally was a microcosm of the seething tensions pervading the nation. But it was also an example of just how much power women have when they raise their voices in unison.

The interview premiered Friday, Nov. 6. Check out the firsthand account of what can and does happen at a rally for justice.

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