Hundreds of people gathered in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan on Saturday to stand united for the equality and reproductive rights of women in America, at the Women’s Unity Rally.

    Now in its third year, the annual event started as a response to now President Donald Trump’s stated agenda to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, which supplies reproductive health services to women including birth control, abortion resources and STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) testing.

    NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray

    Congresswoman Yvette Clarke

    Among this year’s featured speakers included Women’s March NYC director Agunda Okeyo, First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, and U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens, Bronx) and Yvette D. Clarke (D-Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Park Slope).

    “What Dr. King called the ability to achieve purpose and now is not the time to shrink away from our power. Some people call 2018 another year of the women. Of course we know this is more than a moment, this is a movement. That means we must keep growing, keep building, keep leading together,” said McCray.

    Clarke’s address to the crowd alluded to Trump’s fight for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, that is currently pinning the government in a partial shutdown.

    “A lot of our people are hurting right now because the guy who has taken residence at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, who is a tool being utilized by forces  outside of us to divide and conquer us. But we see through the smoke screen, we see through the lies and the rhetoric and we are here to say that no tyrant will take away the democracy that we have fought so hard to build,” said Clarke.

    Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman elected to Congress, was the most anticipated speaker of the day, with many of the women in the crowd feeling electrified by the rookie lawmaker’s speech.

    U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo by Brandon Jordan.

    “In the United State of America everyone is loved, everyone deserves justice, and everyone deserves equal protection and prosperity in our country. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are gathering the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. day. Because I believe that this moment and where we are right now is a resurgence of where the Civil Rights movement left off. And we are here to carry the torch forward. Last year we took the power to the polls, and this year we are taking the power to the policy,” said Ocasio-Cortez.

    The empowerment at the event was felt by many of the attendees including Bianca Mendoza, 23, who went to the original march on Washington, D.C., in 2017 and believes that now the fight is to get equal rights for all marginalized groups.

    “I’m here because I support women’s rights, human rights and immigrant’s rights. I believe that we should still keep fighting for everyone, not just for ourselves but for all people, all religions, all races,” said Mendoza.

    This sentiment was shared by fellow Brooklynite Sara Gardner, 27, who made it a point to attend this year’s event in honor not of just women but all groups of people looking for recognition and support.

    Erika Long, left, and Sara Gardner. right, attending this year’s Women’s Unity Rally in Manhattan. Photo by Kelly Mena.

    “This is the first time that I have been able to come out to a march so it was really important for me to show up today. Also what is happening across the country is ridiculous in every capacity, with Trump, with the state. And I just think it’s really important to come out and show for everyone in the community especially New York because we are so diverse and everyone here has so many different challenges that they are facing. It’s important to show that we are here, we’re all standing together and we’re all paying attention,” said Gardner.

    However, this year’s event was marked by controversy as the leaders of Women’s March Inc., one of the organizations that grew out of the first march in 2017, face allegations of anti-Semitism due to connections to the Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan.

    The controversy left many questioning their participation in the march including Brooklyn resident, Steven Parry, 36, who came out nonetheless.

    “It’s sad because I don’t want to see women getting divided. I actually asked my sister with all the controversy going on, ‘there are two marches, which one should I go to? What do you think? Doesn’t feel like I should make this decision in a vacuum.’ And she said, ‘Just go to whichever one you feel, it’s better to show up than not go at all,’” said Parry.

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