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In Cambridge, women’s march demonstrators discover no protest planned

Hannah Kilson (center) and Amanda Ferry (right) were among those in Cambridge Common despite the lack of a march.Blake Nissen For The Boston Globe

As thousands took to the streets of American cities in women’s march protests across the nation Saturday, Hannah Kilson planned to be among them by joining a demonstration in Cambridge.

Kilson said she has participated in Boston-area women’s marches since they began in 2017, angered by President Trump’s treatment of women, people of color, and immigrants. Throngs of demonstrators speaking out together makes a powerful image, particularly as Trump seeks re-election this year, she said.

“We speak truth to power,” Kilson said. “We’re watching, we’re here, we’re not going to tolerate the racism and hate that comes out of the shadows.”

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But when Kilson, a 53-year-old mother of three from Jamaica Plain, arrived on Cambridge Common late Saturday morning, it was apparent that no one had organized a women’s march though she had seen a Facebook posting for one.

March Forward Massachusetts, which had overseen previous women’s marches in Boston and Cambridge, didn’t plan an event this year, said Karen Cosmas, a member of the group’s board of directors who formerly served as its executive director.

The group decided in November to not hold another march due to waning enthusiasm for holding a demonstration in the cold of mid-January, she said, plus the expense of doing so — last year’s march in Boston cost roughly $75,000.

“It doesn’t seem to be the most responsible use of resources,” Cosmas said.

Instead, she said, the group’s leaders are considering what role the organization should have in the future.

The nationwide women’s marches began in 2017, when protesters in hundreds of cities took to the streets the day after Trump’s inauguration.

In Boston that year, roughly 175,000 people, many with handmade signs, others wearing pink pussy hats — a reference to a crude remark Trump made about women — gathered in and around Boston Common chanting a message: “Women! United! Can never be defeated!”

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In 2018, another demonstration was held at Cambridge Common and last year one was held at Boston Common. Thousands gathered for those marches, though the turnout was lower than in 2017.

“We are very proud that the women who were brought into this space by the march . . . have become change leaders in their own communities,” Cosmas said.

On Saturday, the Associated Press reported thousands joined marches in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, while hundreds gathered for protests in New York City. In Massachusetts, marches were held Saturday in a handful of communities including Andover, Northborough, and Springfield.

But this year, instead of an annual march, Cosmas said, activists are more interested in working directly on the issues they care about, such as fighting institutional racism, addressing climate change, and pushing for more affordable housing.

Cosmas, who said she spent part of Saturday at a Peabody town hall event featuring US Representative Joe Kennedy III, who is challenging US Senator Edward Markey for a Senate seat, hoped that participants in past Boston marches would continue to speak out on issues they care about.

“What happened in January 2017 was an organic expression of energy from regular people, and there is always an opportunity to make their voices heard and organize on their own terms,” Cosmas said. “And we hope to continue to see passionate people expressing in every platform and arena of public discourse.”

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Kilson said she was disappointed, but not angry, to find that no event had been organized in Cambridge, despite a Facebook post advertising one. (The page was not created by March Forward Massachusetts, Cosmas said.)

Kilson praised the work organizers did for past Boston-area marches.

“We can’t expect that other people are going to do it,” Kilson said.

On Saturday at Cambridge Common, demonstrators grouped together in a circle when they realized there would be no march and spent more than an hour discussing ways each of them could continue being politically active and engaged on the issues they care about, Kilson said.

Kilson, who is an affordable housing attorney, wants to help with voter outreach efforts in a battleground state like Michigan or Pennsylvania in November.

“This is how democracy works,” she said. “We all have to be engaged citizenry, and when we are not engaged, democracy falters.”

In that crowd was Kate Hickie, a 19-year-old Stonehill College freshman, who held a sign with a handwritten quote attributed to former first lady Michelle Obama: “Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered.”

Hickie said she wants to live in a world that treats women fairly.

“We’re advocating for all women,” Hickie said, “but I felt like I was advocating for myself.”


Globe correspondents Shafaq Patel and Blake Nissen contributed to this report. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com