For many of the 73,648,823—53.9 percent—of Americans who voted against Donald Trump, his approaching inauguration on Jan. 20 looms like a national disaster. It’s one that began long before last year’s presidential election, though. One telling sign: more than 90 million registered voters, or 40 percent, didn’t vote at all.
But if it seemed like an overwhelming number of Americans spent the last year quibbling and ranting on social media, or cowering in the blue light of their TVs each night in disbelief—well, that’s definitely changing. Americans are coming together, and Inauguration Day has become a rallying point, especially for women, who are preparing to march locally, in Washington D.C. and in cities across the U.S. and abroad. While some of them are new to activism, many are saying this is only the beginning. And maybe it’s what we needed all along.
Why We March
Under the broad theme of “women’s rights are human rights,” the reasons women are taking to the streets on Trump’s first days in office span everything from basic respect, honesty and decency, to health care, education and religious freedom to the protection of undocumented citizens, LGBTQ rights, and the environment.
Locally, the Women’s March Santa Cruz County begins at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21 at City Hall, with a speech by former Watsonville mayor Karina Cervantez Alejo, taiko drummers and more, before making its way toward Louden Nelson Community Center for an afternoon of music by Tammi Brown, and the Coffis Brothers, speakers including John Laird of the California Natural Resources Agency and MariaElena De La Garza of the Community Action Board, and tabling by 20 nonprofits, including Planned Parenthood and the Reproductive Rights Network. Watsonville residents will meet at the Plaza at 11 a.m. to make signs and organize carpooling to Santa Cruz City Hall.
Organized by seven local women, Santa Cruz County’s march is one of at least 200 U.S. cities (including 11 in California) marching in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, as well as at least 50 marches in nearly 30 other countries, including the largest sister march of them all, the Women’s March on London.
“I think, personally, for quite a few of us from Watsonville, we felt that it was really important for us to stay local and to come together with like-minded individuals from our county to build those relationships and continue the work and provide support to different communities,” says Watsonville Planning Commissioner Jenny Sarmiento, who is organizing Watsonville’s participation in the march. “I think it’s really a time for us, for North and South County, to come together because we have the same goals. We want our families, our kids and grandkids to prosper.”
The former CEO for nonprofit agency Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance (PVPSA), Sarmiento says that since retiring two years ago, she has become more civic-minded and politically involved. She’s marching for mental health services, which she says are seeing a rise in demand across the board for many ethnic groups, and that first-generation immigrants often don’t know how to access certain social services.
“And, of course, immigration is a big issue, because we have such a mix of documented and undocumented residents in Watsonville, so we want to make sure that families are not torn apart by the new administration,” Sarmiento says.
Nobody knows how Trump’s plans for mass deportation will manifest, though throughout his campaign he railed against sanctuary cities—a status Santa Cruz adopted in 1985—threatening to defund them. Santa Cruz has joined at least 18 major sanctuary cities who have pledged to limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials, drafting a “Resolution to Maintain Trust and Safety for Local Immigrants,” which can be viewed on the city’s website. In it, SCPD Chief Kevin Vogel is credited for his commitment to not involving the department in federal immigration policy, saying that it “erodes trust and causes fear in the immigrant communities, resulting in victims underreporting or not reporting crimes.”
Sarmiento knows of about 10 Watsonville women who are traveling to Washington D.C., and several others who will march in Sacramento. The local march began materializing in the days after the election, when organizer Maria Boutell says she was feeling overwhelmed, and decided to hold a meeting in her living room. But when about 100 women expressed interest, including former mayor Cynthia Mathews, she moved the meeting to Gault Street Elementary school auditorium. “A lot of people in the audience just wanted to vent,” says Boutell. “And I ran into women after that event that said ‘thank you so much, I wasn’t able to sleep, and now I think I’ll be able to sleep.’”
That first meeting is where it all stemmed from: Boutell got in touch with Erica Aitken, who had posted an event page for the march, and the two had secured nonprofit status by Thanksgiving in order to raise funds for the $9,000 permit to march in Santa Cruz. The group is about three-quarters of the way there, and donations can be made on the website womenmarchsantacruz.com.
“Sure, it may not make Trump just suddenly change his ways,” says Boutell. “But action empowers people, period. And I’m seeing it, I’m seeing people coming out of a comfort zone. I’m seeing people who have been probably kind of silent and just kind of accepting for so long, they’re finally angry, they’re mad.”
Both Aitken and Boutell will join a contingency of about 100 Santa Cruz County residents, including a group from Santa Cruz’s Diversity Center, to march on the nation’s capital.
Aitken says another message she hopes the march will send is that it’s a first step toward kicking the Republicans out by 2018. Indeed, people often don’t go to the polls when it’s not a presidential election year.
“But these massive sea changes happen in these in-between years,” says Rev. Deborah Johnson, a longtime social justice activist and the founder of Inner Light Ministries. “We have to stay engaged at every step of the way. It is not too early now to set the sights for the seats we want to have, who needs to be positioned where, what the issues are. We can not let up—I don’t care who’s in the White House—on environmental issues, on education, on reproductive choice.”
The Women’s March on Washington (WMW) began with a Facebook event post the day after the election by a 60-year-old woman in Hawaii, Teresa Shook, which garnered thousands of RSVPs overnight. An estimated 200,000 are now planning to attend, as Washington D.C. braces itself for a Jan. 21 influx of people whose goals harken back to the contentious inaugurations of Nixon and Bush—on steroids: An estimated 60,000 protesters greeted Richard Nixon with horse manure and smoke bombs at his 1973 inauguration, and about 20,000 protested George W. Bush’s in 2001.
Women have a long history of civil resistance, starting long before the suffragist marches that began in 1911—with one silent picket at the White House leading to the arrest of 218 women from 26 states—to National Association for the Advancement of Colored People activist Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat, to the African-American women who played a key role in organizing civil rights marches, including the 1963 March on Washington known for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
And it’s only been 48 years since civil rights and antiwar activist Marilyn Salzman Webb addressed women’s liberation to a predominantly male crowd at Nixon’s 1969 counter-inauguration protests, and was met with boos, cries to “take it off,” and even cries to “f— her”—this from so-called “progressive” men of the time.
But it’s sometimes easy to forget our history, which is what happened when the WMW was originally named the Million Woman March, and then immediately called out for appropriating the name of the massive 1997 Philadelphia demonstration—which celebrates its 20th anniversary in October—organized by and for African-American women in protest of women’s rights issues they felt were ignored by the mainstream white feminist movement.
Responding to initial criticism that the organizing group wasn’t diverse enough to represent all women, organizer Bob Bland, a white woman and domestic manufacturing activist, enlisted three other national co-chairs: Tamika D. Mallory, a criminal justice reform activist and African-American woman; Carmen Perez, a Latina woman, UC Santa Cruz graduate and executive director of Gathering for Justice; and Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American Muslim social justice activist and the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Gloria Steinem and Harry Belafonte have also signed on as honorary chairs, and Planned Parenthood signed on as a key partner just before the New Year.
While a formal apology has yet to be issued to Philadelphia marchers, the WMW states, “It is important to all of us that the white women who are engaged in this effort understand their privilege, and acknowledge the struggle that women of color face. We have and will continue to encourage our state organizers to reach out to reach out to women from all communities.”
Aitken agrees that it is an important time to be together, unified and in sync—and to draw massive crowds on Jan. 21. But women heading to Washington seem to have an idea of what they are up against, which makes them more brave than naive.
“D.C. will be full of Trump supporters, and they have shown some pretty aggressive behavior,” says Aitken. Most notably, the pro-arms, pro-law-and-order Bikers for Trump group has secured its permit for Inauguration Day, and a visit to the group’s Facebook page shows rampant hostility toward “libtards” coming to rain on their parade. “But we have the advantage of numbers and most of us are strong, determined women, very far from the weak and vulnerable stereotype,” says Aitken. “I think that’s why so many of us are really angry at the return of insulting, degrading sexist talk and behavior.”
The fact that a man who has expressed unchecked disrespect for women and their bodies, as well as intolerance for Muslims and minorities, can still be awarded the highest political office in the U.S. is a major impetus for women’s mass mobilization.
“Women are motivated, mad, and totally unwilling to accept the status quo,” says Aitken.
But anger and provocation can be a dangerous mix, and, speaking from her experience in demonstrations, Johnson advises marchers not to engage hecklers at any cost. “Just march,” she says. “Chant, sing, and just march.”
“When I look at the big marches, particularly the big civil rights marches, people had to be trained how not to be violent,” says Johnson. “They had to be trained what to do when the hoses and the dogs came, and how to not resist, and sit down. And I have big concern that there are such huge feelings going on, with people who are not trained, and who are not necessarily committed to the principles of nonviolence, all the way through.”
It’s true that there is no emphasis on nonviolence or safety training on the national WMW website, but local organizers have lined up a free bystander training session on Thursday, Jan. 12 at Louden Nelson Community Center to train marchers in nonviolent conduct, as well as in self defense tactics, led by Peace Corps volunteer Peggy Flynn, Jane Weed Pomerantz of the Positive Discipline Association and self-defense instructor Leonie Sherman.
“This is the piece that most people don’t get about nonviolent social change, is that you’re not just marching against them. You’re really marching for them,” says Johnson. “You’re marching with the hope and the desire that your love will wear them down. That if you do not fight back, and if you keep showing up with some kind of love and kindness, that we’re all going to be one. Like King would say, ‘I don’t want to shoot you or kill you, I want to live next door to you.’”
Breaking the Glass
When Hillary Clinton conceded, the cannons her campaign had prepared for her victory were loaded with tons of green-tinted confetti, made to look like shattered glass. But even if it had been shot into the air, it would have been symbolic of a reality we’re still far from: Over the last 10 years, the income disparity between men and women in the United States has not budged from its 80 percent average. Women make as low as 64 percent of what men make in states like Wyoming, and across the board, women of color—African American, Native American, Native Hawaiian and other native women—consistently make several percentage points less than white and Asian American women.
“I think [misogyny] is alive and well in our community and our country, in a lot of ways that are covert, and because of that covertness it’s fairly insidious, because it makes it possible for people to deny that it exists,” says Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Chase, who plans to march in the Santa Cruz County march to show her solidarity. “I think that there are tremendous barriers to women that people really take for granted, when they can cite individual or relatively small gains in various areas, like Fortune 500 companies and things like that.” But when you look at the proportion of women’s representation in leadership roles and compare it to the general population, the disparity is glaring.
Chase is currently the only woman on the Regional Transportation Commission, as well as on the Metro Board. But Chase doesn’t think the only factor is misogyny—it’s also how we see ourselves as women.
“We sort of play into that kind of internalized gender bias, and sexism as well, we rate ourselves less than men tend to,” Chase says, citing research that shows women won’t apply for jobs unless they feel 100-percent qualified, while men will apply when they have just 40-50 percent of the requirements. “But what I think we can do, as a solution to that as women is encourage each other, and say, ‘you don’t need to wait until you feel 100-percent ready to go, and you don’t need to use the measuring stick of how leaders in our minds look. We can look different, we can feel different, we can do the job.’ And that’s the message that we need to get out there,” says Chase.
“Researchers used to say that no government could survive if just 5 percent of its population rose up against it,” says Erica Chenoweth, Ph.D., in the TedXBoulder talk The Success of Nonviolent Civil Resistance. A political scientist, Chenoweth analyzed hundreds of violent and nonviolent campaigns between 1900 and 2006, and found that not only were nonviolent campaigns twice as likely to succeed, but also “no single campaign failed during that time period after they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5 percent of the population, and lots of them succeeded with far fewer than that,” she says. In the U.S. today, 3.5 percent of the population is about 11 million people.
But peaceful people power often takes multiple approaches at once—including boycotts and strikes, like the Women Strike (womenstrike.org) campaign created by National Women’s Liberation, and the J20 General Strike Santa Cruz planned for Inauguration Day.
“I think with a new generation there comes a new way of doing things,” says journalist Wallace Baine. “I think the Occupy protests of 2011 are also going to be something that I think people can learn from. I don’t think they were very effective really, because there was no follow-up.”
Baine, along with comedian Richard Stockton and Laurence Bedford, owner of the Rio Theatre, has organized People Get Ready, a free, non-partisan rally at the Rio Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 18.
Baine emphasizes that the rally is not a liberal response to a conservative takeover. “If John McCain or Jeb Bush or somebody like that had been elected to president, I wouldn’t be doing this, honestly. Because this is not normal, what has happened,” he says. It isn’t a conventional political rally, either: “There’s going to be no finger pointing, rehashing the election, no denigrating people who didn’t vote the way that you would hope they would vote, none of that stuff.”
People Get Ready—which includes speakers Baine, Stockton, Rev. Mahsea Evans, and music by Tammi Brown and the Inner Light band and choir—is both a send-off for locals heading to the nation’s capital and a way “to get people from being disheartened, from disengaging, and saying ‘Now is a time to reconnect, not retreat. Show up for the long haul,’” says Johnson, who is the closing speaker at the rally.
And once we have our clear goals established, taking to the streets will be all the more effective: “I would like to see, in communities all over the place, citizens taking to the streets and saying we are not having mass deportation. If we have to block the roadways, stand on the tracks, or whatever that is. We are not having it,” says Johnson. “Because you can’t put everything on the backs of the most vulnerable. Those of us who are in positions of power or privilege, we have to speak up. I’m clergy, and those of us who are clergy, we have to stand up and say really loudly and clearly ‘no one religion is superior to another religion. We believe in religious freedom, and we are going to stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters and everybody else.’”
Local Marches and Rallies
People Get Ready: A rally of solidarity and empowerment for concerned citizens. Speakers include Rev. Deborah Johnson and Rev. Mahsea Evans, Richard Stockton, Wallace Baine and others. Music by Tammi Brown and the Inner Light Choir. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, Rio Theatre, Free.
Pre-March Safety Training: 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Jan .12 at Louden Nelson Center led by Peggy Flynn, Jane Weed Pomerantz and Leonie Sherman. Free.
‘Unite to Ignite’ Candlelight Vigil: 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, County Government Center, Ocean St., Santa Cruz.
Women’s March Santa Cruz County: Sat., Jan 21. Watsonville, Rally at the Plaza at 11 a.m., carpool to Santa Cruz. Meet at 1:30 p.m. Santa Cruz City Hall, march down Pacific Avenue and a gather at Louden Nelson Community Center until 6:30 p.m., womenmarchsantacruz.com. All marches on Facebook.