As people streamed onto Flower Street in Santa Ana from the north and south, every fierce word, drumbeat, song, and call-to-respond could be heard from the stage at the Jan. 20 OC Women’s March thanks to a donated sound system.
Last year’s event was raw and highly emotional, with people still in shock from the election and terrified by 45’s apocalyptic inaugural speech the day before. Yet marching with 20,000 strangers, more than double the expected turnout, tempered the horror, allowing for some hope and launching a year of resistance.
According to organizers for this second OC march, the goal was to advocate for unity and to transform that fertile energy into votes come November. Signs declaring, “Your Vote Is Power” and, “Grab ’em By the Midterms” were everywhere, along with images of giant tsunamis. If the organizational prowess of 2018’s march is applied to getting out the vote, it may indeed be a blue wave.
Exactly 15,367 people RSVP’d on Eventbrite, but police estimated nearly 25,000 showed up. Planners were ready for twice that number with a massive gathering space, portable restrooms and toilet paper aplenty, breastfeeding and changing stations, a roped-off area near the stage for older or disabled activists, water for refillable vessels (provided by Chapter One: the modern local), and $5 fees at surrounding parking structures. Golf carts followed the marchers, ready to scoop up anyone waiting for assistance, while volunteers from United Nurses California were ready at first-aid stations. Nearly 150 organizations participated, along with 377 volunteers trained by a local union.
The energy on the march itself—up Flower to Civic Center Drive, then east to Main Street and down to Santa Ana Boulevard and back to Flower—was flavored with determination, commitment, and a sustained energy fed by the connections made, admiration of creative and humorous signage, and an openness that speakers during the kick-off rally demanded. And thanks to that donated PA system, unlike at last year’s march, everyone who addressed the crowd could be heard.
Inclusivity ruled onstage, with speakers representing unions, LGBTQ rights, Dreamers and immigrant rights, BlackLivesMatter, and reproductive rights, as well as advocates supporting climate science and gun-violence prevention. There were no celebrities, except Olympian and LGBTQ activist Greg Louganis. One speaker summed up why many were marching here and all over the world: to be “free from assault on our bodies and on our economic security because of what’s between our legs.” Since Power to the Polls was a central message, local elected officials and those running for seats from city council to school boards to the state Senate appeared as well.
Though largely absent at 2017’s march, Native American women’s presence was seen and heard early on. The aroma of burning sage filled our nostrils as a leader of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, led an invocation, calling down the medicine of nature’s female spirits to our marching route, which she compared to the Milky Way, joking that though it was invisible now, it was there. The next woman to take the mic said, “I am Indian, born and raised. Homegrown.” Then she challenged us all, especially the elected officials who would later take the stage, “Put us in your budgets. Raise your voice for us. You are forgetting about us. We go missing, get murdered, and no one bats an eye.” Photos from the sister march in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, where it was 13 degrees below Celsius and the marching women held a red dress high above to acknowledge murdered and missing indigenous women, would bring her words to mind later that night. “If you see a Native woman on the ground,” the Acjachemen woman continued, “pick her up—we would do the same for you.” Her impassioned words were met with cheers that seemed to say, “We hear you.” An intertribal group of OC women would lead the march.
While carrying a blue-plastic folding chair, Mayor Pro Tem of Santa Ana Michele Martinez told the crowd that this is not a moment, but a movement. She practically plagiarized Oprah (one sign begged, “Oprah, please buy FOX News!”) when stating there’s a “new day on the horizon,” unless she assumed we all knew the source. “If men won’t give us a seat at the table,” she explained while holding up the chair, “bring your own chair!”
That theme was picked up by United Domestic Workers’ Laura Reyes, who said, “If you don’t have a chair and the door is locked, kick it down!” Reyes incited raucous noise from the crowd with wage-gap stats, especially when she said, “We’ve been calling bullshit long enough, it’s time to rise up!”
Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva wore a magenta jacket as she lead a cheer. She then acknowledged the men and women candidates onstage with her who, she says, have fought for us for decades, not just since last year’s march. “Sadly,” she added, moving on to the MeToo movement, “three of my colleagues have left the Assembly because they didn’t know how to treat women. They have resigned, and I’m telling you today, I have received contributions from them for more than $40,000, which I am going to donate to women’s organizations.”
One candidate not onstage with her was Mike Levin, who has been campaigning daily since November 2016 to unseat Darrell Issa in the 49th congressional district that straddles South Orange and North San Diego counties. Levin, his wife and their young daughter made it to two marches Saturday. “I have a wonderful team willing to drive us around,” explained the candidate. Levin posted on Facebook a photo of his daughter on his shoulders at the OC march, saying he hoped she’d remember the day.
The crowd was antsy in anticipation of the actual march, so the direction to walk was signaled with a “that-away” gesture by city council members Letitia Clark of Tustin and Kim Nguyen of Garden Grove.
Along the route, a boy held a “Where’s Mimi Walters?” sign, and not-yet-voting-age girls proudly carried the message “IF YOU BUILD THE WALL, MY GENERATION WILL TEAR IT DOWN.” Chants were heard and faded away. A group sang protest songs so complex it was difficult to join in, but it was a pleasure to listen to the lyrics “make some noise/the storm is raging, and so are we.” Goofy signs such as “I am woman, hear me roar to the Voting Booth” and “I know, I know. I’m standing up for myself—what a bitch” complemented such simple, serious statements as “Silence Is Not an Option.” Along the way, fliers were handed out by the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, RefuseFascism.org and the idiotic Scientology toxic test. There was no sign of the postcards we were told would be available to fill out with why we marched so we could send them to our representatives.
“A person is a person through other people,” said BlackLivesMatter LBC co-founder Audrena Redmond at the post-march rally, echoing the theme of unity with an African proverb. She used the image of a chain, uniting our intersecting identities, fortified to “tear down the house of division and strife.” She called for all to “leave this march ready to be a link in that chain and support the weaker links.” Redmond stood onstage with Pamela Fields, the mother of Dante Jordan, who was slain by police officers. When asked to say his name, tens of thousands shouted it out.
Artists, academics and community organizers had their turn, with several high-school girls being given the mic. As a large dance group from Anaheim High School that included several boys prepared to begin their performance, a young Latina rushed onstage. A volunteer tried to remove her; he was caucasian and she reacted by saying, “When a white man puts his hands on you . . . !” He then let her go. The enraged young woman took the mic from the MC, who was introducing the dancers. The sound was cut off, but not before we heard the anger blasting from her. Her rant could only be deciphered in snatches: “Santa Ana cops!” and “Fuck that shit!” A chant of “Let her speak” broke out as she continued to talk nonstop. Even 20 feet from the stage, she was impossible to hear.
Then an amplified male voice was heard: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
At first, it seemed as if he were describing the furious young woman. But when the dancers began to move in unison, it became clear this was their soundtrack.
Organizers claimed the march “is NOT an anti-Trump protest. It is a peaceful, non-partisan rally to unite people that value social justice and human rights. The goal is to create awareness, unity, encourage leadership and drive action.” Nevertheless, savage signage depicting the president for what he is were legion. Lots of peach-faced images called for impeachment; another impeachment plea referenced Philip K. Dick’s Man In the High Castle. “Stable Genius? No, Just a Jackass,” read one sign, while another sported a turd emoji with a yellow comb-over alongside the words “Sl!@t-Hole In-Chief.” “Keep Your Tiny Hands OFF my Rights!” stated another in a ’60s-inspired text.
It wasn’t the signage that stuck in one’s head, though those images were safely preserved on phones and social media, but rather the voices of the high-school students that left a lasting impression. Gillian Palacios of Santa Ana High was articulate and powerful as she reminded us there were 290 days left until the election. “We have tasted empowerment,” she said, “and we’re not going to let it go.”