Diminished in number but not in spirit, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to advocate for reproductive rights, immigration reform, environmental justice and other issues as part of the fourth Women’s March.
The crowd congregated at Pershing Square and then marched to City Hall for a two-hour program featuring speakers that included Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters and Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Similar marches and rallies were being held in Washington, San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other cities and towns across the country.
By 9:30 a.m., the crowd gathered at Pershing Square wasn’t as large as in years past, but it slowly began to grow throughout the morning. More than 300,000 people marched and gathered downtown for the march, according to the Women’s March Foundation.
Some of the demonstrators dressed in early 20th century attire in observance of the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote.
Jennifer Lang, an OB-GYN from Beverly Hills, said she was a bit dismayed by the reduced numbers, especially during a presidential election year, but believed it was important to turn out.
“We are here,” she said.
Lang recalled how her grandmother marched for the right to have access to birth control prior to the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. In keeping with generations before her, Lang brought her 11-year-old daughter Sheila to Saturday’s rally to continue her family’s legacy of advocating for women’s rights.
“We were talking on the drive here about how crazy it is that we are marching for the same issues,” Lang said.
Sheila, who held a sign that read, “We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn,” was at the first Women’s March in Washington following President Trump’s inauguration in 2017. Her mom said she hopes the 2020 election will have a different outcome than 2016.
Emily Guereca, president of Women’s March Foundation in Los Angeles, said that 60% of those who marched were first-time participants.
Among them were more than a dozen students from Ánimo Leadership High School in Inglewood, who held signs that read “Empowered Women Empower Women” and “We are not ovary-acting.”
Julissa Ayala, 17, was there for the first time. Her prime motivation, she said, was to mobilize for equal pay.
“The fact that women are paid less than men for equal work is just ridiculous,” Julissa said. “It’s wrong.”
Her classmate, Osvaldo Barba, also 17, carried a Mexican flag and wore a denim jacket emblazoned with the United Farm Workers logo. For him and his community, he said, “feminism must be intersectional.”
Pointing to the bright pink clothes hangers that hung from his jacket, he added: “We’re here for immigrants’ rights, of course. But we’re also here to mobilize for reproductive rights, particularly low-cost access to services for people of color.”
The hangers were provided by Robin McCarthy, a graphic designer from Silver Lake who, with the help of three friends, was handing them out for free to marchers on the corner of 5th and Hill streets, just across from Pershing Square.
Ahead of the demonstration, she designed the hangers that read “#noban” on one side and, in capital letters, “Warning, this is not a surgical instrument,” on the other. Using her own money, she had 4,000 hangers made for the occasion.
“I come from a time before Roe vs. Wade,” said McCarthy, “and I’m frankly concerned about the future of reproductive rights in our country.”
Still, she added, “I remain optimistic. I have faith in the intelligence and strength of female and male feminists. But I know it won’t come without boots on the ground.”
By 10:15 a.m., the crowds had grown by hundreds as the march to City Hall kicked off with a “3-2-1!” count.
Women, men and dogs of all sizes marched to the sounds of drumbeats and chants of “This is what democracy looks like” as house music and ‘90s-era hip-hop played in the background.
After Espi Martin, 50, participated in last year’s Los Angeles Unified School District teachers’ strike, she knew she wanted to continue using her voice to advocate for the rights that generations before her fought to win.
“I felt very empowered and always wanted to come to the march and have my voice heard,” she said.
The second-grade teacher at Nora Sterry Elementary prepared for the march with a teaching of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the values he stood for. Her assignment for her students this weekend to talk with their parents about King, and said the timing of the march on a holiday weekend that celebrates his fight for civil rights was especially powerful.
Debra Sibar and her friends from Topanga Canyon were dressed like suffragettes, as has been their tradition during every Women’s March.
The group of women have their routine down — on the eve of the march, they make the final touches on their outfits in the style of Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony. At 5 a.m., Kristina Levy prepares oatmeal for breakfast, and at 6 a.m., the women pile into a car and make their way to downtown L.A.
“Republicans want to own patriotism,” Sibar, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, said. “But there’s no reason why being out here is un-American.”
The women said their mission is to promote support for the Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential election, whoever that may be. Their focus is to push for equality and ensure that their voices are heard.
Jill Darling, who was at the march for the fourth consecutive year, simply carried a sign that read: “Any Dem Adult 2020.”
On a personal level, she said, she would love to see a President Amy Klobuchar. “But I’ve always been a pragmatic voter,” said Darling, “and what we have to do this year is get Trump out.”
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, first partner of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, also connected the demonstration’s efforts to the anniversary of the 19th Amendment. But she also acknowledged the shortcomings of the suffrage movement, noting that it won white women the right to vote but did not guarantee the same for women of color.
“Many woman are still fighting for equal access at the ballot today,” she said.
Still, Siebel Newsom pointed to the rising number of women in politics as evidence of progress made since the first Women’s March in 2017.
“In 2020, I have no doubt that it will be women who lead again, rise up and move this country forward on a path to justice,” she said. “As Gov. Newsom says, as California goes, so will go the country.”
In her remarks, Nury Martinez, the first Latina to be chosen as L.A. City Council president, addressed the girls in the crowd.
“Dream big and work hard,” she said. “You will be next.”
This year’s march comes at a time when three women are running for president in the Democratic primary and on the same week that Virginia became the 38th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. It also comes on the eve of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial. The allegations against the former Hollywood mogul gave rise to the #MeToo movement and spurred new activism and political involvement.
Walk for Life, an anti-abortion demonstration, was also taking place Saturday in downtown L.A. The noontime march, sponsored by OneLife L.A., ran from Olvera Street to Los Angeles State Park. Cyntoia Brown-Long, a survivor of teenage sex trafficking and an advocate for criminal justice reform, was the keynote speaker. The day’s activities will conclude with the 25th annual Respect Life Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels beginning at 5 p.m.