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California

Thousands turn out for Women’s March across the country

Thousands of women turned out Saturday to participate in Women’s March 2019 in downtown Los Angeles and dozens of other cities across the country in a push for social justice and federal policies that promote equality for all.

With a record number of women elected to Congress in the 2018 midterm election, organizers said their agenda this year includes an Equal Rights Amendment, expanding the Violence Against Women Act, universal healthcare, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, the decriminalization of sex work and campaign finance reform.

Large rallies were also planned in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, Houston and Chicago. The global gatherings were launched two years ago in protest of the inauguration of President Trump, who was caught on tape bragging in crude terms about groping women without their consent.

Hundreds of women and their supporters gathered early Saturday at Pershing Square in downtown L.A., some carrying rainbow flags or sporting pink knitted hats.

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The screams of the crowd sounded like a rock concert as Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce) took the stage. Her campaign to unseat Republican Rep. Steve Knight in the midterm election benefited from a wave of volunteers inspired by the women’s marches and other resistance actions against Trump.

Hundreds of women and their supporters gathered early Saturday at Pershing Square in downtown L.A., some carrying rainbow flags or sporting pink knitted hats.

“The activism has just started,” Hill vowed as she urged participants to start working to support progressive candidates for the 2020 presidential campaign. “Get back to work!”

Jax Koch, 24 of Beverly Grove, held a sign mocking the Trump administration that said, “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA.” He’s attended all three women’s marches in Los Angeles, and said that while the crowds were smaller this year, being around other activists was invigorating.

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“I feel like we’re going back in time, for everything that we’ve worked for,” including civil rights and environmental protections, Koch said. “Sometimes it feels like people don’t care about these issues, and I’m reminded that I’m not the only one.”

In Washington, D.C., thousands of women braved the cold to rally at Freedom Plaza. Winnie Wong, a member of the Women’s March national steering committee, said this year’s rally is different because the effects of the partial government shutdown — the longest in U.S. history — can be felt all over the country.

“We are shocked by the actions of the [Trump] administration and deeply impacted by its cruel” motivations, she said.

Norm Farley, 67, joined his wife Maureen Haugh, 59, at the D.C. rally. The pair traveled from Naples, Fla., for the event. He stood near the front with his wife, who is in a wheelchair, as activists chanted nearby.

This was Farley’s first Women’s March. He said he has spent the last two years dismayed by Trump’s actions.

“I just couldn’t sit around and do nothing,” he said. “It was completely energizing to march and hear the group of speakers.”

Amani Al-Ahmadi, 27, didn’t expect to speak at the Women’s March in Seattle. Her voice cracked as she told the crowd what it was like growing up under male guardianship in Saudi Arabia and of the need to stand up for women around the world.

“I wanted to stand in solidarity with women back home and explain to people the severity of the situation,” she said.

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It was Al-Ahmadi’s first time at a Women’s March rally. She left Saudi Arabia five years ago but continues to worry about the Trump administration’s policies toward women and minorities.

“This was a great moment to voice my concern for women,” she said.

In L.A., participants marched about a mile from Pershing Square to a larger gathering at Grand Park in front of City Hall.

Maria Frusteri, 55 of Palos Verdes, brought her friend Deanna Spencer, 50, to the march. Spencer’s sign read, “My name is not, ‘Smile, darling.’ ” The march was smaller this year, Frusteri said, which was concerning, because it could signal that “people are getting complacent about things that aren’t normal.”

This march was Frusteri’s third. After marching in Washington, D.C., in 2017, she joined a group of women whom she met through the march to support progressive causes. They met at the library to write postcards to voters in key states, urging them to vote in the midterm election.

Eventually, Frusteri and Spencer said, a group of about 30 women had handwritten and mailed more than 10,000 postcards.

“The group grew and grew,” she said, “We had to get a bigger room.”

At an afternoon rally outside Los Angeles City Hall, a balloon showing Trump as a giant, orange baby in a diaper floated over the crowd. Speakers included actresses Laverne Cox and Connie Britton, singer Lance Bass and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was working at City Hall to broker a deal between United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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Garcetti told women he was proud of the role they played in the midterm: “There wasn’t just a blue wave — there was a pink wave, and we’re proud of it.”

The Women’s March organization has faced its own problems, including accusations of anti-Semitism. Leaders of the national group came under fire last year after co-chair Tamika Mallory attended a February event with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, in which he said, “The powerful Jews are my enemy.”

Between March and November, the larger group issued three statements in response to allegations that Women’s March leaders were anti-Semitic and homophobic, and it has repeatedly expressed support for its leaders, including Mallory.

“It’s become clear, amidst this media storm, that our values and our message have — too often — been lost,” the national group said. “That loss caused a lot of harm, and a lot of pain. We should have been faster and clearer in helping people understand our values and our commitment to fighting anti-Semitism. We regret that.”

laura.nelson@latimes.com


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