Saturday morning in Los Angeles possessed a quiet that belied the bustling streets and freeways so commonly associated with this sprawling western city. The January air was crisp. It wasn’t that long ago a blanket of smog hung each morning until the hot Southland sun burned it away. But on this morning, even the dimmed streets under tower shadows couldn’t hide the brilliant blue sky.
The week-long rains leading up to the Women’s March had reduced the grass of Grand Park to a sparse stubble over packed mud. Light, camera & sound crews had been at work hours before, preparing for the events that would follow the march from Pershing Square to City Hall. I didn’t get the name of the band warming up on stage that morning, but after a thorough sound check – tweaking the volume and effects of each input, just so – they launched into Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” As each of three singers took turns at the vocals, the sound came together, complete with a three-piece brass attack.
Marchers from Pershing Square arrived in a steady flow and began coalescing at the barrier in front of the stage, with signs asserting the once sacrosanct rights of women, now under a sustained blitzkrieg by the theocratic politics of the vulgar right. Immigrant activists arrived with signs and banners, declaring their existence and their hope to stay, having built lives in a country that once understood the necessity of their presence here. Mothers marched with their daughters – some of whom were so young, they were rolled down Spring Street in strollers. Marchers in wheelchairs were provided a place between the barriers to watch the program.
The controversy over divisive actions taken by Women’s March, Inc. diminished attendance but not enthusiasm. The list of speakers & performers in 2018 featured many A-list celebrities, as well as politicians & activists. Virtually no A-listers were billed this year, but in the moments after the program began it was clear there was a last-minute change to the slate of speakers. We expected to see Gloria Allred and Katie Hill – and we did. What we weren’t expecting were the other big names who joined the program at the last minute.
First Partner of California, Jennifer Siebel Newsom was the first of many unanticipated speakers Saturday. “[I]n 2019, we finally sent more than 100 women to represent us in Washington DC. In fact, the 116th Congress is the most diverse in our nation’s history,” Newsom intoned to the cheering crowd. She continued, echoing the goals and aspirations of her husband, Governor Newsom. “[H]ere in California, we will truly stand up for women. Instead of threatening our reproductive rights, here in California, we will increase funding for Planned Parenthood. Instead of separating families at the border, we will value our immigrant communities and protect our dreamers. And instead of giving tax cuts to billionaires, here in California we will invest in paid family leave, maternal healthcare, universal [healthcare] and better support for working mothers.”
Trans actress of Orange is the New Black fame, Laverne Cox, strode to the microphone. With poise and confidence, she stood for a moment in silence before beginning. Ms. Cox delivered an inspiring, educational oration, addressing her own struggles with internalized prejudice, even against herself. She blessed the march that it would be a healing space for those in attendance.
Mayor Garcetti was in negotiations over the teachers strike before and after his speech. “Teachers,” he reminded the audience, “who are disproportionately women, who are out there educating our children.” He harkened back to the first Women’s March – the largest march anywhere in the U.S. “While we heard the day before a vision from our president with a rant about fear, we were focused on freedom. While he talked about American carnage, we showed him American courage. After our president told us about his imaginary crowd, we showed him a real crowd. And we’ve kept at it every day since, because immigrant kids shouldn’t be in cages, they should be greeted with compassion.”
“There are many people,” Rosanna Arquette explained, “who seek to divide us. Who hope we will turn on each other, rather than turn our energy toward fighting for justice.” It seemed to be an acknowledgment of the controversy that swirled around the Women’s March, leading up to the event. The largest Women’s March in the U.S. in 2017 had fraction of its original attendance on Saturday. It was evidence of how a combination of pressures, within and without, could drain the most powerful civic demonstration in nearly half a century.
But this cozy march wasn’t about controversy, it was about activism. 14-year old activist, Jaya Harper, acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead. “It is my generation’s duty to make it so those after us never have to say, ‘me too.’ Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. My friends and I are the generation that will not back down.”
Rape survivor, Evan Rachel Wood spoke of the peaceful transition of power, written into our nation’s DNA. “The peaceful weapons of revolution are the vote. Senate seats. Legislation. Our government is not separate from us, but is a foundation built by us. We must remember we can eject any member of Congress without firing a weapon.”
It was Gloria Allred who addressed the elephant in the room: the shutdown. “…We are going to shut down your attacks on legal, safe, available, affordable abortion! And we are going to shut down your attacks on trying to limit our insurance and access to birth control and your attacks on healthcare for all Americans!” She paused, waiting for the cheers to subside. “We are going to shut down your thousands and thousands of lies. We are going to shut down your attacks and your disrespect of women and girls! We are going to shut down your attacks on trying to strip away rights from gay, lesbian and transgender individuals! We are going to shut down your disrespect for African Americans! We are going to shut down your attacks on Latinos and Latinas and workers and immigrants! We are going to shut down your massive – your pervasive – corruption. We are going to shut down your attacks on Congress, itself. We are going to shut down your attacks on judges and the judiciary, and let me say, now – because I had dinner with RBG a month or two ago – you are not going to replace her, so stop looking! She’s taking her vitamins, I’m sure, every day.”
Under the floating, infantile likeness of a diapered Trump balloon, the crowd began to disperse. The crush from the two Women’s Marches that preceded Saturday’s had fallen dramatically. But even with the massive reduction in attendance, the spirit that etched the first two events indelibly into recent memory, was as strong as ever. The third annual Los Angeles Women’s March didn’t have many A-listers. It didn’t need them. This march was about the everyday women, committed to resistance of anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, anti-black, anti-LatinX, anti-American, Trumpist rhetoric and policy. Those who missed the 2019 Los Angeles Women’s March because of controversy, didn’t just miss speeches, they missed a chance to see the enduring spirit of the American woman.
“I’m here to tell you that the work that you did last year got the most historic, most diverse, most women ever elected to Congress,” Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce) announced to deafening cheers. “But that still… means that women only make up one in four members of Congress and if you look at the two sides of the aisle, you can see the difference in diversity…. This is the moment that we start again… because you see what’s happening in Washington. We can’t move forward on getting affordable healthcare for everyone, unless we start to work again. So we need you to show up. The activism has just started. Get back to work,” she admonished the crowd, “it’s time for 2020 to watch out for us, because we’re coming again.”