Thousands took to the streets of Los Angeles to express unity, frustration, and hope the day after Inauguration Day
By Greg Lehman
The massive scale of the Million Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles was easy to see at every intersection the demonstration crossed on its path from Pershing Square to City Hall. Peering through the street-clogging turnout marching on the morning of January 21st, Olive and Broadway boasted their own rivulets in the deluge, their members running just as thick and vocal as the stream traveled up Hill Street.
Organizers had initially planned for the march to start at Hill and 5th. The numbers, to everyone’s happy surprise, proved to be too much for one starting line to City Hall. Participants overflowed into other streets to the northwest and southeast, carrying with them a steady chorus of chants, songs, and welcome to every marcher in this single arm of what turned into an international body of demonstrators, as marchers all around the world sought expression and unification in the tempestuous seas that have become the American political climate.
Before the march got underway, the start of the morning found Pershing Square filling up quickly with avid participants of every gender, color, and status. Many showed up with their own posters and flags, but the MWM’s organizers had the foresight to set up a series of tents filled with poster boards and markers to offer a sign-making station for everyone to use.
“I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA” was among the more humorous messages, as were consistent jabs at small hands, freeing Melania, and “Star Wars”-themed calls for resistance. Chalkboards were also set up for people to write on, catching every concern, expletive, and hope from anyone who wanted to step forward.
The importance of letting people feel heard had been an essential component of the march from the very beginning. Emiliana Guereca, coordinator for the Million Women’s March in Los Angeles, said that November 8th saw her turning disappointment into action. Guereca began making calls for permits and setting up social media hubs for a march the day after the election, which, she was glad to see, found no shortage of support.
“What I didn’t expect was so many people that felt the same way I did,” said Guereca, “that felt like they were a little hopeless and didn’t know what was in store for us for the next four years.”
Given the hard lines that President Donald Trump has drawn across the country, from his campaign through his first full week in office, Guereca saw an ample opportunity for unification through marching together, regardless of gender, race, or creed.
“Our goal was to unify everybody because we felt divided,” said Guereca, going on to say that the movement is larger than any one individual or the political tide of a particular time. “It’s about being there for everybody,” she said, “it’s human life, it’s not just about the female.”
Early-bird marcher Marcie Kraft defined the purpose for her attendance succinctly. “We are here to speak up, speak out, and be loud,” said Kraft, “because that’s the American way, my friend.” Fellow marcher Sandy Fisher saw her wishes for an ideal day as “so crowded that you can’t move” come to fruition promptly as the crowd continued to grow with the official starting time on 9:00 a.m.
The theme of coming together presented itself in many forms over the course of the day. Abbe Land, former council member and mayor of West Hollywood, shared a similar desire to unify and make positive turns out of the current frustrations and fears felt by many.
“I’m here today to speak,” Land said, “to let people know I’m here, as well as these hundreds of thousands of people all over the country, and all over the world, who recognize if we don’t stand up, if we don’t speak out, the world is not going to be a place we want to be a part of.”
When it comes to the uncertainty of the future under Trump, Land was quick to offer optimism. “I would say that there have been dark times before, and we have gotten through them,” she said. “This is a really dark time, but we have to take solace in the fact that there are so many people who are disheartened, and that there is great power in us working together, and [Trump] might be doing things now, but we have not yet begun to rise up.”
Land applauded the MWM for giving people hope and the knowledge that “we’ve got each other’s backs. We all know that it’s going to be four long years, but we’re going to be in a better place at the end of this time.”
Artists in attendance were also glad to share their reasons for marching in Los Angeles. “We’re marching for women’s rights because women’s rights are human rights,” said actress Liz Vassey, “and we want to be very, very loud for everybody who feels like they might be marginalized by this incoming administration.”
Singer Mandy Moore saw the march as a great way to kick off a prompt response to the new administration. “I think today is sort of the first step in figuring out how we’re going to confront the misogyny and racism and prejudice that we’re already feeling from this administration,” Moore said. “I think coming together in solidarity and feeling like we’re taking action as a collective group is a really noble first step.”
With the deep emotions that come with seeing such drastic changes to the country, actress Kristin Bauer van Straten was very open about what the march meant for her.
“We’re very moved by all of these people showing up,” she said, “because it really is showing up for others, and I think that’s something that gets missed in the controversy…. We’re here for other people, we’re here for other species, we’re here for other colors and shapes and sexualities.”
Vassey added her thoughts on the appropriate response to disagreements, saying that she did not support the violence that occurred in Los Angeles on Inauguration Day. “I don’t condone the violence that happened yesterday,” said Vassey, “but what I do believe in is standing up peacefully and loudly for our rights, and making sure that everybody knows that we’re not going to take this lying down.”
Empowerment played a big role in getting marcher Shelly Bergstrom out to the streets of Los Angeles. After seeing what she described as an emperor’s new clothes situation, Bergstrom said the march was the perfect outlet for her since the current administration gave her a sense of being “so helpless that I felt like I needed to do something, and this was something I could do. I could be here, I could show up, and make my presence known.”
Bergstrom said that while some people were afraid for the march and said violence might come to the streets of Los Angeles again, she shrugged off the worries and went ahead anyway.
“I really felt like it was going to be fine,” she said. Speaking from a crowded area at the beginning of the march, she described the event as “a little bit squishy, but the crowd is amazing, and it’s all love. I feel really happy to be here.”
After peacefully marching to City Hall and the Grand Park LA, marchers settled in to listen to speakers and music performances at the southern edge of the park. The day could have been mistaken for another typical southern California holiday, given the pristine weather and the amount of infants and children in tow with their families.
The sole example of any resistance to the crowd’s spirit was a message trailed behind an airplane wishing congratulations to the new president. It remained a lonely sentiment, as any acknowledgement of the sign was crowded out by the diversity of thousands of participants, some with messages that bravely shared stories both personal and impactful to the country as a whole.
Marcher Caitlin Low wore a double-sided sign that proclaimed how Planned Parenthood was there for her when she needed them most. “I thought it was just important to give a voice to women who have used Planned Parenthood services,” said Low, “and to make it known that it’s a very, very widely-used service. I myself used it in a time of need, and felt it was the only place I could turn to. When I went the waiting room was full, and it was very, very clear that there were many others, in addition to myself, that needed it.”
Low found much to gain from the sense of community brought about by the march, especially as it asserts how she is one of millions with concerns about the future of women’s rights. “It’s really encouraging to see others that feel the same way,” she said, “and to know that it’s not just myself resisting the recent election and all that’s followed.”
Marcher Anne Carson shared another personal story by way of a sign she carried in front of the Hall of Justice. An avid runner with six marathons under her belt, Carson said she is currently suffering from stage four endometriosis. The condition requires surgeries every two years to treat this understudied and largely unknown disease, which causes uterine cells to grow outside of the uterus as painful masses. As a pre-existing condition, the removal of the Affordable Care Act would make obtaining medical insurance very difficult for Carson. She said this was especially concerning for her as the surgery, which she has had twice before, carries a price tag of $70,000 each.
Carson said that by carrying her sign she hopes to create more awareness about this disease that has flown under many peoples’ radar.
“It’s so important, and so many women are not diagnosed,” Carson said. “A lot of women have this and they don’t know it. We’re all told that our periods are supposed to be very painful, so a lot of women don’t understand that something is actually wrong."
Carson said that getting her story and message out for the day meant a lot to her, especially as more than a few people came up to her to learn more.
“I feel great,” she said, “I feel brave, I’m really actually much more excited to share my story with people than I thought I would be. I feel a lot of love and compassion as well.”
With a mission statement that encouraged all to join in, men were in no short supply to come out and show support for the MWM. Kerim Mister came out to take pictures of the event, and commented on the unification and positivity he saw in the crowd. From within the crowds, he felt a sense of “a lot of camaraderie, to be honest. A lot of smiles are out.”
Levi Damione, a Navy veteran and former E3 Engineman, was proud to show up for the march as well, which marked the first time he had participated in any demonstration. Damione said that while he was unsure of the impact the march would make, for him “it was something that needed to happen. Now is the time, more than ever, that I need to get out there and stand up for citizens in the same way that I protected them, if you will. I don’t want to make it sound like I did anything greater than I did, but you join the service because it’s the pride you have and the sense of duty you have, and I had a sense of duty to be here today.”
As the music and speeches wound down at the Grand Park, marchers were invited to make their way back towards Pershing Square for more speakers and musicians to come. Actors Keegan-Michael Key, Laverne Cox, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus spoke passionately to the crowd, among others, before musical performances rounded out the end of the event at 5:00 p.m. The selection of mostly gospel and rhythm and blues performers fit well as a celebration of African American traditions, which have played integral parts of the history of peaceful demonstrations in the United States.
Overall the MWM played incredibly well to meet a need for affirmation and connection among a plethora of different groups and communities since Trump won the presidency. One could turn around and find people pushing for reform or assistance in the way of almost any cause, from animal cruelty and gun control to educational reform and LGBTQ rights.
Even the methods by which these organizations approached the day took an expansive approach. Amnesty International offered opportunities to converse and donate through their mobile team, while booths for organizations like Girls on the Run and Planned Parenthood, among others, offered more in-depth opportunities to learn about who they are and what they do. Every group did an excellent job presenting their respective issues with approachability and clarity, garnering much attention from the crowd throughout the day.
With all of the success found by the MWM in Los Angeles, with no arrests and attendee estimates ranging in the high hundreds of thousands, the temporary medium of any demonstration is an obstacle that the goal of the event must surmount, if it wants to be effective. With all of the joy, inspiration, and unification that January 21st brought to the city, time will tell if the energy it rolled out in droves will keep up the momentum.
According to marcher Dawn Jones, the odds that people are going to keep fighting are looking high.
“I don’t like what’s happened,” said Jones, “but I feel like it’s lit a fire under us. We’ve become complacent.” She said the election of Trump has “really opened my eyes to how many people are still racist, how many people are still homophobic, just the hatred that is still out there, when I really thought that we were all good. I knew there were pockets, but I didn’t know it was this much. So it’s actually made me get more involved. This is like the first step.”
When it comes to future, Jones does not hold back her optimism. “I think it’s just going to make everybody start doing more,” she said, “getting more involved in politics, just thinking of things that they can do to change and not just sit back, because we’re the public. We’re the ones who can change things.”
Special thanks to Cherry Hepburn and Juanita Butler for their help with this article.