‘Hear Our Voice’ becomes ‘Hear Our Vote’ as organizers call for engagement in 2018

By Christina Campodonico

Photo by Ted Soqui

The ascension of a pussy grabber to the presidency, the fall of a Hollywood titan amid a flood of sexual abuse allegations and cultural shifts in the way we talk about gender inequity — first #MeToo, then #TimesUp — has arguably set in motion a modern day women’s movement.

You could say it all began last year, when millions took to the streets in cities across the globe for a coordinated i nternational Women’s March the day after President Trump’s inauguration. Hundreds of thousands of peaceful marchers turned out in downtown Los Angeles, many wearing cat-eared beanies called pussyhats and carrying all manners of signs denouncing Trump or championing the rights of women and minority groups.

“I’m here to support women,” Mar Vista resident Sarah DeAratanha, then 26, told The Argonaut last year. “I’m here to support Muslim women and Jewish women and gay people and bi-people and everyone on the LGBTQ-plus spectrum. I just feel that in this day and age, my generation needs to step forward and fight against what’s going on in the world.”

Several local groups will carry similar issues to the second Los Angeles Women’s March, happening in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 20.

Venice Resistance, a grassroots activism organization founded by Venice resident Maria Casey in the wake of the first Women’s March, has been canvassing ahead of this year’s demonstration to get the word out locally and encourage Westsiders to participate.

“It’s going to be really cathartic. Everyone across the globe has had a tough year in 2017. Now we get our energy back,” says Casey. “I hope we get a good turnout, especially from the Westside.”

Venice Resistance is hosting a sign-making party from 6 to 9 p.m. the night before the march in a loft at 555 Rose Ave. #2 and will convene at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Downtown Santa Monica light rail station to ride the Expo Line to the march. (See veniceresistance.org/events.)

The West L.A. Democratic Club and Westchester-Playa Democratic Club are collaborating with L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office to charter two free shuttle buses downtown. Both depart at 7:30 a.m., one from the West L.A. District Field Office (1645 Corinth Ave.) and the other from the Westchester District Field Office (7166 W. Manchester Ave.). Sign up online at bit.ly/2B398un.

“Our members are really wanting to be in community as Democrats,” says West L.A. Democratic Club Communications Chair Karen Wolfe. “They are looking for any opportunity to express their political views to resist the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress, and they are wanting to be together.” She adds that the club will join U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and her Progressive Unity Coalition on the march.

Westchester-Playa Democratic Club President Duane Muller notes that her club is also helping members arrange carpools and is hosting a voter engagement workshop with progressive voter outreach coalition Code Blue on Thursday night (Jan. 18) at a private home in Playa del Rey. RSVP at bit.ly/2mHlZxP.

“I think people are energized more than ever before,” says Muller. “They’re really looking to grassroots organizations [like ours] to get more engaged.”

Similarly, the organizers of Women’s March Los Angeles hope this year’s event will help connect participants to community organizations, bringing focus to local issues and getting out the vote for elections happening this year.

“Our intentions are to get people out to midterm elections — almost to make voting cool,” says Women’s March Los Angeles co-executive director Emiliana Guereca, an events planner based in West L.A. “We’re encouraging local activism.”

The Argonaut sat down with Guereca, co-executive director Deena Katz (a television producer whose work includes “Dancing with the Stars” and “Real Time with Bill Maher”), and communications director Ellen Crafts to discuss the mission of Saturday’s gathering, reflect on 2017 and look into the future of local activism.

A diverse crowd hundreds of thousands
strong packed downtown streets from Pershing Square to
L.A. City Hall during the inaugural Women’s March Los Angeles on Jan. 21, 2017 (Photo by Ted Soqui)

A lot has happened since last year’s march — Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo, #TimesUp. Do you think the Women’s March helped set those events in motion?

Katz: I think any sort of empowerment leads to more empowerment.

Guereca: Absolutely.

Katz: I feel like we gave people a voice that they were afraid to have. Everyone felt like they were empowered to do something and, more than that, also felt like they needed to do something. So yes, I feel like we might have started it. We were the beginning of it. In that way, 2017 has been a great year.

 

What’s different this year, as far as your intentions for the march?

Katz: I think the difference in ’17 was people were emotionally involved because of the shock — the fear. … Everyone felt like they needed to be together to heal, to know how we could move forward together. What 2018 gives us is now we can do something. We can get people to the polls. Because if we have more of a voice in Washington, then we can make change or protect our rights.

Guereca: I think people have learned what happens when you’re not involved.

Crafts: Our rallying cry in 2017 was “Hear Our Voice,” and our rallying cry in 2018 is “Hear Our Vote.” We think those two together are a powerful one-two punch to get people activated. It’s going to be a year of activism to encourage people to stay involved and to bring attention to key elections in our city and our state. California is poised to have a big role in 2018. And we’re in coalition with the Women’s Marches across California to work together to keep people activated and understand what’s going on and what’s at stake.

 

The pink pussyhat became the symbol of last year’s march. Thoughts?

Guereca: I don’t own a pussyhat, but I will not stop someone from wearing one. Almost every movement has a symbol. We did get a lot of pushback, of “not all pussies are pink!” [We told people], “Make a brown hat. Make a rainbow hat.”

Crafts: The pink was supposed to be symbolic [of women.] It was female and feminine. We’ve got a post from men that were gonna wear pink beanies. And then we got some people that asked, “Should we change our hats to black this year because of the #MeToo or #TimesUp movement?” It will be interesting to see how activism displays itself this year and what that means to people.

 

Do you worry that #MeToo or #TimesUp will overshadow your get-out-the-vote message?

Guereca: Sexual assault is not new. Voicing it in a #MeToo campaign is. … We can’t be scared of more women having voices. We want that.

Crafts: I think the fact that #MeToo and #TimesUp are so much in the news is terrific and, again, is part of this collective voice that we’ve tried to get out there. What we’re talking about with all our speakers is that if that is what your platform is, or your advocacy passion, great! Let’s talk about it, then why it’s important to pull that into voting, and what that means for the people in government and what you need them to do. The same thing when it comes to immigrant rights, or all the other issues out there. Pull it into what that means when you go to the polls.

Will it hurt the cause if this year’s march does not draw as many people as last year’s?

Katz: Success is anybody coming out. Success is getting the word out. I think what’s going to happen more this year than last year is that there’s going to be more localized marches, where last year everybody came to Los Angeles. … Now you’ve got San Bernardino, other local cities that are doing it. And to us, even last year, it wasn’t a numbers game.

Guereca: We’re encouraging local activism. We’re encouraging San Bernardino, Bakersfield, Riverside, Fresno, because there are issues in their community that L.A. can’t handle. There are 22 marches in California on the same day, speaking to issues that affect each other’s communities.

Crafts: And another part is that Women’s March is still, a year later, not a truly formalized organization across the country. We’re all independent. The marches in the different cities have grown because we are about what is happening in our own geographies under these guiding principles about what the Women’s March is about. We are fundraising, activating and engaging with our own communities.

 

You’re not worried the emphasis on voting is going to convince people you’re aligning yourself with the Democratic Party?

Guereca: I think people are going to think whatever they want to think, and I also think that women’s rights and human rights shouldn’t be partisan.

Crafts: We don’t endorse candidates, so we’re going to put that out there, because that’s not what we’re about. There are a lot of people on all sides that support many of the things that our unity principles stand for. … Now does that lean a certain way currently? Yes, but that’s not ultimately what we want to be about. Because I also think that means the messaging gets lost.

You said last year that the march is not specifically anti-Trump, but that’s why many participants say they march.

Katz: We’ve always said we’re about human rights. We’re about female rights, we’re about religious rights, we’re about rights for education and LGBTQ rights. … This is really showing everybody the power that you have. Don’t be a victim. Everybody has the right to vote and everyone should vote.

Guereca: This isn’t anti-Trump; this is pro-voting. This is to activate people.  If this administration were for everything we all stood for, we would have no issues.

 

Let’s say the power balance in Washington shifts dramatically. What’s the future of the women’s march?

Katz: Until everything has been solved and every single person in this country doesn’t feel marginalized, until everybody feels they’re on equal standing — we are waiting for that day — and we’ll shut our doors and be done.

Crafts: I think that there’s always going to be a need for an entity like Women’s March because if we’ve learned anything in the last couple years, it’s that we’re not as far along as some people thought we were.  We need to do a better job of talking to each other and making sure that people understand all of the communities that are marginalized and what they’re experience is, because I don’t think our country was doing a really good job of that.

Guereca: It’s about the continuation of the work. It is about educating. … It isn’t necessarily about just marching every year. It’s about engaging that voter, and engaging that voter throughout his lifetime.

 

Women’s March Los Angeles begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday (Jan. 20) at Pershing Square, 532 Olive St., Los Angeles. Visit womensmarchla.org for a route map and event FAQs.

Women’s March Los Angeles volunteer coordinator Elaine Patel (left), communications director Ellen Crafts, co-executive director Deena Katz, logistics coordinator Irene Aitkens, and co-executive director Emiliana Guereca (Photo by Joe Piasecki)

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