O.C.'s Women's Marches: What's next?

“Build bridges not walls.” “Women stand together.”

These were among the tamer messages displayed on signs as thousands of people assembled in Santa Ana on Jan. 21 as part of a global event sparked by the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. An additional 1,000 people rallied in Laguna Beach.

In Santa Ana, the participants — men, women and children — chanted “Women united will never be defeated” and “This is what democracy looks like” as the demonstration rolled down Fourth Street during the four-hour event. Many wore pink “pussyhats,” a symbol of solidarity among protesters.

While a statement for women’s rights, the event allowed people to express their views on a range of related concerns, like protection of the environment, respect for minorities and access to healthcare, whose progress they believe could be undermined by the new Trump administration.

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Take Diane Cushman Neal, 47, who was at the event with her daughter Ashley, 17.

Neal has cystic fibrosis. On that day, she was hooked up to an oxygen port and an IV.

“I don’t want my healthcare taken away,” she said, referring to newly inaugurated President Donald Trump’s vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Ashley said she is marching for her mother, “so she has the healthcare she deserves.”

And then there was Kymberly Wilborn, 52, of Dana Point, who said she took part in the Rodney King protests in Los Angeles in 1992 and recently participated in Black Lives Matter protests. In 1991, videotape captured King, who was black, being beaten by Los Angeles police after a high-speed chase, but the officers were acquitted at trial the next year, sparking violent protests.

At the recent march, Wilborn held a sign that listed the names of prominent activists including Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.

“This march is fabulous. All races, all creeds,” said Wilborn, who is black. “People that are zero months old to 90 years old. Although we didn’t win the election, we made our point today.”

But if the moment promised power in numbers — with more than a million participants joining in “sister” protests across the U.S. and around the world — what does the future look like? Is this shaping up to be a movement akin to U.S. women’s push for the right to vote from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s or like the second-wave struggle for equality in the workplace and elsewhere in the 1960s and ’70s?

Some marchers, having had a few days to reflect on the protest, said last week that they were ready for further action.

With a renewed sense of spirit from the historic event, Cushman Neal said days afterward that she is ready to get fully involved — whether there is an organized movement or not.

She’s been phoning her congressional representatives and plans on taking part in any marches or protests that arise.

Various groups, including the Orange County Labor Federation and Arab American Civic Council, an Orange County-based grassroots organization dedicated to empowering the Arab American community, vow to maintain the momentum after assisting with the Santa Ana event.

And organizers of the Women’s March on Washington released details last week regarding a new national campaign called 10 Actions 100 Days.

According to the website, during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency the group will release every 10 days a new way for people to be politically active. The first action asks people to let their senator know about an issue that matters to them using the postcards offered on the campaign’s website

Protests have long been a means of communicating deeply held beliefs, whether in support of jobs and racial equality or in opposition to an unpopular war and the use of nuclear weapons.

Last week, USA Today reported that American scientists worried about climate change and Trump’s characterization of it as a hoax are planning a protest march in Washington, D.C., though as of Friday no date had been announced.

And abortion foes met Friday for their 44th annual march in Washington.

 

How it all started

The road to organizing the Santa Ana march began with just a few people getting together. Concerns about the election of Trump was the glue that bound them, said Nichole Ramirez, an event coordinator.

Eventually a coalition of 20 groups was formed. It included the Orange County Labor Federation, the Arab American Chamber of California, Women in Leadership and Progressive Interfaith Alliance, among others.

They would meet weekly.

Out of those meetings came the idea of a march to coincide with the Washington event so that Orange County residents could play an active role in the demonstration without having to travel across the country.

To notify the public, they used the usual social media channels: Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Ramirez said people seemed to flock almost immediately to the sites, signing up for the event on the Facebook page.

Ramirez said organizers expected about 4,000 participants. She said she was pleased to report that the number was closer to 20,000. Santa Ana police have offered a more conservative range of 6,000 to 8,000 marchers.

In Laguna Beach, crunch time was more the theme. Residents Cindy Obrand and Sally Rapuano organized their rally about a week before Jan. 21.

Obrand said she felt emboldened by an apparent hate incident involving the tossing of a watermelon onto the frontyard of a black teenager’s home in Laguna Beach.

“It was a horrible, ugly incident,” she said. “It touched me deeply.”

Obrand works as a volunteer disc jockey at the local KX 93.5 radio station and was hoping to get the audience to support the march.

The work seems to have paid off.

In the tiny coastal community, an estimated 1,000 people jammed into the area around Main Beach in support of the widespread demonstration.

Demonstrators — men and women of all ages — stood shoulder to shoulder as they carried signs reading “Don't gut the EPA,” “Love trumps hate” and “Nasty women unite,” a reference to Republican Trump’s “such a nasty woman” comment during the presidential debates with his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

One woman held a sign bearing the image of Vladimir Putin holding a baby, and the baby's face was that of Trump, suggesting the new president is too quick to side with the Russian leader.

Newport Beach resident Irene Montoya, 33, printed out an image she saw on Pinterest showing Trump grabbing the Statue of Liberty between the legs.

Referring to the leaked “Access Hollywood” video of Trump boasting about being able to grab women by the genitals because of his star power, Montoya said she felt “disgust.”

“Words mean something, especially when you're president,” Montoya said.

At the rally, Laguna Beach residents and former teachers Linda Simpson, 75, and Ceil Sharman, 77, said kids should not have to see hatred and bigotry during Trump’s presidency.

“If there's anything Trump has done, it’s making people realize that they need to stand up for themselves,” Simpson said.

 

The future

Dana Emerson, one of the organizers of the Santa Ana event, said Tuesday that she was “blown away” by the march and sees a need for a robust movement going forward.

“I see that marginalized communities are coming together to the understanding that there is greater power when they fight together than to separate and fight their battles of injustice independently,” Emerson said. “I do see a lot of changes on the horizon with that kind of unity. Now the voices can’t be ignored and the communities are no longer invisible.”

Some women who had been in Washington reported being chastized at the demonstration because of their anti-abortion leanings, despite the common goal of fighting for women’s rights.

But Emerson said if the movement is to be successful, it needs to be inclusive, to have “multiple voices for a single cause.”

As far as what the movement will look like over the next four years, she said people are going to be more inclined to contact their congressional representatives and join more rallies and demonstrations.

Emerson, the dean at Coastline Community College — which has campuses in Westminster, Garden Grove and Newport Beach — said she will be working with local organizations to bring people together so that events like the Jan. 21 march keep happening.

benjamin.brazil@latimes.com

Twitter: @benbrazilpilot

alexandra.chan@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

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