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Bay Area Women March in Solidarity

November 8, 2016 was a day of reactions. People around the country watched as a man was elected to the most powerful office in the world, a man who no one expected but who changed the face of the country. Many found that the election brought out emotions they had never felt before, and millions felt called on to act more than ever to support the causes they believe in.

Throughout the country, one group that was especially affected was women, from young girls to teenagers to working women, mothers and grandmothers who saw the recent political turmoil as a reason to fight for change on the biggest scale.

During these tumultuous months, rhetoric emerged that left countless Americans feeling marginalized or threatened. Women from California to New York heard language that seemed to attack what slim progress had been made towards equality. They watched as their daughters processed hateful words and their peers struggled to reconcile these speeches with their image of the next president of the United States.

Many felt they could no longer sit complacently but that action was required to ensure safety and happiness not only for their own generation but for those to come.

 

As the nation simmered down from the shock of the election and began to truly process the results, many Americans felt compelled to transfer their anger and frustration into a passion that could fuel real change, beginning in their local communities. From this passion many organizations were created, groups of people who decided that the only way to combat hate was to show love for causes they believe in.

One such group is Women’s March, created just months ago to plan the Women’s March on Washington. This event was a procession and peaceful rally through Washington, D.C. the day after the inauguration on Saturday, January 21. Anyone, regardless of gender, race, orientation, status, or background was welcome to walk through streets near Capitol Hill and show support for human rights and dignity. After realizing that getting to the nation’s capital was impossible for many Americans, women around the country started organizing events in their own communities.

People of all cultural backgrounds joined in with their messages. Credit: Sarah Lehman / M-A Chronicle.
A little girl marches with her mother and makes a statement. Credit: Sarah Lehman / M-A Chronicle.

Jenny Bradanini is the co-leader and organizer of the San Jose Women’s March, an event inspired by the March on Washington. She helped form Women’s March Bay Area, a coalition of passionate people who, now more than ever, want to push for the health, safety, and rights of all Americans. The organization focuses on the fact that women’s rights are human rights, and that everyone deserves a country where their dignity is prioritized. Bradanini saw the Women’s March on Washington take shape, and remembers, “The thing about this march is that it’s actually really organic how it started. There’s this thing on Facebook called Pantsuit Nation which is basically a group of women who support women’s rights. After the election everyone was in shock, miserable, commiserating, and someone said we should go to D.C. and march, and another woman made the same comment and they made a Facebook event page and they decided to get some of their friends to go to D.C. to make this demonstration, thinking maybe a hundred people or so. They go to bed and wake up the next morning, and there are 12,000 people on their Facebook event page. End of the day it was like 60,000, then 80,000 and now, holy moly, we knew people had passion but now people are buying plane tickets for this.”

From early Saturday morning until late at night, women, men, and children brought their signs and spirits to prove that they were not going to sit idly by as Washington controlled their rights.

Although the marches were not anti-Trump, many could not contain their frustration. Credit: Sarah Lehman / M-A Chronicle.

Bradanini recognized the need to create opportunities for women and men everywhere to get up and act for change. She planned the San Jose march to draw people from all walks of life, to stand in solidarity with everyone who has felt victimized by hateful language or inappropriate actions that have become all too common. Bradanini did not originally plan to organize a march close to home, and recalls that “For me personally, I got an invite to the Facebook event and bought a ticket to the D.C. event, and I started seeing the rhetoric coming out about this being a ‘privileged women’s’ march and I started to see that if we truly wanted this to be inclusive we needed it to happen everywhere throughout our communities. Now we have one in San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland and we organized Women’s March Bay Area as a non-profit organization because we don’t want this to be a one-time thing.”

Although Saturday’s success is enough to occupy Bradanini’s mind for the moment, she is excited about the fact that demonstrations like these have stirred up so much positivity from the community, and mentioned the possibility of turning the Women’s March into an annual event.

Thousands marched through the streets of San Jose. Credit: Sarah Lehman / M-A Chronicle.

Seeing this surge in support for women’s rights is both encouraging and saddening, as many see the current state of inequality and are reminded of a bitter past, a time in which women were oppressed openly and often. Although the Women’s March is nonpartisan and is not against any particular ideology, many participants see the discomfort of women throughout the country as a step backward, and Bradanini agrees that “women more than ever are feeling threatened and feel like we are taking a giant step backward. I’m actually meeting some women who were involved in the marches way back then in the era of women’s rights and realize we are doing it all over again and we are realizing that we can’t just sit there and accept this. Some people thought, you know, this would never happen but look where we are. I think the biggest thing is that I want people to see us stand together in solidarity and we can make a difference now and we can really make a change all together.”

At the beginning of a year that will test every inch of progress the United States has made towards equality, Bradanini and her peers hope that sending a message of hope through the Women’s March will be a first step in making sure women feel heard, not hurt, for the next four years in this country.

The goal of the women’s marches was to combat hate with love. Credit: Sarah Lehman / M-A Chronicle.

In 1997, during an age of political action especially for African-American women, the Million Woman March took place in Philadelphia. Much like the Women’s March of 2017, it was a gathering of thousands of men and women who took the time to reflect on the progress made for African-American women’s rights, as well as to call for change in a country that often discriminated against women and people of color. In the early stages of planning, the Women’s March on Washington was dubbed the Million Woman March, but this title brought controversy as participants in the original march were not all comfortable with the name of this emotional past experience being used for so separate an event. The original Million Woman March was a symbol of a time of violence and struggle for African-American women who felt oppressed by racism in the United States. Fortunately, Bradanini recalls that after this point of contention “women of color joined in to lead and it became the Women’s March on Washington and here we are. There are 326 marches happening around the US and 56 international, there are now more people marching around the country than in D.C.”

 

Even more impressive is the sheer size of local marches. After a few short months of planning, Bradanini sees support for her cause that is as unprecedented as the results of the election. Women’s March Bay Area received upwards of 20,000 responses from community members interested in attending the march, and Bradanini sees such enthusiasm that even rain on Saturday will not hinder the movement. Bradanini attributes most of the march’s success to the fact that “it is a feminist movement, it is an inclusive movement, it is a movement for everyone, for women and their families and men and anyone who supports equality and progress. One of the ways that we’re doing this is including speakers from every community, from the LGBTQI community, we have an environmentalist speaking, women and men and other speakers to represent every community. We also have tents set up and we have invited non-profit groups to set up there to give out information to people at the march.”

One organization attending the march is the Grateful Garment project, which provides backpacks of new clothing for women who have turned over their clothing as evidence in rape cases. Women attending the march were encouraged to bring new sports bras, in the hopes that these donations would spark conversations between volunteers and attendees about necessary change for women in America.

Both men and women showed their support with creative signs. Credit: Mara Cavallaro / M-A Chronicle.

While the Women’s March fell the day after President Trump was inaugurated, Bradanini and her peers want to stress that this was not a protest or an anti-Trump march, but a rally in support of everything that women need. Press often misinterpreted the goal of the march, and as Bradanini said, “It’s really important, the press kept messing this up- this is not an anti-Trump movement, it’s not an anti-anything movement, we stand together in solidarity to protect our rights, our health, our safety, and part of it is to send the message to the government, but most of is to send the message to each other. For women to say, hey I’ve got your back you’ve got mine, and we are moving forward together as a community, not as a community with separate issues. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t matter who was elected president, obviously we have so much more work to with him but either way now is still the time to work for equality.”

Thus, by marching into the first day of the new presidency together, attendees of the Women’s March were not angry. They were not calling for a new president but rather a new societal perspective on the role of women and fact that progress is needed because the influence women have will last far beyond the next four years.

One of the women marching in San Jose was Lindsey Kolderup, an M-A graduate from the Class of 1985. When asked why she was marching, she replied, “Gosh there’s a lot of reasons why I’m marching. Probably the most obvious one is I’m an OB/GYN at Santa Clara Hospital which is our county hospital so I felt like I needed to do this for our women. But beyond that, it’s also the attitude towards women, the treatment of women, and the respect for women that needs to change, so I had to march.”

Kolderup fondly remembers her time at M-A and has a niece who currently attends, so her interest in women’s rights and the rights of young women is very personal. She, along with the group of outspoken women she marched with and approximately 30,000 other attendees, all united to shout and show their own attitudes towards women: that they deserve every bit of respect as men, and they deserve it now.

Men marched to prove that women are not alone in this fight. Credit: Sarah Lehman / M-A Chronicle.

Robbyn Enriquez, a San Jose native who joined the march, added that she was deeply upset about the current political situation and joined the movement, “Because I’m tired. I’m tired of the way he’s marginalizing women, he’s marginalizing the Earth, he’s marginalizing people of color and therefore he’s marginalizing my family. Don’t let him marginalize women. Stand up.”

This passionate call to action perfectly captures the electricity of the march, and the feeling shared in thousands of communities across the country. Only a fraction of this energy was shown in Saturday’s march, and already change seems inevitable.

A moment came that put all Bradanini’s hard work into perspective, one afternoon as she got her hair cut. A woman walked in and as Bradanini listened, the woman explained that she could not make her appointment on Saturday because she wanted to show her support at the San Jose Women’s March, and to Bradanini’s surprise other women in the salon chimed in and said that they, too, would be marching Saturday morning. Bradanini realized how far her efforts were reaching, and how ready the community was to get up and act. She recognizes that many marchers will take the message of the march and shift it to their own beliefs, but adds, “Of course, I believe that there are people who have their causes, their ideas, their t-shirts and slogans and these people will wear them to the march, but I believe that these people will come and wear these things and see all these other messages and we will see theirs and we will all join together and stand up for something and believe in this message of equality together.”

This message, that equality is not true until it is achieved together, is what the Women’s March was truly about.

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