The Women’s March of Los Angeles was one of the hundreds of nationwide gatherings that exceeded expectations yesterday. For a few protesters, the event was a trip down memory lane, only it was not quite the way they had remembered it.
Sue Appleton from Los Villas and friend Ellen Bledsoe-Rodriguez from Westlake Village marched in downtown Los Angeles during the war on Vietnam throughout the 1960s. “We were younger,” Appleton said. “This feels a lot like the end of the world today.”
Thankfully, the world has not ended, and in light of the L.A. sister march taking place incident-free, it’s not likely to end anytime soon. Still, this does not resolve any of the worries that these women expressed yesterday. As mothers and grandmothers, they both have concerns regarding the future of climate change and women’s rights. Yet as they stood waiting for the march to begin, they wondered where their fellow marchers’ enthusiasm had run off to.
“This almost feels a little futile. Marching against the Vietnam War felt like ‘we’ve got this,’” Bledsoe-Rodriguez said.
The Women’s March movement exceeded expectations. The Women’s March website estimates that 673 marches took place internationally, including over 4.8 million who registered their attendance. Citizens gathered across the country in locations beginning in Washington D.C. and spreading to Chicago, Lansing, Denver, and Boise and more to convey a message to the U.S. government they hoped would be heard.
However, for the L.A. march that attracted what officials estimate was 750,000 politicians, celebrities, and families from all generations, there were many messages to listen to. In fact, there were too many.
All walks of life gathered at Pershing Square in L.A. on the corner of 5th Street and Hill Street. Marchers carried dozens of handmade signs that advocated for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, the environment, education, humanity, religion, black lives matter, and more. What was originally the “Women’s March of Los Angeles” quickly became “Everybody’s March of Los Angeles.”
Unfortunately, this was where much of the opportunity for provoking discussion lost its focus. It began to feel “a little futile” as Bledsoe-Rodriguez said.
Gillian Russom is a high school history teacher in Boyle Heights and a member of the International Socialist Organization. Like Appleton and Bledsoe-Rodriguez, this was not her first march. Megaphone in hand, she led chants among participants and walked alongside her team, who carried a long, red sign that read “Stop the racism. Stop the deportations.”
“Corporate greed, the one-percent – that didn’t start with Trump. Mass incarceration, deportation – that didn’t start with Trump,” Russom said. “So what’s disheartening about these mass demonstrations is that it really shows that we’re the vast majority and we have to organize ourselves powerfully enough to take that control back, including control over the economy. That’s what we mean by socialism.”
Many of Russom’s students are undocumented immigrants or come from undocumented families. She sees her role as a history teacher as informing her students about their power as people living in this country. Today, her team sold print copies of their publication, Socialist Worker, to encourage marchers to continue their activism after today’s gathering.
“A march itself and showing up once and awhile to a march doesn’t change policy. What changes policy is laws and what changes realities is sustained organizing,” Russom said.
Those who participated in the Women’s March gatherings around the country had their own reasons for marching. For everyone who attended, it was an opportunity to listen and to learn. This is what many hoped this event would accomplish, and it’s safe to say that it did just that.
Like many in the crowds, Appleton and Bledsoe-Rodriguez made their own pink “pussy hats.” But theirs had a unique addition – a heart on each hat in honor of Bledsoe-Rodriguez’s daughter, Deborah, who passed away a few years ago.
“Today is her birthday and she would’ve been our leader,” Bledsoe-Rodriguez said. “She was a heart collector.”
Bledsoe-Rodriguez gave a fellow marcher spare pink “pussy hat” that she fastened from an old scarf. The girl wore it proudly while marching through the streets of Downtown LA, following in the footsteps of the mothers and grandmothers before her.