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SLO Women’s March expects 5,000 people to pack the streets of San Luis Obispo

Pat Harris, left, Andrea Chmelik and Dawn Addis, along with Terry Parry and Jen Ford (not pictured), are organizing Women’s March San Luis Obispo, a local march connected to ones planned nationwide.
Pat Harris, left, Andrea Chmelik and Dawn Addis, along with Terry Parry and Jen Ford (not pictured), are organizing Women’s March San Luis Obispo, a local march connected to ones planned nationwide. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A local Women’s March rally is expected to pack the streets of San Luis Obispo with as many as 5,000 people Saturday. The march is intended to spread “a positive message of hope and unity” by standing up for women’s rights, civil rights, and for those who are afraid for their health and safety as a result of the November election, event organizers said.

The event, aligned with marches nationwide and in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, will “send a powerful message to our new administration, on their first day in office, that this is the first step towards unifying our nation’s diverse communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up,” according to the Women’s March San Luis Obispo website.

The rally, starting at Mitchell Park at 10 a.m., aims to support women, the LGBTQ community, undocumented individuals, Muslims, people with disabilities, aging residents and those of all races and religions, said Dawn Addis, one of five event coordinators.

“Speaking for myself, I’m aware of many local women and local children being afraid for their personal safety because of things being said during the election cycle, by groups that have latched on to a message,” Addis said. “It feels very divisive and makes people feel like their rights are being threatened. But this march is less about fear and more about standing strong.”

 

The march route will cover less than 1 mile, heading west on Osos Street, south on Higuera Street, east on Broad Street, north on Marsh Street, east on Osos Street, and back to the park for speakers, music, food and a “Call to Action Alley” that will offer resources to people who want to take action.

The “Call to Action Alley” opens at 9 a.m., and the rally begins at 10 a.m. Events end about 2 p.m. after speeches and musical performances.

As of Wednesday, more than 5,000 people have registered for the San Luis Obispo rally. But organizers expect that number to continue to grow by Saturday, the day after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“I’ve been active in the community for 36 years, and I can’t remember anything this big happening in downtown San Luis Obispo,” co-organizer Pat Harris said.

Organizers are promoting the Women’s March as a nonpartisan, nonviolent event. Addis said the event is a response to public statements and rhetoric expressed during the election season that caused people to feel afraid.

As much as it’s being billed as protest, this is not a protest. And this could mean something different for each marcher. But what we wanted was to bring people together and connect people around the message of hope and empowerment.

Dawn Addis, Women’s March organizer

“As much as it’s being billed as protest, this is not a protest,” Addis said. “And this could mean something different for each marcher. But what we wanted was to bring people together and connect people around the message of hope and empowerment. We’d like people to come out to join together and do something good.”

Women’s March events are being held in cities around the country, including the nation’s capital. Hundreds of thousands are expected to gather at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of 250,000 people in 1963.

In California, large marches also are scheduled in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Washington, D.C., rally website states that “we stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized and threatened many of us — women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault,” the website states.

The marches also have been motivated by the potential for abortion rights and reproductive health services to be curtailed under Trump’s administration, as well as his lewd comments exposed in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape recording in which he brags about groping women.

Several San Luis Obispo County residents are attending the march in the nation’s capital, Addis said, but the San Luis Obispo event offers a local option.

The activities include a number of speakers: Cal Poly Muslim Student Union President Rubia Siddiqi; San Luis Obispo police Chief Deanna Cantrell; and R.A.C.E Matters SLO County advocate Courtney Haile. Erica Flores Baltodano, a civil rights activist and San Luis Obispo-based employment attorney, will give a keynote address.

Jazz vocalists Inga Swearingen and Melody Klemin also will perform.

As much as it’s being billed as protest, this is not a protest. And this could mean something different for each marcher. But what we wanted was to bring people together and connect people around the message of hope and empowerment.

Dawn Addis, Women’s March organizer

Baltodano’s speech is expected to draw from her civil rights experience and her background that crosses “so many different lines and intersects with different cultures,” Addis said.

Addis said Cantrell chose to speak because “she’s a supporter of community policing and a supporter of building bridges between the police and community.”

“It’s important that we can come together and work together,” Addis said. “(Police and members of the community) don’t have to have an adversarial relationship. She can bring that.”

San Luis Obispo police have formulated a security plan, scheduled rolling street closures and held several conversations with event organizers to ensure safety.

Organizers say a goal of the event is to build networks and community partnerships. Harris said she felt “deeply depressed after the election” and decided to take action.

“This is a way to galvanize the community around civil rights and human rights,” Harris said. “Women’s rights are human rights. We need to be involved and active.”

Already, people have begun donating feminine hygiene products to the Prado Day Center, which is a need for the facility that provides services to the homeless, said Andrea Chmelik, an event organizer.

“This is one of the ways people are coming together to take action,” Chmelik said.

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