SLO Women’s March draws thousands downtown, calls for equality, justice

Thousands of people gathered Saturday in downtown San Luis Obispo to march in support of women, racial and religious minorities, the LGBTQ community and others who have felt threatened by President Donald Trump’s incoming administration.

Women’s March San Luis Obispo, held the day after Trump’s inauguration, was organized in solidarity with similar marches across the country and around the world. In California, marches in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and dozens of other cities drew hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to make their priorities known to the new president and congressional leaders.

In Cambria, about 100 people met at the Veterans Memorial Building for a march down Main Street toward East Village.

Marchers in San Luis Obispo gathered in Mitchell Park for a rally before walking a 1-mile loop around downtown. City officials said more than 7,000 people attended the march, and organizers estimated the total could have been as high as 10,000.

Streets were closed along the route, and law enforcement officials patrolled the area throughout the march, which was plagued by intermittent rain showers. Although most of the people gathered downtown during the march were participants, a few were seen sporting red “Make America Great Again” hats, and one video showed a man wearing a red swastika T-shirt. Even so, no violent incidents were reported, and a city news release called the event “peaceful.”

Marching for equal rights and justice

Attendees, speakers and organizers rallied around a variety of themes, some prompted by statements Trump made during his presidential campaign.

“Today we face interconnecting battles for racial, environmental, reproductive, queer and trans justice,” said Courtney Haile of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County during her speech. “Battles for health care, for respect for indigenous people and their land, for the dignity and safety of immigrants of all statuses and the protection of our religious minorities, in particular our Muslim sisters and brothers.”

Erica Flores Baltodano, a civil rights activist and San Luis Obispo attorney, delivered the keynote speech, addressing the need to fight for equality for all individuals.

“Let this be the beginning of one loud, persistent, collective, diverse and justice-seeking roar of strength and action that reverberates far and wide,” she said.

Men, women and children of all ages marched, many carrying signs referencing the infamous video released in October in which Trump said he could “grab (women) by the p**sy” because of his celebrity status or referencing the moment when he called Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during a debate.

Becky Farhar of San Luis Obispo carried a sign that read “The rights of this p**sy are not up for grabs.” She said she came to the march to stand up for “all of everyone’s rights.”

“We are not going backward,” she said.

Tony Salome and his wife, Randon Pool, of Los Osos wore pink felt “p**syhats” that Pool had made. The hats, which are meant to look like cat ears, were a staple at many women’s marches.

“You have a woman in your life ...” Salome said. “You might disagree with our politics, but that’s a common thread that goes through everything.”

Women’s issues — including abortion rights, health care and sexual violence — also made appearances on signs and in speeches, as did immigration and support for Muslims, people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Some signs bore messages supporting the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, a law and an organization Republican leaders criticize.

Dona Wruck of San Luis Obispo, who carried a sign that read “I have a brain and a uterus and I use both,” said “just being a woman” inspired her to come to the march.

June Stanley, also of San Luis Obispo, called the marches “encouraging.”

“I think we’ve been allowed to be complacent for years, and a little apathetic,” she said.

Beyond the march

Organizers Jen Ford, Andrea Chmelik and Dawn Addis said they were “astonished” by the high turnout.

“There’s no way to ignore us,” Addis said.

The women said they hoped marchers would walk away with a better knowledge of how they could make their voices heard and contribute to their communities. They said they don’t have anything else planned yet but intend to keep the march’s social media accounts active so people could continue to connect after the event.

“I think that this was a great turnout and a great march, but it’s not over today,” Chmelik said. “This isn’t only about four years or eight years. It’s a lifetime effort that we all have to make every day.”

Ford added, “This is a catalyst for men and women to become activists in our local community.”

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

Cambrian editor Stephen Provost contributed to this story.

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