A lot can change in a year — just ask the Women’s March San Luis Obispo organizers.
When the five women developed a local version of the event — one of many marches held around the country on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated — they figured it would be a one-off venture.
“It was the next day, and it was like, I mean, we can’t just quit now,” said Andrea Chmelik, one of the co-organizers, at a recent gathering. “So what’s next?”
Over the course of 2017, Chmelik, Dawn Addis, Jen Ford, Pat Harris and Terry Parry parlayed the march into an organization dedicated to progressive causes, including immigrant rights, religious tolerance and women’s empowerment, in addition to many others.
The group has helped host vigils for refugees and victims of gun violence, forums on immigration and religious freedom, town halls for local politicians and a phone bank for Puerto Rican hurricane victims, among other efforts.
“We have gone from a moment to a movement,” Addis said.
The women said they didn’t expect the march would be so big — an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 marchers walked the streets of downtown San Luis Obispo that rainy winter day — or that they would continue their efforts moving forward.
“We saw a huge surge in the beginning,” Ford said. “During the march, after the march, but continued activism by those who have said, ‘I’ve never been involved in activism in any shape or form.’ And now, some of them are leading groups, some of them are just highly involved.”
The organizers said developing the Women’s March movement over the course of the year empowered them, helped them form community connections and made them local leaders.
“I don’t think I would’ve made it through the year if I hadn’t been part of it,” Harris said. “It would’ve been even harder.”
Addis said she also thinks events like the Women’s March nationwide helped create an environment in which the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse could take root.
“It’s obviously not the first time women have spoken out publicly around sexual abuse and sexual violence and sexual harassment,” she said. “But all of a sudden, people are listening.”
Moving forward, the organizers already have multiple events planned, including a Hear Our Vote rally in Mission Plaza on Jan. 20, which will feature speakers and musical performances from the “voices of resistance.”
The group’s primary focus this year will be driving voter turnout for local November elections.
“We’re given something almost on a daily basis to focus on and to use as our motivation to continue to plan constantly,” Ford said. “... I think there’s always going to be something to fight for.”
If you go
What: Hear Our Vote: Voices of Resistance Rally
When: Saturday, Jan. 20, from noon to 4 p.m.:
Where: Mission Plaza, San Luis Obispo
To RSVP: The Women’s March San Luis Obispo organizers encourage attendees to register, as they’d like to know how many people plan to show up. If you plan to attend, visit the group’s Eventbrite.com page to sign up.
To donate: The Women’s March organizers are raising money to fund the event. A portion of the leftover money will go to Anna’s Home, a supportive housing program for women and their children. To donate, visit the group’s Flipcause.com fundraising page.
For more information: To learn more about upcoming Women’s March events, visit the group’s Facebook page at facebook.com/WomensMarchSLO.