Nearly one year after thousands of people took to the street in San Luis Obispo for the inaugural Women’s March, a huge crowd turned out once again on Saturday to fill Mission Plaza for the “Hear Our Vote: Voices of Resistance Rally.”
The rally marked an effort by Women’s March San Luis Obispo to keep momentum going for progressive causes going into the 2018 mid-term election year. Organizers said the group opted for a rally rather than a march in order to provide a platform for underserved voices.
“We decided we should not try to recreate something we did last year,” said event co-organizer Andrea Chmelik. “We decided to highlight the local voices of resistance.”
One of those voices was Kathleen Marshall, a Samala Chumash woman who delivered the opening ceremony and song.
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Marshall said she was pleased that organizers sought to include a Native American voice in the conversation, calling it “a step forward” for the greater cause of social justice. She said progressive protesters could learn from her people’s lived experience.
“My ancestors have been fighting for hundreds of years,” Marshall said. “We can’t stop fighting.”
Event co-organizer Dawn Addis, speaking to the crowd, echoed that sentiment, saying it is important “to uplift and amplify the voice of those who have been particularly attacked this year.”
Those voices included Pamela Parker, who works at Cal Poly and advocates for reproductive rights; Patricia Gordon, who called for reform of a justice system she said unfairly targets people of color; and keynote speaker Elmy Bernejo, who was an Obama appointee to the U.S. Department of Labor for more than seven years and who before that served as chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women at the request of former governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bernejo, who lives in San Francisco, was in Washington, D.C., in January 2017 for Obama’s last day in office and President Donald Trump’s first day in office. She had the chance to hear Obama give his final speech and attended a farewell event for him at Andrews Air Force Base. The next day, she took part in the inaugural Women’s March in D.C., which drew more than 500,000 protesters.
Bernejo voiced frustration with the current administration’s handling of labor issues.
“It’s very sad. And the people who are going to suffer the most are working people,” she said, adding that many of those people voted for Trump.
Bernejo said she is optimistic that 2018 will see positive change in the nation’s government, “but with optimism comes a lot of hard work.”
She said it’s not enough to advocate for progressive causes on social media, but that the work requires a “shoeleather” effort to get out and talk to people.
Attendees were enthusiastic throughout the afternoon’s proceedings, clapping and cheering in response to the speakers. They filled the plaza from one end to the other with some sitting on the Mission wall for a view of the stage.
Christine Williams of Pismo Beach praised the pleasant weather for the event.
“A government shutdown, but no rain,” she said.
Nearby, Kathy Lofollette, also of Pismo Beach, said Saturday’s turnout, both in San Luis Obispo and in rallies worldwide, is a sign “we’re not happy.”
“It’s just the beginning for women,” she said.