Thousands of people filled Mitchell Park on Saturday morning, later taking to the streets of downtown San Luis Obispo in support of women, racial and religious minorities, immigrants and the LGBTQ community.
Organizers and city officials estimated that 5,000 people congregated and marched along a 1-mile loop through Pismo, Osos and Buchon streets, along with sections of Garden, Morro and Chorro streets for the 2019 Women’s March SLO.
Streets were closed along the route, and law enforcement patrolled areas around the march. San Luis Obispo police Chief Deanna Cantrell made a brief appearance, speaking in support of the crowd.
Congressman Salud Carbajal was also in attendance, and led the march of men, women and children as it left the park. Many carried signs, some referencing the #MeToo movement, abortion rights, Planned Parenthood, President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall and the government shutdown, among others.
The theme of the march was “Truth to Power,” referring to the record-breaking year for women and minorities running for office, and speaking out against those who commit sexual violence.
“We’ve seen in the past year, quite specifically, that when women and people speak up, that change can follow,” organizer Andrea Chmelik said. “Just because people aren’t talking about something, doesn’t mean it is not happening. Which we’ve seen in the ‘Why I Didn’t Report (movement).’
“This year, it was extremely important to highlight the people who have the courage to speak their truth, regardless of consequences, and allow more people to come and speak their truth.”
Nicole Brydson, founder of Misfit Media, delivered the keynote speech, which urged people to be mindful of the media and organizations that they give their time and money to.
“The thing is, we are all human. We tend to engage more deeply with content that generates negative feelings,” Brydson said. “And while crime nationally is down, programming about it is prolific because negative, fear-based content deeply engages any anger we are holding inside of ourselves.”
Brydson encouraged citizen journalism as way to combat punditry and influence media.
“When we pay attention to what is important, we invest in our community,” Brydson said.
Rita Casaverde, an immigrant from Peru and a Climate Reality Project leader; Leola Dublin Macmillan, a board member of Just Communities Central Coast; and Morro Bay City Councilwoman Dawn Addis also spoke.
Casaverde cited the first Women’s March as making her feel welcome again after receiving hostile treatment locally.
“I’m really honest when I tell you that that day you saved me,” Casaverde said.
“Back in 2017, when we gathered in this same park, we knew that change was coming,” Casaverde said. “Today, 2019, we know that change is here. San Luis Obispo, you are that change. You are the light. You are the people making a difference.”
Macmillan spoke about “speaking your truth to power” and taught five steps on how to do so.
“This work is never-ending. You will find that once you speak your truth to power, you cannot stop. And that’s okay,” Macmillan said.