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Emiliana Guereca, left, and Deena Katz are co-executive directors of the Women’s March L.A. Foundation. This year's event will target the November midterm elections.
Emiliana Guereca, left, and Deena Katz are co-executive directors of the Women’s March L.A. Foundation. This year's event will target the November midterm elections.
T. Chick McClure

Behind the Scenes With the Organizers of This Year's Women's March

Thousands of women are planning to descend on Pershing Square downtown on Saturday, Jan. 20, for round two of the biggest movement in America right now.

The Women's March Los Angeles starts at 9 a.m., and it's expected, like last year, to be the largest women's march in the nation.

"If we want democracy, we have to show up," says Emiliana Guereca, founder and co-executive director of the Women's March L.A. Foundation.

"Hear Our Voice" was last year's front-line rallying cry, as more than 750,000 people — some say closer to 1.2 million — rallied and hit the streets. And since that march, women's voices have been heard — loud and clear. What was once a whisper network has turned into a boom mic.

The #metoo hashtag and social awareness drive have created a strong seismic shift. In addition, the subsequent Time's Up Legal Defense Fund campaign has raised more than $16 million, and made a huge splash at the 75th Golden Globe Awards earlier this month.

At their core, the Women's March, online movement and legal defense fund are about seeking justice in the face of a long list of injustices: rape, violence, sexual harassment, assault, abuse, groping, coercing, unwanted propositioning, inappropriate touching, lewd comments and more.

In almost biblical terms, organizers and participants aim to revive the spirit of the feminine, and to revive the hearts of the crushed. Working from a place of pain, they're turning it into a healing force, harnessing energy that has yet to be released.

Plenty of high-profile women (and men) plan to do just that at this year's "Hear Our Vote" march. This year's lineup of activists and celebrities includes Scarlett Johansson, Chloe Bennet, Rowan Blanchard, Yvette Nicole Brown, Sophia Bush, Laverne Cox, Lea DeLaria, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Tony Goldwyn, Paris Jackson, Megan Mullally, Olivia Munn, Nicole Richie, Catt Sadler, Adam Scott, Olivia Wilde, Larry Wilmore and Alfre Woodard.

Performances are planned by Idina Menzel, Andra Day, Rachel Platten and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles with Melissa Etheridge. Soul/R&B singer Maxwell is flying in from New York, reportedly on his own dime, to support the cause.

Chi-town Mexicana

Emiliana Guereca, founder of the L.A. march, is a one-woman cavalry. Armored thick, Teflon tough, with the raw memories of Chicago-style segregation.

"I grew up segregated," says Guereca, who was raised on the South Side of Chicago. "Whites, blacks, Latinos — all in separate neighborhoods."

After watching the 2016 presidential election, Guereca began to fill with anxiety. A man with no regard for women's rights became president, and the possibility of mass deportations for the Mexican community and other immigrants became a real threat.

"What am I doing?" she asked herself. That became a calling, which led her back to her favorite phrase: "Show up!"

On Nov. 9, 2016, the day after the presidential election, Guereca created a 501(c)3 nonprofit, pulled a permit for the Women's March, and began promoting the event through massive emails and posting on Facebook. She then turned on her natural familial organizing and event-producing skills.

"I saw it growing — more and more people were coming out, reaching out," she says.

Guereca was the seventh child of the 13-sibling Guereca clan. Her mother, Aurelia, was a factory worker from Mazatlán in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, and her father, Onecimo, was an "a sus ordenes" gardener from the state of Durango. Guereca's parents received less than a third-grade level of education and could not speak English. She translated and filled out work applications for her parents.

Her organizing skills started at home, trying to get her 12 siblings out the door. Her drive and strong work ethic were instilled by her parents. "My dad would take me into the Chicago suburbs to mow lawns," she says.

Guereca began knocking down other obstacles: She was the first in her family to attend college, starting at Chicago's DePaul University and then transferring to UCLA.

While at UCLA, Guereca wasn't a political Bruin. She was laser-beam focused on succeeding. She takes pride in the fact that she graduated with a degree in mass media/communications. "Without any financial aid," she says with a grin.

Her beginnings were in advertising, but she progressed into becoming a successful restaurant franchise owner. She was living the American Dream — an entrepreneur with a customer service mentality, taking care of her family, including two sons.

On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, the American Dream became the American nightmare, when Mr. "Grab 'em by the pussy" was elected to the highest office of the land.

Now very much politically woke, Guereca took her 17 years of business experience and harnessed that energy into the Women's March. She got help from an army of female volunteers. including the Women's March core group of leadership: co–executive director Deena Katz, a multi–Emmy-nominated producer of Dancing With the Stars, Real Time With Bill Maher and Whose Line Is It Anyway?; Ellen Crafts, director of marketing and communications; Elaine Patel, volunteers coordinator; and Hanieh Jodat, director of partnerships.

Emiliana Guereca, left, plans the 2018 Women’s March L.A. with her core leadership team.
Emiliana Guereca, left, plans the 2018 Women’s March L.A. with her core leadership team.
T. Chick McClure

A place for Muslim women, too

Before her interview with L.A. Weekly started, Jodat covered her lactating breast with a blanket and fed her new baby son Rumi, named after the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet. Her mother still lives in Iran and has yet to see the baby because of Trump's travel ban.

Jodat was born and raised in Tehran, in a Muslim home run by her grandmother, auntie and mother. "My grandmother and auntie raised me, but my mom played and plays a super significant role in my life," she says. She does not wear the Islamic hijab, the traditional Muslim headdress that has been identified in U.S.military literature as "passive terrorism."

Jodat is all about standing up, speaking out and smashing stereotypes. A fund­raiser for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Los Angeles and Perth, Australia, she served as a board member of the U.N. Association for Southern California in 2015.

The moment that most touched Jodat at last year's march was getting onstage, looking out into the sea of humanity and catching a glimpse of the poster featuring Bangladeshi-American Munira Ahmed wearing an American stars-and-stripes hijab (it was created by Shepard Fairey from Ridwan Adhami's photograph).

"I knew then I had a platform for Iranian and Muslim women, for those in the minority," she says.

Jodat, who did not previously have a lot of experience organizing people, is now director of partnerships, connecting and collaborating with hundreds of other women. To date, Women's March L.A. is partnering with more than 200 grassroots and community organizations, including Asian Pacific American Labor, Muslims for Progressive Justice, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, Chicana Chingonas, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Code Pink, Dreamers United, GetLit, Guatamaltecos Para Justicia, Her Time Now, Iranian Persian Americans, Keep a Breast, Korean American Coalition, Latinas for Reproductive Justice, League of Women Voters, LGBT+ Center L.A., L.A. Federation of Labor, the Martin Luther King Coalition of Southern California, Maternal Mental Health Now, Mi Familia Vota, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, MoveOn.org, Natural Resources Defense Counci, OXFAM, Planned Parenthood L.A., Rock the Vote, Salvadorians Para DACA!, Tongva Nation, Unite Here Local 11 and Viva la Mujer!.

Get out the vote

In preparation for Saturday's big march, organizers held a pair of pop-up events to discuss issues, celebrate the publication of a Women's March coffee table book and create signs for the upcoming rally.

At the Jan. 13 pop-up gathering at Rita House Coworking in Fairfax, one woman crafted a sign that read, "Grab 'em by the Midterms."

Obviously, the November midterm elections are a target and goal for Women's Marchers across the land. Indeed, "First we march, then we vote" has become a popular chant among the L.A. participants this year.

"The Women's March wants women to know that their vote counts," Guereca says. "We're providing the tools to get people to the polls through voter registration and education."

At Saturday's march, attendees will have a chance to register to vote at various stations. And when November rolls around, who knows? Maybe the many female candidates — and their supporters — galvanized by the election of Trump will have their day.

Richard Chang contributed to this story.

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