Anger became activism. Dismay became determination. One year after the historic Women's March of 2017, the movement that started as a rebuke of President Trump's policies is showing no signs of losing steam. Nearly 5 million people worldwide — an estimated 750,000 of them here in Los Angeles — marched with a common message of solidarity. People from every walk of life came together for the protection of women's rights, human rights and civil rights. And they're getting ready to do it again.
The reasons for attending the L.A. march varied as much as the diverse people who attended. As the one-year anniversary of this march draws near, the Women's March L.A. Foundation has organized the second march on Saturday, Jan. 20. I spoke with some previous attendees about why they are marching again this year, what may have changed from the 2017 march, and their hopes for the coming year.
Felicitas Nuñez, a 70-year-old mother of four and grandmother of seven, marched for the first time ever in Los Angeles last year. “I am marching for fairness. I am marching for inclusiveness,” she says. “Women have been treated as second-rate citizens for too long and it's time to level the field: equal pay for equal work. Through my working years I knew I would have to work harder than most to prove myself. Always hoping to remove the stereotype label placed on me for being a Latina woman — that makes me angry and sad at the same time.”
As for what changes she has seen in the last year, she was less than optimistic. “In the last year, the passion against these inequalities has increased like steam in a pressure cooker,” she laments. “I think it's because of the total disregard of our current leaders. I don't know if this will ever change, but marching lets my voice of protest and resistance be heard.”
She does, however, have hope for the future. “They are more dreams than hopes,” she says. “I think the hatred being spread from the top is only making things worse. So I hope, with all my being, that we can get someone in that position who turns this disaster runaway train around.”
Michelle Honis, a 39-year-old single African-American woman who works as a budget analyst for the city of Azusa, says: “This year I'm marching because not enough progress has been made. I think in the last year we women have found our voice with the women's march, the #metoo campaign gaining momentum and openly naming men who are/were engaged in sexual harassment. The last year was a great conversation opener, but I think we need to keep taking action until there is true equality and women's voices are heard.”
She continues, “Last year a few of my female friends didn't understand why I was marching. I tried to explain it but they didn't want to listen. In the last year I have realized that they are part of the reason that I'm marching. I'm marching so that all women will have a voice, even the ones who don't see the value of the Women's March. At some point, their voices or the voices of their daughters will need to be heard. So I will march to ensure it happens when needed. I don't want to live in a 'free country' where women are only free to do what men allow us to do.”
Ana Gonzalez, a single mother of two from Santa Ana and a community organizer for Planned Parenthood, says, “I march because women's rights are human rights. We are not second-class, we are equal! Our pay is far less for more work, and if we are to advance in our careers we have to face and endure a culture of harassment.”
As for why it is important that she continue to march, Gonzalez says, “Women are still second-class citizens, and as a mother, I will be marching and taking action to change this for my daughter and generations to come.” Her hopes for the coming year are high: “I hope to see more women in leadership positions. I hope to see people get involved in their local communities and learn about issues that are important to them. I hope to see people take action and protect those issues through advocacy and the power of their vote. More importantly, I want to see change happen with women at the helm.”
Maricela Mercado marched last year with her husband, Antonio, and their 13-year-old son. “Economic justice, climate change, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights. We marched last year so that our voices would be heard around the world,” she says. “It was important to so many of us to show the world that when enough women demand change, nothing stands in our way.”
Joseph Harvey, a 20-year-old college student from Pomona, marched with and was raised by a single mom. On why he attended last year's march and will do so again this year, he says, “I think it's bullshit that we still live in this archaic nation where women are taken advantage of. They shouldn't have to withstand any form of mistreatment, abuse or inequality. I still believe in the initiative of last year's march and I knew from the beginning that things weren't going to be solved right afterward. It's still a fight for women's voices to be heard and to no longer be suppressed by emotionally challenged men. Most importantly, I march for all the influential women in my life who've both raised and guided me to be the young man that I am today.”
Harvey remains optimistic about the year ahead. “My hope for the coming year is that the fight continues … and the initiative doesn't die until serious changes are made.”
I also took part in last year's Women's March. To say that I felt compelled to attend is an understatement. As a woman, as a Mexican and as the daughter of immigrants, I feel that the entire election year had been one hurled insult after another. I woke up the morning after the Nov. 8, 2016, election feeling I didn't know where my country had gone, and I was re-evaluating everything I had taken for granted. I attended the march last year because I wanted my voice heard, yes, but also to know that I wasn't alone. L.A. came through to the tune of 750,000. It was chaotic, it was overwhelming and it was beautiful.
Since the march, our fears have turned us fierce. We have become advocates. We have found our voice and are speaking our truth. We have sparked the #metoo and #timesup movements. We are following congressional races in states other than our own, calling our congressmen and -women, signing up to run for office in record numbers. We are fighting to protect our Dreamers, our LGBT brothers and sisters and our environment. This year's Women's March, I believe, sends a message — a message that the movement has only just begun.
One recurring question I have kept asking myself this past year is, if women are 51 percent of the nation's population, why are we not 51 percent of the House or the Senate? How can we be fairly represented … if we are not fairly represented? The Women's March 2018 organizers are urging us to use our vote in the year ahead. With many congressional seats up for election this year, the Women's March organizers have made it a focal point of their movement to register voters and encourage them to use their influence to “build government that reflects their ideals.”
Whatever the year ahead may hold, I do know this: A spark was ignited last year that crossed every socioeconomic and political line in our country. As diverse a city as Los Angeles is, the flame from this spark will continue to shine for a very long time to come.
Angelica Vargas is a Latinx mother of three and daughter of immigrants. She is living her life so her parents know their journey was worth the sacrifice. She's a self-described “proud Air Force mom and resistor.”