Hundreds of colorful signs bounced in the air in front of the Old Riverside Courthouse Jan. 20, where approximately 3,000 women, men and children shouted, “This is what Democracy looks like,” during the Inland Empire Women’s March.
The people who attended the march in downtown Riverside celebrated the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March, in which millions of people gathered in cities across America to stand for women’s rights, equality and to protest President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. It was one of the largest and most peaceful single-day protests in U.S. history.
Although this year’s march espoused the same ideas and values of last year’s event, Jenn Carson, social media coordinator for the Inland Empire Women’s March and founder of the non-profit Pantsuit Nation – Inland Empire chapter, said this year’s march was more inclusive to support the rights of women, immigrants, refugees, the LGBTQ community and people of color.
Carson said the major difference was this year’s theme, “Hear Our Vote,” which organizers used to get more people to the polls in November’s midterm elections.
“Last year was a moment and this year we’re a movement,” Carson said. “This year was very much about mobilization. People are really committed to marching to the polls. We have these unified, progressive values and now we’re trying to elect people who have those (same) values.”
Anna Gonzalez, San Bernardino resident and representative for the San Bernardino County Young Democrats, said marching in a peaceful protest and voting was putting the people in power.
“We will send a message to the politicians saying, ‘We’re here, we’re not going anywhere and we’re going to hold you accountable,’” Gonzalez said. “There are seeds that older generations have left for us. We are finally rising up and blooming and making our voices heard.”
Gonzalez and others were lined up on the march’s route to encourage people to register to vote in their counties.
Other people attended the march with hope to make the future better for the next generation, such as Riverside resident Heather Ibarra, who attended the Women’s March for the second year in a row with her 10-year-old daughter Chloe.
“Women are empowering people and my daughter could be a future CEO,” Ibarra said. “She has it in her and I don’t want to discourage that. I have to keep pushing her.”
Jean Sacken, Murrieta resident, said she will be voting for women in the midterm elections.
“Women are at least 50 percent of the population and we’re underrepresented so it’s time. It’s past time,” said Sacken, who marched with a sign bearing the names of her four granddaughters. “I am here for my granddaughters so they won’t have to do this in the future.”
Although the Inland Empire march was reportedly smaller than others around the country, Nicole Escoto, California Baptist University alumna, said it offered a more intimate, community-based feel.
“It was special we went to Riverside. We easily could have gone to Los Angeles but there’s something special about doing something locally,” Escoto said. “For me, it was uplifting to see there’s a lot of people in the community who support women, immigrants, LBGT people, refugees and people of color.”
For Beka Leininger, senior visual arts major, actively participating in a march or protest offers the sense of being a part of something larger than herself.
“Being there fuels you. It’s one thing to agree with a post or article but it’s another thing to actually go somewhere and sacrifice your time for it,” Leininger said. “You’re part of something and around all these people who are different from you but you all care about this. It shows you that you’re not alone.”
In this smaller setting, Carson said she saw people actively interacting and building relationships with one another.
“Community is what is so important about being there and being present,” Carson said. “(At the march) there was such a sense of unity. That means a lot to people because we are in an incredibly fractured country right now, and it has left many people feeling isolated.”
Escoto said she felt the march was significant for immigrants or people who are undocumented.
“The march was representing people who don’t have a voice or that their identity doesn’t matter,” Escoto said. “With everything going on today, I could see how someone who was undocumented wouldn’t feel welcome. But then we heard chants today that said, ‘Immigrants are welcome here’ and ‘Refugees are welcome here’ and that’s beautiful. That’s what America is about.”
Carson said the Women’s March saw itself as a long-term, sustainable force for change and that the group had already started planning the January 2019 march.