Perfect weather welcomes a happy band of Hemet demonstrators
■ By Dennis Fletcher / Contributed
San Jacinto Valley women and men didn’t have to go to Riverside to demonstrate their strength and solidarity with popular women’s issues. They had their own celebration right here at Gibbel Park on Florida Avenue in Hemet on Jan. 19, the 29th day of the government shutdown.
An estimated 60 happy, cheering, chanting souls gathered at Gibbel Park to exchange hugs and listen to local speakers at the third annual Women’s March and second held in the valley. They then marched down Kirby Street to Florida Avenue where they stood across from Denny’s Restaurant and waved their signs to the honks and cheers of passing cars. The total event lasted two and a half hours, offering a joyous occasion for the crowed to voice their views under blue skies and wave their signs under near-perfect weather framed by snow-capped mountains following the week of drenching rain.
The Women’s March movement started in the U.S. but has become a global drive to support women’s rights, fight for an end to the gender pay gap, and hopes to bring awareness of violence against women and demand action to end it.
Monica Cary, the march’s organizer this year, announced, “Women, men and children marching here today are advocating for equal pay for women, who often today do the same work as men for less money. They also march to halt violence against women, as well as for racial justice, immigrant rights, and LGBT rights. It is important to remember that everyday, 136 women die from domestic violence around the world.”
Maryanne Ennis, California Assembly Delegate to the 42nd District, represents Hemet in Sacramento. She spoke to the gathering about domestic violence against women that she personally experienced. It was a very emotional experience for all present. Maryanne told the audience, “Women need to respect themselves to gain the strength to either rectify the situation they are in, or to remove themselves from it. Women who are abused physically or verbally need to reach out to resources – family and friends. In Riverside County, if you dial 211, you can access resources in your local area. In my own case, I was able to change my situation through knowledge, to be able to respect myself, so I could show other people how to treat me.”
Jennaya Dunlap, Deportation Defense Coordinator for the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice talked about another issue on the Women’s March agenda: “Immigration is not just a federal issue but rather one that impacts our friends, neighbors, and communities locally. Here in the Inland Empire, immigration enforcement agents use egregious tactics to target immigrant families in our community on a daily basis.”
First Women’s March
The many Women’s Marches scheduled throughout the U.S. this year sprang from the largest single-day protest in U.S. history in January 2017. Besides the half-million at the Washington, D.C. march, over 450,000 marched in Los Angeles, 4,000 in Riverside, as well as another 600 other cities across the nation. In addition to the 4.2 million marchers in the U.S., over 200 international marches with over 300,000 supporters demonstrated around the world for women’s rights.
Second Women’s March
The second Women’s March was a global protest that occurred on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, on the anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March, and just after the shutdown of the federal government. It was headquartered in New York City, where over 200,000 marchers gathered in Central Park. Some 600,000 showed up in Los Angeles and 300,000 in Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Austin and hundreds of other cities and towns across the U.S. and the world.
The federal government shutdown that started Saturday morning of the second march did not discourage demonstrators from marching. One of the sore issues leading to the shutdown—disagreement over extending legal status to immigrants brought into the country illegally as children (DACA) —became a motivating issue for organizers.
The energy for the marches in 2018 centered on the #METOO movement that focused on sexual harassment, as well as on threats to health care, both major issues with women then and now. These issues gave female political candidates greater traction. Women began campaigning for public offices at record levels—a trend that has continued to intensify and is credited with the increased number of victories of the Democratic Party in recent elections of 2018 … but not quite the Blue Wave that would have given them primacy of the U.S. Senate.
The Women’s March has always been controversial. The first one was criticized for focusing on the concerns of white women and for excluding anti-abortion groups from its list of partners. Nobody really disputes these criticisms today. The Women’s March has always worked better when it included everyone that espoused its goals.
Later, a group of activists split from the Women’s March organization to focus more attention on recruiting women in red states, and the movement began to deepen its political goals, a move that inevitably cost them support from women on the right. The current Women’s March organization has been rocked with criticism of some of its leaders for their support of black-rights firebrand Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Jewish messages.
Fortunately, none of those problems was evident at Hemet’s Women’s March, which was more demonstration than march at Gibbel Park. In fact, several there asked me not to politicize this story. Their hearts seemed open to anyone who would attend. A onlookers few expressed opposition to some messages present, but said that communicating with their U.S. senator would be a better avenue for expressing their views.
In the beginning
Perhaps one of the greatest of all women’s marches occurred in 1913 … the Woman Suffrage Procession. It was the first march by suffragists in Washington, D.C. Thousands marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 15, 1913, just one day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. It was a time when women lacked the vote or even a friend in the White House. The group’s program stated, “March in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.” Marching at the front was organizer and famous suffragist, Alice Paul. Leading women’s rights lawyer, Inez Milholland proudly rode a white horse down Pennsylvania Avenue followed by 24 floats, nine marching bands, and famous icons including Helen Keller.
The women were ridiculed by many, jeered and even manhandled by the police during their protest march. This led to congressional hearings and a backlash of public support that came from the ensuing press coverage.
American women finally won the vote seven years later when Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on June 4, 1919, and then ratified it on Aug. 18, 1920. This finally granted women the right to vote and ended almost a century of turbulent protests that had begun in London with suffragettes like battling Emily Wilding Davison who died under the hooves of King George V’s horse, and spread to the United States, resulting in the franchise granted to American women just 98 years ago.
A famous editorial in The Guardian by Katie Russell, working in the U.K.’s Rape Crisis movement, ended: “Above all, what our foremothers wanted for us was the right to speak for ourselves. So let’s go to the ballot box, make our mark, and keep on striving.”
Where is the women’s movement heading? It’s anybody’s guess. But staying in touch with Cary, Ennis, and immigrant rights advocate Jennaya Dunlap, and monitoring relevant social media sites, like www.womensmarch.com could be a start.
For the record, 12-acre Gibbel Park is located at 2500 W. Florida Ave. It is open 6 a.m. to dusk every day except Tuesdays, when it is closed for maintenance.