'I wish the conversation would have continued'
A year after an estimated 20,000 people marched to the California State Capitol as part of a national effort to advocate for women’s rights, organizers and local leaders say they feel a new wave of energy after recent efforts to address sexual harassment in workplaces across the country.
Those involved in planning this year’s Sacramento Women’s March on Saturday say they feel revitalized by the #MeToo movement. The social media campaign was popularized by Hollywood stars following allegations by dozens of women against film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault. The movement has since spread to other industries, and aims to expose the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexism against women in the workplace.
At the California State Capitol, nearly 150 female legislators, lobbyists and others involved with state politics started their own publicity campaign when they drafted a letter last October addressing what they called the pervasive sexual harassment in California politics made worse by a male-dominated power structure.
“In every sector, women have been facing this throughout history,” said Annie Adams, a co-chair for the Sacramento Women’s March. “I think it’s been a watershed moment.”
Adama Iwu, the Sacramento lobbyist who led the We Said Enough movement at the California Capitol, will be one of the keynote speakers for this year’s Sacramento event, along with colleagues Alicia Lewis and Samantha Corbin.
Iwu was one of multiple women featured on the cover of Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2017, which highlighted the stories of women who refused to stay silent about sexual harassment.
“For a woman, the cost of having a job that feeds your family or that you’re passionate about, the price of that shouldn’t be your dignity, ever,” Iwu said. “That’s why we’re marching, we want to make things different for us.”
The first Women’s March began as a planned event in Washington, D.C., slotted for the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, but was quickly picked up in hundreds of cities across the globe, drawing an estimated 4.9 million people on Jan. 21, 2017, according to the national Women’s March website.
Speakers at this year’s Sacramento event will also include Angelique Ashby, currently the only woman with a seat on the Sacramento City Council, and Doris Baccala Romero, the Auburn “Dreamer” who addressed Rep. Tom McClintock in a town hall meeting last year before he suggested she return to El Salvador to gain U.S. citizenship.
“I really believe the message for women this year is that in the end, we will win this fight,” Ashby said. “There is not a person or an administration who will change that outcome.”
Marchers will gather at Sacramento’s Southside Park, located on T Street between Sixth and Eighth streets, at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The march itself will kick off an hour later, with attendees heading along Fifth Street to the Capitol Mall.
Last year’s march was believed to be the largest Capitol demonstration in decades. Adams says organizers are expecting large crowds this year as well. They are encouraging attendees to take public transportation. There are several parking lots available under the W-X freeway, just south of Southside Park. Payment of $2.35, good all day, must be made with a Parkmobile phone app, which can be downloaded from the app store, city officials said.
Sacramento city officials say parking meters will be in operation Saturday and that parking enforcement officers will be ticketing illegally parked cars. Marchers can reserve a garage parking spot ahead of time online at sacpark.org, said city spokeswoman Linda Tucker.
Sacramento Regional Transit officials said they will add light rail service Saturday, and expect large crowds on trains. The transit agency counted 5,000 riders during last year’s march, spokeswoman Devra Selenis said. SacRT officials said passengers headed to the march should get off at the Eighth and O streets station.
Last year’s march, though well-attended, was criticized by some local women of color, who say the 2017 event failed to address the issues that affect their communities and did not adequately represent Sacramento-based organizations.
“I got there and really felt excited that women were coming together but also left out as a women of color,” said Tiffani Sharp, a local immigration attorney. “We felt like we were being left out or we were being asked to advance white women issues.”
Imani Mitchell, who is from Sacramento, said she responded to the main march by organizing her own Black Women’s March in Sacramento last summer. The effort eventually led to the founding of her nonprofit, Black Women United. The group’s mission is to help advance the education, protection and health of black women in the area, she said.
“We’re trying to make sure that we’re known in our community and that we are making some sort of impact,” Mitchell said. “We’re not asking to have a seat at the table, we’re bringing our own table.”
Both women said they shared their concerns with organizers planning Sacramento’s Women’s March during a listening session held earlier this month, but were left feeling like their suggestions came too late to be implemented in this year’s event. They also criticized the group’s leadership because only one of the three co-chairs lives in the Sacramento region.
“The opportunity was really missed to continue to advance community change or policy,” Mitchell said. “As a result, the woman’s march seems to be an event that continues seasonal activism.”
Desiree Rojas, the president for the Sacramento chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, said she reached out to the Sacramento Women’s March organizers prior to the 2017 event and felt like she and other local groups were shut out from participating. Rojas and those groups eventually elected to organize their own march at the Capitol’s north steps the same day as the 2017 event.
For Rojas, the biggest issue was that Sacramento’s event was not autonomous.
“The women who actually do work within their own community should be running this march,” Rojas said. “But they (the Sacramento Women’s March organizers) came and power-grabbed Sacramento.”
Adams said the event organizers plan on “building bridges as intentionally as we can” for future events. The listening session also gave organizers ideas for how to better accommodate attendees with disabilities, she added.
“We are working to build our movement and involve community organizations, the Sacramento community and the regional community,” Adams said. “In going forward we will be building a board and a bigger team.”
While Sharp won’t be attending the Women’s March in Sacramento, both Rojas and Mitchell encouraged others to attend the Sacramento march and represent themselves. Rojas said she was planning to attend.
“This is really in our community, this is really a march about unifying women,” Rojas said. “I say go out and unify.”