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Oakland Women’s March: “Pussy” power heads for the ballot box

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If it can be said that strength is gained through adversity, than the past year under Trump has been like super food for women. And that may be his most remarkable, yet unintentional, accomplishment yet.

Anger is a powerful motivator and it was that anger coupled with a growing sense of support that pulled about a million people out of their homes for the second annual Women’s March events across the country, with half a million in Los Angeles alone. Oakland itself drew a crowd of between 40,000 and 50,000, according to police officers, turning the city very, very pink.

Oakland Women’s March, Lake Merritt, 2018. Photo by Nik Wojcik.

All of the marches carried a coordinated message: turn the outrage into power at the ballot box.

California State Controller Betty Yee asked the tens of thousands who were gathered at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater, “Who’s fired up and ready to run for office?” She and other organizers gave impassioned speeches and sang songs to rile up the group before they took to the streets. “We are not up for grabs,” Yee said. “Grab them by the midterms!”  

Women are being encouraged to turn out the vote in November, but for the first time in history, women are showing up on the ballots themselves in record numbers. That seemed to be the focus for many at Saturday’s march, which coincided with Trump’s first inaugural anniversary.

One man, who chose to only be identified by first name, thinks just “any woman” could do a better job than the men in politics today. “I think women in general are better human beings, that’s my general sentiment,” Sandy said. The Scottish immigrant thinks Kamala Harris is “fabulous as well.”

“I think she’d make a great president. I don’t know if she’s going to run, but…she would have my vote.”

The massive group walked slowly from Lake Merritt to Oscar Grant Plaza (Frank H. Ogawa Plaza) in front of City Hall. Along the way were sidewalk musicians, the occasional artist, spontaneous street dance parties and, of course, a shit-ton of signs, pussy hats and chanting. “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!”

Elsa Stevens, a self-proclaimed “proud shitholian American”, came out to the march as an active member of both Richmond Progressive Alliance and Democratic Socialists of America. Her agenda was to spread the word about two local female candidates: Jovanka Beckles for Richmond mayor and Gayle McLaughlin for California lieutenant governor. Stevens believes they’re right for the jobs because they are free from corporate funding, among other qualities she appreciates in both candidates.

“She (Beckles) doesn’t come off as a breast-beating politician,” Stevens said. “She’s like the favorite aunt that you want to dye Easter eggs with. She’s so sweet, but very effective – she does her homework.”

Elsa “proud shitholian American” Stevens Oakland Women’s March, 2018. Photo by Nik Wojcik.

Other people, like Cianna Walker, found the supportive energy to be the most appealing part of the day. She came with her husband, friends and other family “to support other women and be part of a diverse community who’s here to fight back.” As a black woman, she discussed what has in the past been the elephant in the room during femalecentric activism, and what she sees is a shift away from the historic divisiveness.

“I think it’s started a conversation that wasn’t happening before this,” Walker said. “Despite the fact that it’s causing a lot of pain and trauma for folks going through this, it’s also clear that it’s bringing a lot of people together.”

That observation was on point for the eclectic crowd in Oakland. Coming off the heels of the growing #MeToo movement and a government showdown over DACA and border security, they shouted and cheered (and danced) for equality in gender and race, for immigrant protection and for man and womankind in general. One sign held by a young girl pretty much summed up the overall opinion of the marchers. It simply read, “My country is better than this.”

If Saturday’s turnout is any indication of what’s to come, November could indeed reshape the narrative in this country with more women in power potentially leading the way to more a more tolerant and less hawkish United States. As Yee said, “Our voice that no one can take away, that is our vote.”

Bonus: women’s penchant for random dance-offs could go pretty far in lightening the political mood. Most of us can probably agree that a little less destruction and a little more pop and lock would be a welcome change. So women, let’s get it done.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.