Drums banged, horns blared, and a crowd of a thousand or so activists of all stripes cheered, sang and chanted its way down Mooney Boulevard as Tulare County turned out for the 2018 Women’s March.
Underneath the festive atmosphere, however, was a more serious mood. Those gathered–as their colorful signs and placards revealed–were clearly there to voice their displeasure at the current political climate. Yet the day was party-like, and the sense of unity palpable.
‘A Lot of Fun’
“It is a lot of fun, but the most important thing is seeing all the other organizations that are fighting for their cause,” said attendee Maria Magaña of Visalia, who was visiting information booths at the College of the Sequoias, where the march was based. “There’s one for pesticides, and it’s not just effecting the farm workers, but the food and the environment. Isn’t that great?”
What brought Magaña to the march, however, was her desire to see her sex better represented in the halls of power.
“I’m a feminist, supporting all the women’s causes, social, health, education,” she said. “Without self-determination, we won’t accomplish anything.”
The first Women’s March, held days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration and weeks after the revelation of his comments about sexually assaulting women, was a direct reaction to the Republican president and his policies, and to those who support them.
Sarah Hutchinson–policy director for ACT for Women and Girls, the Visalia-based, nonpartisan activist group that organized the march–reiterated Magaña’s desire to see women continue to press for more power in the political arena.
“We know folks out here are partisan, and we’re just supporting (the idea) women lead the conversation about women, because we know that often times conversations around women’s health or women’s economic security, equity, whatever it is–women’s autonomy–are often dictated by men’s voices,” Hutchinson said. “ACT for Women and Girls and a few other organizations came together to make sure the Women’s March was organized here, because last year was really amazing.”
Cosponsors for the event included LUPAC, PUSH, Progressives United for Social Justice and Human Rights, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the League of Women Voters of Tulare County, South Valley Civics, and the Three Rivers Action Group.
For Jonna Niblack Rasner, the reason to attend the rally was much more personal and immediate: the sustained GOP attempt to remove the Affordable Care Act.
Rasner’s daughter suffers a neurological disorder that will require never-ending treatment, and her insurance has already played out. An adequate social support network is the only thing standing between the child and an endless struggle to meet her medical needs.
“She has a condition called Chiari malformation, and she will continue to need care for the rest of her life,” Rasner said. “My daughter has reached the lifetime cap on her insurance, and if we don’t keep the laws in place that protect her and her rights to health care, then we won’t have insurance for her.”
Rasner wasn’t content to merely turn out for the rally. She contacted ACT, volunteered to help organize the march, and ended up in charge of the day’s slate of speakers.
“I just kind of went to a meeting and asked how I could help,” she said. “It’s important to me.”
Acting as the umbrella group for events like the Woman’s March is a small part of the work ACT does.
The group began in the early 2000s as a forum for discussing issues important to women in Tulare County, and has since moved onto advocacy, as well as education and policy formation.
“It’s to build leaders,” said Hutchinson, ACT’s policy director. “It’s to identify what barriers impact their (women and girls’) lives and how we can create change on the local and state level. That’s where our campaigns come through.”
ACT offers ongoing leadership classes for girls 13 to 24, and also hosts local candidate forums, cosponsors legislation in Sacramento, and acts as an advocate for women’s education.
ACT’s main point of contact is its website, actforwomenandgirls.org. The group can be reached by phone at (559) 738-8037, and its office is located at 1900 N. Dinuba Boulevard in Visalia.