Women seeking equality and the men who support them gathered by the hundreds Saturday, January 19, in Visalia’s Oval Park before taking to the streets for the 2019 Women’s March.
Change is Needed
For Melissa Ledbury of Three Rivers, the reason she joined the march is the same reason women have been protesting for 50 years and more.
“Because something needs to change, a lot of things,” she said. “I watched a documentary recently about feminism in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It feels like they were fighting (for) the same things we’re fighting for now. Didn’t we already get this stuff? It’s, like, why do we still have to be here? It’s never-ending.”
Ledbury’s friend Mari Luna was more succinct in her reasoning for attending the third annual march.
“Because we’re women,” she said.
Focus on Local Issues
Erin Garner-Ford, executive director of ACT for Women and Girls, which has organized the last two marches, said the objective of the rally was to focus attention on Tulare County and the barriers women–and men–face here.
“We’re really organizing this to highlight local issues women are facing and the community is facing,” she said.
Some unrest has crept into feminism on the national level, Garner-Ford said, so the local group is keeping its focus on the South Valley and its particular set of obstacles.
“There’s been a rift in the national movement, so we’re really prioritizing local issues,” she said. “Some of those issues, they include racism, disability rights, and other issues that are impacting woman locally.”
Unity for Tulare County
While the national women’s movement may be suffering from temporary disquiet, which speakers at the march blamed on those who oppose feminist causes, the emphasis in Tulare County was on unity.
“Our communities are strongest when our identities are recognized, accepted and celebrated,” longtime local activist Graciela Martinez told those assembled before the march began. “We march in solidarity with millions of women and men, marching across the country, and those who are not able to attend who are organizing with each other to push back against policies and actions that attack our femininity.”
ACT, which hosts educational sessions for those interested in becoming directly involved at its offices and at local high schools, hopes to facilitate that unity.
“We run programming for the community, and it’s like a weekly meeting,” said Garner-Ford. “People get together and they learn all about social movements, intersectional feminism, reproductive justice.”
Committees formed of participants then plan events and participate in voter engagement.
“We’re really looking for the community to come out and get involved,” Garner-Ford said. “Voting is really important to us because we really want to shift the narrative. We really want people who are most impacted by what’s going on in our nation to be able to vote and get out there and try to make some type of change.”
For ACT, because of their nonprofit status, the attempt to get more people to vote has to be nonpartisan. Instead, they stay focused on situations causing problems for Tulare County residents now.
“Because we can’t be affiliated with a political party, we’re really focused on issues,” Garner-Ford said. “We’re really concerned about LGBTQ-plus issues, about reproductive health access issues, and so voting is a mechanism that we can (use to) make change, and we’re hoping that by people getting out to vote, that they’re going to be voting with their values.”
For Sara Marquez, a self-described “proud, disabled woman of color,” the Women’s March was an opportunity for her to shed light on the plight of the area’s disabled residents through sharing her own story. Marquez says she faces physical barriers to her movement that are the result of bad policy, and action in solidarity is a clear path to change. The north Visalia street where she and her family have lived for years is an example of the institutionalized shortcomings of our area.
“It’s still a place I cannot travel efficiently,” Marquez said. “I use a wheelchair to get to work. I cannot travel down the sidewalks with a power pole in the middle of the sidewalk or safely cross the street without a ramp at the corners.”
Voting Is Key
As the final speaker before the march took to the streets of downtown Visalia, former Tulare County Supervisor Loli Moheno called the crowd to take action by going to the polls. Casting ballots, she said, was the best way to address all the various issues facing those assembled.
“One of the reasons I wanted to talk right now is because it’s all about voting,” Moheno said. “You can hear all day long about our women’s rights, but if you don’t vote, we will forever be here. We need to vote, guys.”
Failure of Tulare County residents to speak up for themselves by voting has set back the causes those who gathered for the March hold dear, Moheno continued. She cited the recent congressional election as an example.
“We lost again to Trump’s puppet, Devin Nunes. We lost by 4%, very little, and why?” Moheno asked the crowd. “Because we did not have enough voters out there. And, we do have them, ladies and gentlemen. We have those votes.”
Moheno said of the more than 19,000 eligible Latino voters ages 19 to 35, only 4% voted in the midterm congressional election. She called on those who do vote to find those who don’t, to encourage them to participate politically.
“Latinos, we could have defeated Devin Nunes ourselves,” she said. “You guys know other voters. So, your assignment in 2019 is to identify those voters.”