Thousands turn out for Women’s March Oakland to support women, human rights

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Despite the gloomy weather, tens of thousands gathered at Madison Park near downtown Oakland on Saturday to participate in one of the three branches of Women’s March Bay Area, a demonstration to support women and human rights.

The three Bay Area marches—in Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose—are among the more than 600 locally-organized “sister marches” of the Women’s March on Washington, which is now expected to draw as many as half a million participants. The marches are nonpartisan and are open to participants of any gender.

Oakland marchers will travel from the park to the lake, and then loop back around to Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall for an afternoon of speeches and music. Among the speakers and performers on the bill for the Oakland event are State Senator Nancy Skinner, former Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin, “Meet a Muslim” founder Moina Shaiq, activist Elaine Brown and Oakland spoken word artist Joy Elan.

National and local march organizers have stated that the marches aren’t intended specifically as protests against the election of Donald Trump, but to more broadly show support for diversity, civil rights and parity for women.

“A lot of people are hurting. A lot of people are feeling like their voices aren’t heard. We really just want to come out here so people can have their voices heard,” said Alison Mata, one of the lead Oakland march organizers, as participants gathered at the park. “We hope people feel motivated after this, that there’s a sense of hope,” she continued.

While Oakland marches and rallies protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday remained peaceful, more than 200 people were arrested in DC after protesters wearing black vandalized storefronts and clashed with police. The Women’s March webpage asks participants to not use violence or destroy property. But in the event that agitators show up, Mata said, “We’ve been doing a lot of de-escalation training. We’ve trained peace ambassadors. We’ll have them throughout the crowd, throughout the march to de-escalate situations.”

BART stops throughout the system were jammed Saturday morning, as protesters carrying signs and wearing knitted pink “pussy hats” headed towards the downtown. Among the protest signs being toted by participants was a large image of Darth Vader with a combover reminding marchers that “hate leads to suffering,” one asking “What kind of monster eats pizza with a fork?” and a California state flag with rainbow stripes added to the bottom.

Marcher Stacy Kaplan, a middle school English as a Second Language teacher, said she is still “furious” about the election results. “As an educator, I’m extremely worried about Betsy DeVos,” she said, referring to Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education. “She cannot be confirmed.”

“I’m very worried about my students,” Kaplan continued. “They came to school crying the day after the election. They’re worried that they are going to get kicked out of the country, that their loved ones will get kicked out of the country.” She said there had also been a rise in bullying and negativity directed towards them.

Oakland resident Thaddeus Roa said he had joined the march because Trump is not the president that he and his family voted for. Roa, who is from Pakistan, is worried that if some of his family members visit their home country, they will not be allowed to come back. “It’s a sad day and we’re just trying to make the most of it,” he said.

Marcher Ana Levett said she was there to express concerns about the way Muslims are treated and about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “I am horrified by the Islamophobia I see in our country. I have many Muslim friends who are very dear to me, and it frightens me the way that Trump talks about them. And I want to show my support for them,” Levett said. “His rhetoric has inspired [anti-]Muslim hate crimes, attacks on mosques. People are afraid to wear their headscarves in public. And it’s wrong.”

Oakland resident Jessica Escobar was wearing a “No Papers” t-shirt and said she was there to show solidarity for undocumented friends and family members.  She also said she hopes the level of support for women’s rights will translate to support for Black and Latino rights. “I think that it’s great to see this amount of energy and support for women’s rights,” said Escobar. “At the same time, it’s disappointing that these same people don’t show up for black and brown people when we have marches for issues specific to black and brown women. All these people stay home, at best. At worst, they criticize our tactics.”

15-year-old Skyline High School student Olive Blaire, who was attending the march with her father and younger siblings, said she was there to speak against Donald Trump. “He’s a sexual predator that we elected as our president and that’s definitely not okay,” she said. After the election, she said, people at her school reassured her that it’s good to speak your mind when you disagree with something. “[At] my school we’ve had walkouts against Trump. That has shown me it’s okay to protest,” Blaire said.

She said she hopes coming to the march will teach her siblings that they, too, can exercise their voices. “I hope that especially for my little sisters it can show them that they can be strong and can do hard things,” she said. “Hard things, like they can be the president or they can speak out for things that make other people uncomfortable.”

Around 11:30 am, the march began to move heading up Lakeshore Drive. It wound along the shore of Lake Merritt before leading back downtown. Around 12:30 pm, the California Highway Patrol and the Oakland Police Department were estimating the crowd size at about 60,000 people, and the city was using its official Twitter account to warn that Frank Ogawa Plaza is filled to capacity.

At the plaza, aerial dance group Bandaloop scaled the walls of the Frank Ogawa Building, as the crowd listened to the afternoon’s other speakers and performers.

Jennifer Knight, who had stayed up until 2 am designing her banner which portrayed a man’s hand trying to grab a woman’s naked body, said she’d expected a huge turnout, because “I’m an incredible optimist. But I’m so overwhelmingly pleased.”

“I’m very glad that there’s so much action around the world today, because we need the rest of the world to stand up against this new way that we’ve become the Axis of Evil,” Knight said.

“It was really hard to get here. It took me like three hours to get here from the Oakland Hills. I took BART,” said marcher Jennifer Wilkins of the overflow crowds. “It was really crazy, but I’m really glad I came just to see so many other people that are resisting Trump and the agenda that he has going on. I loved looking at all the different signs. When you put them all together you get a more optimistic picture of how things could play out. … It’s been a really positive, uplifting, communal vibe.”

Meanwhile, in DC, the Women’s March had grown so large that organizers modified the planned route; the Los Angeles march also reached the half-million mark, the march in Chicago attracted about 250,000 people, and there were more than 100,000 in Boston. A group of people on an expedition ship in Antarctica even organized a Women’s March there, bringing the march to all seven continents.

Oakland North will continue to update this story, and more pictures and updates are on Twitter @northoaklandnow.

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