Bianca Hearfield, Edward Wright and Megan Rohrer get ready for Saturday’s Women’s March, San Francisco version.
Backers of this weekend’s Women’s March aren’t looking for a repeat of last year’s landmark event, where millions of people in cities across the world took to the streets to protest President Trump’s election, his proposed policies and his treatment of women.
This time they want something more. And different.
“We don’t want to march just because we did it last year. This isn’t a reunion in the streets,” said Vicky Mattson of Monte Sereno, co-leader of the San Jose march set for Saturday. “Last year was sort of cathartic, just getting out on the street. But this year we have people who are both engaged and willing to get involved.”
Action, not words, will be the key, added Martha Shaughnessy, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco march.
“We’re looking for people not to just empathize or go on Facebook or talk about it at dinner parties, but to take action,” she said. “We’re connecting all sorts of disparate groups who have always operated in their own silos.”
That’s a big change from a year ago, when just showing up in amazing numbers seemed for many to be message enough.
On Jan. 21, 2017, an estimated 500,000 people marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., dwarfing the 200,000 spectators crowd-counting experts — but not Trump — said had shown up for the president’s inauguration the day before.
But that number paled compared to the number of marchers outside the nation’s capital. Sister events in San Francisco and Oakland each brought out more 100,000 marchers, with another 40,000 showing up in San Jose. Similar crowds were seen in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and other cities across the county.
Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman, a pair of academic researchers, found that more than 4 million people showed up at better than 650 reported marches in the United States, with another 300,000 walking in some 261 marches outside the United States.
“Despite all the talk about it, the Women’s March has never gotten its due,” said California’s Barbara Boxer, who retired in 2016 after 24 years in the U.S. Senate. “It was the largest march in the country’s history.”
That didn’t stop some people from disparaging the protest. Trump, for example, defiantly accused the media of downplaying the crowd at his inauguration and professed bewilderment at the march.
“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?” he asked in a Jan. 22 tweet, although he later added, “Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”
Others took their unhappiness further. And paid for it.
John Carman, a Republican on New Jersey’s Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the equivalent of a county supervisor, shared a meme that mockingly asked “Will the women’s protest end in time for them to cook dinner?”
Not everyone found it as funny as Carman did. In November, the veteran public official found himself ousted from office by 32-year-old Democrat Ashley Bennett, a political novice who decided to run after being infuriated by Carman’s quick dismissal of the march.
Bennett wasn’t alone in either the anger or the resolve spotlighted by the Women’s March. In cities, counties and states across the country, a never-before-seen wave of women have signed up to run for office in 2018.
So far this year, 596 women have said they plan to run for Congress or statewide office in 2018, more than double the early January numbers in 2016 and 2012, and nearly double the 311 who were interested in 2014, said Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. Registration for the center’s annual “Ready to Run” training workshop for potential female candidates had to be closed last year after a record number of signups.
“There’s a new energy and enthusiasm out there ... with a lot of it about (Trump) winning and Hillary (Clinton) losing,” she said. “Women say they have always been on the sidelines and decided they can’t do that anymore. I’ve heard it over and over again.”
Those numbers are long-awaited balm for Boxer.
“Having been one of those elected in the Year of the Woman (1992), I always thought it was overstated, since we tripled the number of women in the Senate to six,” she said. “I’ve wondered when we’re going to have a real Year of the Woman, and this might be it.”
That push for political clout is only part of the still-growing legacy of last year’s Women’s March. Many women inspired by that day of energy and action have stayed involved, fighting for issues ranging from supporting immigrant rights to ending sexual harassment.
“When you fight for equality for women, you fight for equality for all,” Boxer said.
But keeping the fires of action and advocacy burning wasn’t easy, march organizers admit, especially since so many of those original marchers were first-time protesters.
“I cared a lot about social justice,” said Mattson of the San Jose march. “I was a good citizen and I voted, but the 2016 election taught me ... that it wasn’t enough. I needed to do more.”
The march not only let people speak out against the problems and concerns they saw around them, but also let them know that they weren’t alone.
“A lot of people were willing to step out of their comfort zone and take actions they had never done before,” Mattson added. “They realized that, ‘If I stand up, I’ll have people behind me and people alongside me.’”
That feeling of feminist solidarity born of the Women’s March brought power that swelled well beyond politics.
Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle
Volunteer shirts and vest for the Women’s March are strewn across a table in San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018.
The #MeToo movement was born of sexual harassment in Hollywood, and it was a new willingness by TV and film stars to talk about their appalling experiences with louts, molesters and rapists in positions of power in their industry that made the headlines. But it was the thousands of other people — maids, waitresses, students, office workers and others — who pushed the realization that harassment wasn’t just a “boys will be boys” problem in one single industry, but an ongoing nationwide assault on women that had to be stopped without delay.
At least some of that change can be attributed to the Women’s March, with the focus it put on women’s issues and the bonds of solidarity it created, said Sophia Andary, co-leader of this weekend’s San Francisco march.
“Fear controlled many people, fear of not being believed,” she said. “But when #MeToo happened, people said they weren’t going to put up with that crap anymore. People were willing to stand up because they knew people had their back.”
In recent months, powerful men in business, entertainment, politics, academia and other pursuits have found themselves shamed and instantly unemployed for conduct that for many years was either ignored or punished with little more than a slap on the wrist.
The growing focus on women’s issues also has pushed plenty of long-standing concerns to the forefront.
In one example, for years there have been complaints about the way women are depicted in advertising, with women arguing that the continual pictures of impossibly thin models with perfect hair and flawless skin create body image problems for young girls.
This month, though, the giant pharmacy chain CVS agreed to do away with the airbrush and stop “materially altering” the images — and models — associated with its beauty products.
In San Francisco, police have agreed not to arrest prostitutes and other sex workers when they report a crime, dumping the unspoken but long-standing belief that certain people are asking for it when it comes to being a victim of crime.
In Sacramento, Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, has co-authored a bill, AB1761, that would require hotels to provide maids with a “panic button” they could use if they were harassed or attacked.
It’s not a new idea. Similar programs already are operating in Seattle and Chicago.
“It’s got a lot of visibility and that’s probably because of #MeToo,” Quirk said. “We’ve had our eyes on the bill for a while, but #MeToo brought it into focus.”
Those victories throughout the year, both big and small, have helped last year’s marchers keep moving forward, said Andary of San Francisco.
“Our biggest fear now is inaction,” she said. “We have to make sure we stand aligned with our community,” which means providing opportunities for political and social involvement, even after the thrill of once again marching with thousands of fellow-believers, women, men and children.
The marchers now have to move beyond protesting the inequities they see to actually doing something about them, said Jenny Bradanini, a co-leader of the San Jose march. This year’s slogan, “Hear Our Vote,” points to the effort to gain the political power needed to change the country.
“Last year, a lot of people were really new to taking action,” she said. “Now they’re experienced and comfortable with having their voices heard.”