Walnut Creek has seen its share of political demonstrations in recent years, from anti–Proposition 8 protests to a large Tea Party rally in 2009. But nothing compares to the estimated 10,000 women, men, and children who braved the rain to gather in Civic Park to speak out against Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies the day after he was sworn in as president.
A group of working moms transformed the park into a sea of signs and pink hats for Women’s March Contra Costa, after a meeting in one’s living room in November turned into a fast scramble to secure permits and line up speakers.
Now, organizers here and nationally don’t want to lose the momentum they gained from pulling off one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history.
But what are they working toward? We talked to five of the Contra Costa march’s organizers, all from Walnut Creek—Heidi Benenson, Teri Frangie, Rachel McCutchen, Leslie Shafton, and Adina Zinn—to ask where they see this activism going.
Q: What did you hope to accomplish with the march?
McCutchen: I wanted our community to come together so people who are directly impacted by Trump’s policies on women’s access to birth control, the Affordable Care Act, and immigration and refugees would see that we will stand beside them and fight. I wanted to join with the millions of people across the country and the world, and amplify our voices. I wanted my own children to see what you do when you are unhappy with what is going on.
Zinn: "Forty-five’s" homophobic, misogynistic, racist, Islamophobic vision of the United States is not one I share. [Trump] didn’t win the popular vote, so he doesn’t have a mandate.
Q: Did you expect such a large turnout?
Zinn: The night before the march, we thought we’d have at most 1,000 or 2,000 people. We also thought people wouldn’t show up because of the rain. We were all completely astounded by the turnout.
Shafton: I was standing on stage while the children from The Meher Schools sang the national anthem. I looked into the sea of people holding signs of love for our country and wearing pink hats, all singing together in unity. There were still crowds pouring in, and I started to cry. In that moment, I understood democracy. I have never had a greater sense of being American and the value of freedom.
Q: Is there still a Women’s March movement?
Shafton: There are both national and statewide associations. All are in the process of developing formal leadership structures and strategies moving forward. Our group is committed to putting on three to four events each year. We have also been supporting school districts in becoming safe havens [for immigrants], and we helped the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County with an event at the Walnut Creek Islamic Center.
McCutchen: We have also participated in town hall meetings with congressmen and made phone calls, and sent e-mails and letters to members of Congress, lobbying against immigration bans and senate approvals for cabinet members.
Q: Some say the march was just about being anti-Trump rather than rallying people around a cause.
Frangie: Not true. This was a wake-up call. I fear we, as citizens, have become too complacent and take our democracy for granted.
Zinn: We are for everything Trump is against, and that’s quite a bit: human and women’s rights, slowing down climate change, religious and other forms of tolerance. We are pro-Earth, pro-women, and pro–religious and sexual freedom.
Q: So, what are the goals going forward?
Benenson: I think it’s important to educate folks on how our government works, and that each and every vote counts.
Frangie: We want to make sure as many people as possible are registered to vote and are educated on the issues. … It’s not us and them—Democrats or Republicans—but rather "we the people" who need to take back our government.
Q: Are there efforts to reach across partisan divides? Is that even possible these days?
Benenson: Nothing is impossible.
Frangie: We need to speak to our families [and others] across the aisles and understand one another’s issues without judgment, and find common ground. There are a lot of people hurting across America, and jobs are an important issue.
Shafton: The Women’s March is committed to staying nonpartisan. For example, supporting the environment should not be a partisan issue. Anyone who is committed to preserving the Earth, human rights, dignity, freedom of speech, and democracy is welcome.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Shafton: We are just regular moms, workers, wives, daughters, and sisters. We expected a few hundred people to come to our march and thousands came.
Frangie: From something bad came something incredibly good. I have faith in our democracy and am grateful our founders created checks and balances. I hope more women run for office, and I hope I can help them reach their goal. womensmarchcontracosta.org.