The Downtown Berkeley BART station looked different Saturday morning — Berkeley residents donned pink hats and held signs as they headed off to Oakland and San Francisco for Women’s March 2018.
A few miles south of Berkeley, music rang through Oakland as an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people marched in support of women’s rights and against the Trump administration. Trumpets and tambourines at the Lake Merritt BART station, dancers in front of the Alameda County Superior Court and drummers on 14th Street created an energy that drove the crowds onward.
The Oakland Women’s March attendees began to gather at Lake Merritt at 10 a.m. for a rally that featured female speakers, singers and dancers. Audience members joined in song as Emma’s Revolution, a folk group from Oakland, belted out the lyrics “I am a woman and I have these rights,” and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California Surina Khan spoke in support of access to abortion for students at public universities across California.
“We are saying no to sexual assault and sexual harassment. We are saying no to being paid less for the same work,” Khan said at the rally. “We will organize, we will run for office and we will advocate for policies that advance justice.”
Across the Bay, thousands had already gathered under a clear blue sky by the time the organizers began the official event at noon. With much applause, they welcomed each of the speakers onto the stage. Women representing a wide array of groups, ranging from the indigenous to the homeless communities, shared their stories and visions with the crowd. The audience in San Francisco responded with roars of shared outrage and support.
San Francisco march co-organizer Sophia Andary characterized the rally and march as a “call for action.” She urged the participants to organize, vote and run for office, particularly highlighting the need for the election of more women of color.
After two hours of speeches, the San Francisco march toward the Embarcadero began. Amid Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” people of all ages chanted, cheered and laughed on their trek. Their signs, many of them self-made, represented a broad umbrella of voices, from young girls eager to vote in the next election to elderly men expressing support for advancing women’s rights.
Many men made up the crowds in both cities, including UC Berkeley graduate Jon Tan. Considering himself a feminist, he traveled to San Francisco to support the women’s movement.
“I think it’s really important for men these days to spend a lot more time listening and paying attention,” Tan said. “For too long it has been a lot of men speaking and a lot of men voicing their opinions without really listening to the other side first.”
With midterm elections around the corner, the organizers of this year’s march in Oakland were focused on voter registration and voter education, Oakland Women’s March co-chair Alison Mata said. Attendees in both cities also illustrated the leading role of the 2018 elections in today’s march, some handing out voter registration forms and others carrying signs reading “march to the polls” and “taking power to the polls.”
The Oakland march ended on a note of social action with the “Call to Action Alley” at Frank Ogawa Plaza — an event featuring women-owned businesses and other advocacy groups. Brittany Murlas, founder of The Little Feminist Book Club, said the energy at last year’s Women’s March inspired her to create a company focused on books that feature women and people of color.
“I think last year was an outcry and now we’re figuring out how to sustain change and make change in the longer term, which is harder,” Murlas said.
Maddie Dolan, a UC Berkeley sophomore who participated in the San Francisco march this year, said she felt even more anger at this year’s march than at last year’s Oakland event, given Trump’s actions since his election. Nevertheless, she felt that the protest was an “inspiring” one.
UC Berkeley junior Shira Klasky-Gamer, who attended the Oakland Women’s March both this year and last, said she was disappointed by the decreased sense of urgency since Trump’s inauguration. She added that although the overarching message of the Women’s March has remained constant, public perception of the march may have changed this past year.
“People maybe got used to things and kind of were like, ‘this is just the status of our country now,’” Klasky-Gamer said. “But for me it’s even more of a reason to come up and show up.”
Contact Danielle Kaye and Sophia Brown-Heidenreich at [email protected].