Marilyn Cartwright shows me her phone case, which isn’t glitzy or cute—instead, it’s decorated with a tank she helped design. The “armored multi-purpose vehicle” is desert-tan and hulking, with giant chains on the wheels and the red symbol for medical aid painted on the side. The 61-year-old has worked in the defense industry for 35 years, ever since moving to San Jose with an engineering degree. “If a plane crashes,” she says, “I could probably tell you why.”
The only protest she’s ever been to was at the previous Mercury News headquarters in the mid-’80s, when she and her co-workers picketed over the paper’s coverage of a military vehicle they’d built. That’s about to change.
On Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump is sworn in as president of the United States, Cartwright will join an expected 200,000 protesters at the Women’s March on Washington D.C. San Jose will host its own satellite march that day, from City Hall to the Plaza de César Chávez, and similar marches are planned for Santa Cruz, Oakland and San Francisco. A cohort of South Bay women, terrified that Trump will reverse decades of progress on women’s rights, will fly more than 2,800 miles across the country to express their dissent in person at the Capitol.
Besides repealing Obamacare, which provides 47 million women with access to health insurance, Trump has promised to defund Planned Parenthood and said he’d fill Supreme Court seats with justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1974 case that established abortion rights. As Indiana governor, Vice President-elect Mike Pence led a crusade against abortion rights. In 2015, he signed a law forcing women to have “fetus funerals.” That same year in Pence’s Indiana, Purvi Patel became the first woman in the state to be convicted of feticide. Patel’s conviction has since been overturned, but her case remains a flashpoint in the national conversation about reproductive rights.
Cartwright’s 85-year-old mother, a former schoolteacher in Arlington, Virginia, is too frail to join her daughter at the march, so she’ll contribute in another way. “I told my mom about the Pussy Hat project,” Cartwright says.
“Excuse me?” I’d heard of the concept—women are knitting hats in the shape of vulvas for marchers to wear—but I hadn’t expected to hear the word from Cartwright’s mouth.
“She has arthritis,” Cartwright says, “and she said she’ll knit them as long as her hands can stand it.”
Cartwright is no hippie. In an Eeyore sweatshirt near her old office building in north San Jose, she sits stone-faced when talking about her experiences as a woman in an almost entirely male field. One former boss asked her to file papers instead of analyze design failures, as she’d been hired to do. Another assigned her, the only female staffer, to clean the office. And then another tried to fire her when she brought her breastfeeding baby on a business trip, despite her arrangements for childcare. “We have come so far, and I will not go backwards,” Cartwright says. “I’ve fought so hard, not to make it better for myself, but for all the women afterwards.”
Other South Bay women flying to the march share her resolve, especially those in the male-dominated tech industry who have struggled with sexism in the workplace. They had hoped Hillary Clinton’s decades of experience would break the country's highest glass ceiling and were devastated when an ignorant Twitter troll bullied his way past her.
Margot Nack, 44, felt “physically ill” on election night. “You live in a bubble, and the bubble popped,” she says. The lavender-haired manager at Adobe and mentor for Girls Who Code booked her plane ticket two days later, then formed a Slack channel to coordinate with 12 local friends who also plan to fly to D.C.
“It’s pretty lonely in product development. There’s a lot of unconscious bias,” she says. “Male engineers don’t mean to be exclusionary, but women drop out of those fields.”
For Nack, the march is an opportunity to have her voice heard. “I’ve always had a big mouth,” she says. “On every elementary school report card, it said, ‘Margot talks too much.’ Maybe now that’s not a bad thing.”
Before Amy Bayersdorfer, 50, left her job as a tech consultant to work for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Michigan, she’d had only one female boss in 30 years in Silicon Valley. “I have friends founding startups who were told, ‘Oh, sweetheart, why don’t you go start a lifestyle business?’” Bayersdorfer made her plane reservations for the march right away. “We can’t be quiet on this one,” she says. As a field organizer in a blue-collar county outside of Detroit, she spent months talking to former autoworkers who eventually voted for Trump. “What people want is safety, economic opportunity, and for people to care about their community,” Bayersdorfer says, “but that can mean different things to different people.”
Trump supporters aren’t just “different people,” though. In many case, they’re our people. Jane Burgunder, 50, knows one Trump supporter extremely well: her mother. Nonetheless, she was still shocked by the election results.
“The beliefs feel familiar, but I didn’t know it was half the country,” says Burgunder, a landscape designer who lives in San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood. “Going to a big march in Sacramento might have been more convenient, but I have the means. I could charge [the plane ticket], and I’m healthy. All I really want is to be a body there, since my vote didn’t matter.”
Like other South Bay women flying to the march, Burgunder’s children influenced her decision to travel. After Trump’s win, her 10-year-old daughter was distraught. “She said, ‘I guess girls really aren’t as good as boys after all,’ and that made me cry,” Burgunder says.
“Election night was the worst party I’d ever been to in my entire life,” says Robyn Stanton, 55, a Palo Alto lawyer who will bring her 15-year-old daughter to the D.C. march. She calls herself an “accidental activist,” spurred to action after “something switched” when Trump was elected. In her post-election shock, she convened a group of 24 peninsula women who are researching how to take action. “I felt like it was my duty to my children to keep progress alive.”
After the election, Stanton called her 23-year-old son and asked if he’d voted. He hadn’t, thinking it wouldn’t matter either way. “I’m embarrassed,” she says. She considers her daughter’s plane ticket an investment in “the democratic process.”
Stanton’s daughter will be just one of many teenagers accompanying their parents to D.C. Claudia Azalde, 16, led a walkout of several hundred students at Lincoln High School in San Jose after the election. “I posted something on Instagram and said, ‘Spread the word, guys.’” She applied to be a youth ambassador for the march, which she’ll attend with her mother, Rose Province, 50. “Even though you can’t vote, you still have the right to say what you think and have a voice,” Azalde says.
Laura Allen, 18, voted for the first time in November and plans to wear a blue baseball cap with “Another Nasty Woman” embroidered across the top. A double major in English and education and member of the Chi Omega sorority at Oregon State University, she will study for her midterms on the flight back from D.C.
Her mother, Jennifer, 56, the co-owner of PIP Marketing in Palo Alto, distributed 47 of the hats to friends and family. Jennifer says she felt “sucker punched” after the election. “I heard this voice in my head of my mom, who was quite a feisty feminist, saying, ‘You have to make this OK for Laura.’” Before she had children, Jennifer was a member of the National Organization for Women and accompanied her mother, who almost died from an illegal abortion, to actions at family planning clinics. The election “pulled on something from the past,” Jennifer says. “I could hear my mom saying, ‘No one’s going to tell me what to do with my body.’”
If the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress follows through on promises to defund Planned Parenthood, family planning services in Santa Clara County would be directly affected. “What that means, practically, is that Planned Parenthood would be excluded from participating in Medicaid, through which we serve about 85 percent of our patients,” says Lupe Rodriguez, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte in San Jose. Some of those patients are covered by Medi-Cal, while others receive coverage from California’s Family PACT program, which receives 9 to 1 matching funds from federal Medicaid. An end to federal funding “would be incredibly devastating locally,” Rodriguez says. Planned Parenthood serves almost 85,000 women, men and children a year in the South Bay, both for reproductive health services and in its two primary care clinics.
Rodriguez fears the impact on women of Trump’s other campaign promises, as well. “Their ability to make choices about their families could be impacted by forced deportation orders, which is very concerning to us,” she says.
Most of the South Bay women with the resources to fly to the D.C. march, almost all of them white and college educated, wouldn’t be affected by Medicaid cuts, nor by threats to repeal Obamacare, register Muslims, or deport undocumented immigrants. For Bayersdorfer, that doesn’t matter. “The rhetoric against women in general and the normalization of hate and violence against anyone who isn’t a white man—that is personal,” she says. “Am I specifically likely to be affected? No. But where do you draw the line?”
The creators of the event, all white women, originally called it the Million Women March, but have since stepped back, giving the reins to women of color and changing the name out of respect to the 1997 march for black women.
Some hope their presence will stand in for those who can’t attend. “We’re lucky to be able to go to D.C.,” says Province. “We’ll be marching in solidarity with everyone else.” Her daughter, Claudia, who identifies as Latina, wishes more people had the resources to attend. “It would be more powerful if we had more people of color going,” she notes.
Kirsty Duncan, 55, a real estate agent with the Sereno Group in Willow Glen, spends her free time supporting homeless women through the nonprofit she co-founded, On Route 22. A budget-slashing Trump administration could have a devastating effect on her housing work. “We had limited resources for a huge problem before,” she says. “I’m terrified of how resources will be distributed now.” She recalls telling the homeless women she works with, “I’m going for all of you, because it’ll be more important than ever to have a voice.”
Organizers hope that more women of color will attend the San Jose march. “That's exactly why we're having these [satellite] marches,” says Jenny Bradanini, an organizer for the San Jose event. “To make it completely inclusive and diverse so everyone has a chance to attend and make their voices heard.” Bradanini says planners are doing “everything we can think of” to make sure that the march is not just “privileged white women.” At their Paint the Town outreach day, volunteers picked up flyers at 14 locations from Milpitas to Morgan Hill to distribute in their communities. Organizers have emailed groups like the Silicon Valley Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Foundation to spread the word. “D.C. is a long way away, and we have power in our community here,” Bradanini says.
After the march, most attendees from Silicon Valley intend to continue taking action, but many aren’t quite sure how. “It’s time to become involved in local efforts,” Cartwright says.
Many of the newer activists’ first impulse was to give money to progressive organizations. Burgunder donated instead of giving Christmas gifts, hopes to “invest in solar,” and wants to support the San Jose nonprofit Human Agenda, whose vigil she attended in November. Others, true to their Silicon Valley roots, plan to take action online. Azalde and her high school friends plan to set up a Twitter account with frequently updated action steps that will be “accessible” to people their age.
Nack has joined a Facebook group called Pantsuit Action, based in San Francisco, that sends her a weekly list of tasks: “Here are your senators and their phone numbers, and here’s a script you can read,” she explains—and she does the routine faithfully.
“I have to stay in the game,” she says. “I can’t just bitch and complain.”
Can't make it to Washington?
Not everyone has the time and money to make it to the Jan. 21 women’s march in Washington D.C., so here are several more local opportunities for action around the inauguration of Donald Trump.
- Saturday, Jan. 14 is a national Day of Action for immigrant and refugee rights. The San Jose rally begins at 11am at City Hall.
- The School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza will host STAND! A Day of Art and Solidarity on Monday, Jan. 16, with workshops, music and dance against bigotry starting at 10am.
- Planned Parenthood will rally to defend reproductive rights at the Capitol steps in Sacramento at 11:30am on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
- Dozens of community groups will stage a protest that starts 11am at Plaza de César Chávez in downtown San Jose on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, and continues with a march to the federal courthouse and a 1pm program inside City Hall. Click here for more information about the event.
- The Women's March San Jose will start at San Jose City Hall on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 10am, and end at the Plaza de César Chávez.