For San Jose resident Chandra Brooks, a mother of four and outspoken equal rights advocate, the upcoming Women’s March is a chance to recommit to the activism that defines her daily life.
A Latina-African American author and entrepreneur who wears many hats in addition to the pink knit variety sure to feature in the mass demonstration this weekend, Brooks is no stranger to community organizing. But taking part in the inaugural Women’s March last year—a spontaneous protest to a reality TV star and accused sexual predator becoming president of the United States—inspired her to redouble her efforts.
In the time since, Brooks has reached out to more women of color in the South Bay to get involved in local advocacy and run for office. She says the message this time around, however, has taken on greater urgency.
For one thing, the #MeToo movement that exposed serial harassers has culminated in #TimesUp, a leaderless initiative that aims to ensure that the LGBTQ community and people of color are represented equally in the push to combat sexual misconduct. The national reckoning will be an important part of the message at Saturday’s march, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to downtown San Jose.
“I think that women feel empowered by [the cause],” says Brooks, who serves as vice chair on the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women, where she fights against human trafficking, for pay parity and to improve conditions for female inmates. “it had to get to this point for that to happen, but I think we’re going to continue to see this movement. We’re so used to harassment that we don’t really remember a whole lot until we sit down and really think back on how many times it’s happened to us because it becomes so natural for us to deal with, but now we can step up and say something about it and feel comfortable doing it.”
That has certainly been the case in Silicon Valley. Uber engineer Susan Fowler kicked off 2017 by giving the world a glimpse into the tech industry’s sexual harassment problem and bringing unprecedented accountability to the high-profile startup. Beyond the workplace, women also became more politically active. By the year’s end, Lisa Middleton won a seat on the Palm Springs City Council, making her the first transgender person elected to a non-judicial office in California. Meanwhile, Cathy Murillo was elected the first Latina mayor of Santa Barbara.
If 2017 was about coming forward, then 2018 is about marching into action, Brooks says, and Bay Area women are ready to do just that. The group putting on the Silicon Valley Women’s March say the event is time to organize, stand together and lean in. In addition to expressing outrage about the the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment, they say the march is a chance to channel that energy into a dynamic political movement.
“I think there are a lot of women who wanted to get engaged and wanted to do something locally, but weren’t quite sure how to do it,” says Vicky Mattson, one of the lead organizers of the local march.
Indeed, after last year’s march and following #MeToo, women sought to keep up momentum, but to look for ways to use their newfound visibility to affect tangible change in their communities, politics and workplaces. As anyone who’s tried to transform the face of their community or industry knows, Mattson says, real change does not happen overnight and certainly not without widespread support.
And this weekend, women and their allies will come together again to march at the Bay Area Women’s March. Sister marches will be taking place in San Jose and San Francisco with the mission of “honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice” and “recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”
Saturday’s Women’s March will take place in downtown San Jose, kicking off at City Hall and heading west down Santa Clara Street to Arena Green East for a rally with speeches, music and food. This year’s speakers include Q 102.1 FM’s “Joey V & Mia Amor in the Morning” co-host Maria “Mia Amor” Sanchez, Mutsun Ohlone artist and educator Kanyon Sayers-Roods, Dreamers Roadmap founder Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca, transgender activist Aejaie Sellers and many more women of color ranging from artists and activists to CEOs and educators.
Organizers have christened the rally space “Call to Action Alley,” calling it a place where the real work begins. This year’s theme is “Hear Our Vote” and every participant is encouraged to register to vote. With 2018 being the year of the midterm elections, it’s more important than ever to make sure previously disenfranchised voices are heard, Mattson says.
“A big part of what we’re doing is emphasizing pre-registration for voting, which you can do at age 16,” she says. “That’s the first step.”
In an effort to keep participants involved, the march organizers are calling on people to use the hashtag #HearOurVote and #WomensMarchBayArea to help keep track of voters and remind people about upcoming events and opportunities for involvement.
“Last year,” she adds, “it was powerful to see people take action and start showing up at meetings all over town like city council meetings or the Board of Supervisors meeting. You’d start to see the same people and it felt we’d created an active a community.”
Brooks says it’s crucial for this year’s march to include ways for women and their allies to become active immediately and find volunteer opportunities for causes that matter to them. That’s why they’ve worked with representatives from 40 non-profit, community organizations to run booths providing actionable information about their services.
When it comes to where women have been—harassed, discriminated against, barred from positions of power—Brooks says she believes that the only place for women, especially women of color, is up.
“I don’t really see anything other than opportunity,” she says. “I think that since last year women have felt empowered to take our seats at decision-making tables and not be scared to boldly jump into leadership whether other people like it or not.”
Mattson agrees. Mobilizing as soon as possible is the key to overcoming the discrimination and social injustice facing women today, she says. If women’s issues are to remain at the forefront, then it’s up to them and their allies to keep them there, march organizers say.
“The measure of success of the Women’s March is not how many bodies are in the street on a certain day,” Mattson says. “It’s what all of those bodies do the next day and the day after that.”
The Women’s March will kick off at 11am Saturday outside San Jose City Hall with a rally to follow. For more details about this march or the San Francisco march and to RSVP, visit womensmarchbayarea.org.