Nearly 3,500 people turned out for Santa Barbara’s Women’s March on Saturday, said organizer Michal Lynch. De la Guerra Plaza was filled by a crowd in turns applauding the many speakers and dancing along with Janet Reineck and her World Dance troupe. As they had the year previous, Santa Barbarans spoke their minds with their signs. “Grab them by the midterms,” read one. Another quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The upbeat rally kicked off with whistles and cheers as City Fire Truck 1 drove through De la Guerra Street, soon followed by whoops of appreciation as Sojourner Kincaid Rolle swung into her poem “I Am That Woman” and chanted: “big head or pea head / big-eyed or pin-eyed / gap-toothed or buck / big-lipped or lipless / loud mouthed or milquetoast / big-bust tiny titty / big butt flat butt, / big-legged, skinny-legged, / big-footed, and all.”
“We all came from Africa, no matter who you are,” Kincaid Rolle reminded the gathering, there to recognize women’s rights and also those of the people who are less recognized in society. “We speak for the invisible women,” said one woman at the microphone. For every one who stood up, she said, 10 were quietly in the background. Next, a group of Chumash women offered a prayer. Sage and tobacco burned as they sang.
At the height of the rally, which went on for more than three hours, it became nearly as crowded as Los Angeles’ immovable Women’s March last year, albeit with a lot more dogs underfoot.
Though Lynch had originally stated the event would have no politicians, both Santa Barbara City Mayor Cathy Murillo and Goleta School Board member Susan Epstein got up to speak. Introduced as the city’s first Latina mayor, Murillo started off by exclaiming, “We feel the pussy power!” which got the crowd roaring. “And the political power,” she added. “Let’s take this energy and emotion, and send it to our neighbors in Montecito!” she said, referring to the tragic mudflows last week. Of the issue at hand, Murillo stated bluntly, “We got used to sexism and misogyny … I fought it to get to be mayor.” In turn, Epstein recounted how since the 2016 election, “Thousands of women have run for election,” which she’d learned at an Emily’s List training session for women running for office. Epstein is running for county supervisor, though she did not mention it at the rally.
Also speaking at the rally were Laura Smith, with the reSisters Choir, and Chelsea Lancaster with El Centro, both of whom have applied to Santa Barbara City Council to be appointed to Cathy Murillo’s vacant 3rd District seat.
Future Leaders of America had its members, from as young as 10 years old to college age, take turns introducing the speakers. They also spoke of their own circumstances, from having fathers who worked four jobs or from 8 in the morning until 3 a.m. the next day, or being a member of the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and allies) community.
As the rally extended into a second hour, a couple dozen people started a walk along the sidewalk, shouting, “This is how democracy looks.” Police had advised rally organizers that most personnel were working the Montecito disaster and were not available to close off the streets for a parade.
The marchers missed incendiary and much-cheered exhortations on social justice, sex identification, incarceration, slavery, human trafficking, the obligations of the cis-terhood, Santa Barbara’s ugly history of native repression, Halloween in Isla Vista, and “an overwhelming police presence” by speakers from Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, an eloquent anarchist, and about a dozen more.
As the speeches began to address the marginalized and unheard — often in angry shouts — the crowd slowly melted away. A young woman first yelled at the crowd about global injustice, including climate change, the devastation in Montecito, and surviving the massive Typhoon Haiyan of 2013. Others proclaimed the police the enemy, even to their own families, and described despair and anger in the face of police power.
Rates of violence against the gay and queer communities were listed and pronouns given as speakers introduced themselves. “Liv” spoke with dignity of their much-hampered journey to be themself, testifying to the importance of understanding and acceptance. Another reportedly said, “Not all pussies are pink, and vulvas are not the norm,” and invited everyone to the next anarchist Bonfire Collective meeting, held at the Quaker meeting house.
Others spoke of the incarceration industry and the relatively large prison population in the U.S. When a speaker with the ACLU asked how many present had personal experience of jail themselves or through friends or family, about half in the crowd raised their hands. Several speakers roused the crowd with chants and affirmations of support, trying to build a rapport with the rapidly dwindling audience. The conversations on the outskirts of the crowd were now about where to find the car or get a sandwich, replacing the enthusiastic talk about taking part three hours earlier.
Organizer Michal Lynch felt optimism at the turnout and said she’d wanted to have more voices heard who normally weren’t. Though the thousands had thinned to hundreds by hour three, the words being spoken and points being made were loudly endorsed by the remaining crowd.
Editor’s Note: This story was revised on January 21 and 23 to add information on participants. It was revised on January 29 to correct the caption regarding the march and clarify the police request.