On a cold, early Saturday morning in January 2017, an estimated 20,000 people gathered by the French Street plaza in Downtown Santa Ana for the first OC Women’s March. The local contingent of the nationwide Women’s March that was sparked by the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States united an unprecedented amount of people under the banner of resistance and solidarity for social-justice causes. A second march took place a year later, with around 25,000 attendees who were just as angry and raw as the year prior.
We’re now about to enter the third year of Trump’s regime, and the never-ending news cycle constantly charts doom, but the organizers of the OC Women’s March are optimistic their continued efforts, including this Saturday’s event, will mobilize more people to get involved with their community and vote come 2020.
OC Weekly spoke with three OC Women’s March organizers about past marches, the changes that have taken place and this weekend’s event. Ada Briceño of Unite Here and chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Orange County; Jennifer Beuthin of the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA); Gabriela Gonzalez of Casa de Familia; and OC Women’s March publicist Nichole Ramirez, from Planned Parenthood, have all been involved in one way or another with community organizing for years.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
OC WEEKLY: Let’s tread back to the beginning and remember how this event came about: as a grassroots protest to the fact that Donald Trump became president, noted what a racist and misogynist he is, etc. At the first event, there was a really righteous air of solidarity that came out, and two years later, Trump is still in office and plenty of horrendous actions have happened that have done real damage. I have a two-part question: How do you, as organizers, stay positive amid that reality, and how do you focus or plan your events to keep people staying positive as well?
ADA BRICEÑO: I just feel like it’s an amazing time to be an organizer. It’s an amazing time to be a leader in Orange County. I can’t express enough the enthusiasm I feel to see more than 30 organizations come together this year again to make sure we move forward in 2020. The reason why is because we saw the huge blue wave happen throughout, the energy and enthusiasms that many of us on the ground have been building throughout the years—but most important, the past two years. I believe it was propelled, in a big part, because of the Women’s March. It allowed us to come together, to understand that we were broader than a few folk and a few usual suspects that have been organizing in Orange County. It just paves the way for our victory here.
JENNIFER BEUTHIN: I think the first year for the march was an awakening and a call to action. Orange County has been the model across the country of what the power of that solidarity and continued activism can create.
There is so much momentum here in terms of what we’ve been able to do, both electorally in this last election and also in community building where people who maybe had never been involved in engaging in civic activism came out together and learned how they could make an impact and a difference in their community. Because that momentum has continued throughout these two years. . . .
The way that you asked the question—how do you keep people engaged and involved?—that’s actually not the question that we have to ask as people who are organizing because that activism and that spirit is here in Orange County. We are living it. We saw it in November, and it is reflective in the really broad coalition of community groups that have continued to expand and diversify, that are wanting to participate and continue that momentum into the years to come.
It’s not a dilemma like when you think about what Orange County used to be, when it was the stronghold for ideologies that were anti-women, anti-choice, anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant, anti-everything and you’re sort of scouring to figure out who else can stand together to fight back against this stuff. Now we’re in a moment in which everybody wants to jump in and continue to transform where we live. That’s inspiring not only here, but also, I think, to people everywhere.
Looking back on the first march and the first rally that happened, how did it match your expectations? Did it surpass them, or did you guys feel fairly confident that it was going to be a success?
BEUTHIN: It was the most amazing experience ever. It was so phenomenal. We definitely didn’t think we were going to have that many people. It was overwhelming in the most positive [sense]; it was like a life-changing experience. I know that sounds trite, but it was absolutely amazing. It definitely overwhelmed us, and it was just the most fantastic thing ever.
BRICEÑO: For me, as an organizer on the ground for 27 years, I never believed or imagined I would see something like this. . . . I never thought that Orange County could see something so humongous and that it would be led by women. That was definitely something that exceeded my expectations. . . . The results that came out of that—not only the vote, but also the amount of women who ran. The people who said, “I’m going to run because I went to the march.” People who voted just because. Not only the day that we were there, but also the results afterward, the unity that came with that—the relationships that were created after the march were extraordinary and long-lasting. I never thought that would happen.
GABRIELA GONZALEZ: I was actually out of the country at the time, so it was really frustrating to watch it unfold online while not being here for that first march. It was really exciting also to get the live video and the photos. . . . I cried. I want to cry right now, thinking back.
All of the women in my family—[except] for my mother, who’s far away—participated. For me, personally, that was so exciting because that’s something we normally see happen in other places such as Los Angeles or Chicago or New York or somewhere, another place in the world. Here we see this type of activism that’s women-led, as we’ve said, from Orange County. The Orange Curtain. That was super exciting. And then to have these amazing Latina women from my life participating. Just seeing my 8-year-old niece [involved] was just awesome. That was cool.
BEUTHIN: I had a similar experience. I remember walking around the corner to get to the beginning of the march and being completely overwhelmed by how many people were there, to the point of tears. And then as we were marching, seeing families turn the corner and have the same experience that I had, it was like this recognition of “Oh, my gosh, I’m not alone” and “Oh, my gosh, I’m not powerless.”
It’s not just a thing to say that it was an awakening; it really, truly felt like an awakening in a visceral sense. For me, for all the people I saw there. For those of us who’ve worked in activism and civic engagement for a long time, I think there are people in our circles who are really engaged and active, and then there’s, like, [people from the different] lives that you have, where you’re with family or you’re with friends whom you grew up with, maybe, who are doing different things or in different phases in their life, and, again, to feel that everybody was awakened and talking about this and felt empowered by it was a total key change here.
Just listening to you guys saying how overwhelming the first event was, has that been inspiring people to want to join in with the organizers of the Women’s March, or has that affected fundraising efforts in
BRICEÑO: I believe that a coalition has grown as the years have moved. Last year, there was a big effort to make sure we invited people of color in a more intense way to the second march. So as a result, we saw a whole lot of other folks come to the table to organize it. And we saw this again this year. Yes, we have different partners; we have additional partners. People want to get involved. It is transformative.
GONZALEZ: I think a lot of groups are getting involved within their own organizations to support and do things such as organizing their own groups to come out and march or doing sign parties. We have the Native American women who have planning meetings just for the march so they can get organized. I think that’s really beautiful, too.
So as organizers, how do you intend to make the OC Women’s March and rally reflective of the needs of the vulnerable communities within OC, specifically?
BEUTHIN: I think that one of the things we’re really excited about this year is this march. We’ve got signs and a tag line that asserts that this is our movement and it’s our time. Within that, we’ve really been intentional about an inclusive march that not only creates space for everyone to come together and share in solidarity in our issues, but also to do it in a way that is acknowledged within the march.
Last year, there were a ton of different speakers who spoke at the beginning and at the end of the march. We loved that, and that was awesome. This year, I think there is an intensive purpose of bringing all of that and integrating it into the march, so that rather than listen to a bunch of people speak, within the march there are different groups that are expressing their purpose for being part of it.
For the folks at OCEA, who I’ve had the privilege of representing all these years, I know that we’ve really been fighting for equal pay because women in Orange County make less. The pay gap is greater in Orange County than any other county government in the state of California, according to a recent audit. We’re fighting for child care for workers because, God forbid, you be able to come back to work, and then see your kid and have a smooth transition when you come back. They’re building all these million-dollar buildings down in the civic center, so why not put that in?
There are other communities who share in solidarity in those values also coming to the table with other issues. . . . In terms of being targeted by racist attacks, whatever it is, there are spaces in the march for people to assert what brings them there and to be acknowledged for it and to stand in solidarity with their sisters and brothers as we walk through the streets of Santa Ana.
BRICEÑO: I would say that we’re reaching out, right? We have our fliers in multiple languages. We are going into schools, into high schools, into colleges. We’re reaching out. We did a canvass for small businesses around the area to understand what we’re doing and to make sure they know and they’re a part of it. But we’re also speaking about it in neighborhoods. We’re speaking to janitors, we’re speaking to grocery workers, [and] we’re speaking to hotel workers. Labor is gonna be well-represented. Many of the folks who are on the committee are organizers, so you have the Arab-Muslim community represented, the Native Americans represented. The goal is to make sure they are coming out in great numbers to the march.
NICHOLE RAMIREZ: I think what’s really cool to demonstrate is the fact that we’re bringing everybody in, especially on the organizing side. It’s just something really small where we decided this year, instead of having our meetings in the middle of the day, when some people may not be able to get to them, we’ve been varying them. Sometimes, we’ll have them in the middle of the day; other times, we’ll have them at night and sometimes on the weekend to ensure that everybody is able to make it, so that it’s not just for people who are working the standard 9-to-5. I think that even that small change allowing us to bring more people to the table demonstrates that.
BRICEÑO: And we’re also reaching out to Spanish press, different news sources in various languages to make sure that Orange County is represented.
GONZALEZ: That’s huge because there’s a huge number of Latinos who are here on the site for the march in Santa Ana who reside here. Also, we’re inviting our victims and survivors to march under the banner of our movement, our mental health. Seventy percent of the clients we serve [at Casa de Familia] are victims of horrific crimes, and much of them are women and girls. We’re really excited to be able to allow this opportunity for our survivors to have a voice as well in the community and to feel that they have a safe place to express themselves.
A lot of those things that you guys are doing to bring in a diverse crowd is really gratifying to hear. It’s actually kind of related to my next question, which touches upon how, as you are probably aware, the biggest and largest criticism about the first Women’s March nationwide was that it seemed to prioritize the presence and voices of white, cisgender women, or that for white, cisgender women, it seemed as if it was just another day to hang out or whatnot. The pussy hats seemed to really irritate people. Hearing that you guys are working hard to include people from diverse backgrounds and a huge labor, working-class background, it seems as though you are really addressing that head-on. How would you respond to that continuing stigma or reputation that people have that gives people of color or transgender people a little pause to embrace the Women’s March?
BRICEÑO: For me, all the issues that are cared about, we have to join and speak with one voice if we’re going to make sure we get through them. Bringing your voice to the space is crucial because I’m sure those are the issues that are important to the folks who have been disenfranchised or don’t have a voice. We are going to speak that voice.
The Women’s March has been very open and very clear about uplifting rights of LGBT, uplifting immigrant rights, uplifting women’s rights, and so that is the forum. It is their space, and we want to welcome and include everyone who wants to see a more inclusive United States and better government. I would just say that we are inviting everyone because we believe that everybody’s voice should be heard and that everybody should march together.
GONZALEZ: Also, there’s always going to be criticism. As Ada would say, there’s the opportunity for people to do the work. It takes a lot of work to put on this march as well. There’s gonna be people who are criticizing and not participating, but definitely the doors are open to everyone to participate. And that’s what’s so exciting about this, that people are coming out and participating. There’s always going to be that insistence on negativity and hate, but I think the response from Orange County with the Women’s March in the form of positive influence is so much greater. And that’s what makes this so exciting.
In regards to the Women’s March Inc. and how two of the organizers were seen attending a rally from Louis Farrakhan, it surprised me just to see that other Women’s Marches straight up canceled their events, in efforts to hold accountable Women’s March Inc. for presumably being closely tied to him. I know you guys have stipulated that you’re independent and you don’t receive any funding from [Women’s March Inc.], but just from the public consciousnesses, did it seem as if [that alleged link between the Women’s March Inc. and Farrakhan] harmed your cause as well?
BEUTHIN: I actually think the discussions that ensued once this national issue took place strengthened our local march because the comments that were made at a national level really did raise some of the questions that you asked in your last question about different communities that might not feel like this march is for them. It created space for us to talk about—with a really broad, diverse group of women and men—how we wanted to assert that this march actually is for everybody and what it is we stand for. We went through that process all together; that’s how we ended up coming up with a statement [shared on the OC Women’s March main Facebook page] and how we ended up thinking about other things that we were gonna do to promote inclusivity in a way that maybe wouldn’t have been spurred as much if we hadn’t had the opportunity to have this conversation.
I think that it was maybe even more important because of where we live in Orange County, understanding the county’s past. It was just a couple of years ago in Anaheim that there was a KKK rally. Some of these hate groups are recruiting people, and hate crimes occur on a very broad basis. There are issues here that we need to address. And so, for that reason, it was even more important to everybody that we hold the march and that we assert that we’re holding it in unity and that we stand against bigotry and hate in all of its forms, whether it’s targeted at the LGBTQ community or the Jewish community or the immigrant community or any community. We’re really proud of that. I think everybody who went through that process is really proud of that, and I think that only made our march stronger.
All right, so let’s pull it down to the present and the future to get to where your head space is at for the upcoming march and rally. It seems as if you guys are excited and you have a lot going on and a lot planned, and there’s a lot to celebrate, including the fact that Democrats won big at the recent midterm elections. I was just wondering what sort of programming we can expect for the Jan. 19 rally?
BRICEÑO: One of the things we want to focus on, as Jennifer said, is having the most colorful march that we have seen in Orange County. Our focus is going to be on the march. It’s going to be colorful—literally colorful, right? And diverse. But we are less about a program; we are more about what happens in the march. We’re going to have very few speakers, and everything is going to go into the march.
And what would you say to somebody who’s never attended but plans to attend this year?
BEUTHIN: Get excited. It’s going to be so much fun. Wear comfortable shoes, wear sunscreen, bring some friends, make sure you have your sign—and just get pumped up and ready to feel empowered.
For more information on the Jan. 19 OC Women’s March, visit www.ocwomensmarch.org.
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers the Orange County DIY music scene, film, arts, Latino culture and currently pens the long-running column Trendzilla. Born, raised, and based in Santa Ana, she loves bad movies, punk shows, raising her plants, eating tacos, Selena, and puns.